At the time of writing, the coronavirus pandemic is affecting us all. The ways that we work have been radically disrupted and many companies and employees have had to adapt rapidly to remote working.
Due to the nature of our business and our global client base, Calvium has been practicing remote working for a long time – we are adept at delivering innovative, digital projects from a distance.
Whether developing mobile app experiences for arts and cultural heritage institutions, secure systems for aerospace customers or digital placemaking strategies for place management organisations, working remotely is part of our everyday. Of course, as you would expect, it’s not all ‘business as usual for us’ and we are prioritising certain new activities that we had planned to instigate over the next few months.
So, for this article, I’ve spoken with Calvium’s project managers so that we can share some of our practices for working successfully and delivering digital innovation from a distance, in the hope that they will help you.
The Calvium approach to remote working
Calvium works with clients across the globe and is currently working with organisations in America, SE Asia and Europe, as well as the UK. Maintaining a good level of communication is key when not only delivering innovative projects, but also while building and maintaining loyal, long-term working relationships.
Head of Project Management, Roísín Alvy, tells me. “To deliver services that delight our clients, we need to understand their needs. These can be dynamic, changing over the course of projects, so open and honest communication is vital. Whilst this is true of all our projects, distance and differing time zones can limit reasonable contact hours and intensify that need for clarity. Every second counts.”
“We make the most of video conferencing and working flexibly around client schedules. Through a combination of Google Hangouts and online demonstrations, our virtual meetings deliver everything you would get from a face-to-face meet, whilst sparing you the germs and taxi fare!”
A great example of Calvium’s flexible and adaptable approach is exemplified by Háblame Bebé, an app conceived by Dr. Melissa Baralt, Associate Professor of Psycholinguistics, and her team at Florida International University. Háblame Bebé is a language-learning app that aims to close the ‘word gap’ and help mothers in low-income Hispanic families in the US to talk with their babies in their native Spanish.
Because Melissa is based in Florida, we knew straight away that the time difference could pose a problem, but this was something we took in our stride. Strong organisational skills and utilisation of digital communications, meant that Melissa was involved in the process of the project through all stages, and we ensured that the management of the project ran smoothly.
“We had weekly meetings via Skype, which I loved because I felt so involved with the process. We worked with a Google Doc where everybody was able to log into it at the same time. It was transparent, clear and attainable.”
We strive to create long-lasting relationships with our clients, working together with them and keeping them involved through all stages of a project, whether that is through face-to-face or virtual meetings, and we always maintain open channels of communication using various digital tools.
Melissa had high praise for the team: “Calvium were as involved, invested, and emotionally dedicated to the project as I was. And seeing their faces every week, it just made it like a powerful team. I had a profoundly positive experience with them. It was one of my favourite aspects of the project.”
Calvium’s way of working is collaborative in nature. To achieve the best results we work collaboratively with clients and between the team throughout a project’s lifetime.
Our work on digital placemaking project, The Lost Palace, saw us collaborate with Historic Royal Palaces, theatre-makers Uninvited Guests and interaction designers Chomko & Rosier. Right from the beginning, we were all involved in planning, designing and testing the project. Because it had multiple partners, all working from different locations, we had to ensure that we adapted to working as part of a distributed team. This meant allowing flexibility and taking an agile approach to the project.
By employing an agile development method that embraced iterative rapid prototyping and user testing to inform the creation of the experience design of The Lost Palace, all of the project collaborators were able to experiment for as long as possible before the deadline for live deployment.
During the R&D phase, Calvium invented the ‘Script Engine’ platform; a bespoke software solution that enabled the creative teams to experiment at will with all aspects of the experience design.
As described by Calvium’s Technical Director, Ben Clayton, “The Script Engine acted as an enabler to the creative process and helped to advance the project. The creative team could develop, test and change their ideas quickly, in their natural way of working. Without it, the creative team would have been far more limited in their choices and their process more fragmented.”
The Script Engine allowed multidisciplinary creative experimentation. Through technology, brilliant content and the coming together of creative minds, we were able to build an experience of a heritage site that has never before had a visitor.
An agile approach
Calvium has always taken an ‘agile’ approach to project management. This approach allows us to design and deliver early and frequent iterations of a project, receiving immediate feedback as the project develops.
Applying this process is particularly useful when working in high-security environments, such as the aerospace sector. Our work for the United States Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and the US Marine Corps saw us partner with Rolls-Royce to develop an app that allows users to track and record foreign object debris (FOD), a common cause of engine damage, using their smartphone cameras to send photos and GPS locations to a central database.
We knew from the outset that the project would involve working from a distance, due to the time difference between the UK and USA, and things such as access to the workplace and data being highly restricted.
During the discovery phase of the project, in early 2019, Calvium dialled into workshops between NAVAIR and Rolls-Royce, to enable us to shape what we built. Having taken the time to understand the user, their way of working, we were able to interpret the requirements of the project and design a system that met their needs. As the project has progressed, we’ve adapted to an ever-changing environment while maintaining transparent communications and delivering innovative solutions to the project.
The adaptability that comes with an Agile methodology makes it valuable for projects across a range of sectors. We can identify risks at an early stage, but can also pivot midway through the project should changes arise. The Agile design approach is a familiar way of delivering usable, compelling and robust multi-platform systems in a timely manner.
Roísín, is a certified Scrum Master, and explains the process Calvium takes in more detail: “Calvium follows the Agile Scrum methodology, meaning our work is naturally highly iterative and demands efficiency in communicating updates. The vast majority of what we create can be shared securely and accessed anywhere in the world.
User-testing is a pillar of what we do and we carry this out remotely on a per-project basis. We are currently supporting several projects to adjust from planned face-to-face user testing and feedback workshops, to a remote approach with video calls and helpful user guides and walk-through videos. This additional content will also aid user setup and training for more complex project deliveries.”
During times of uncertainty and changing work practices it’s helpful to use an agile approach, rather than a more fixed model of creation and delivery. There are so many changes happening on a daily basis that an approach that is set-up to embrace that environment can only make the situation better.
In short, clear and open communication is key. Just because you are working remotely, doesn’t mean that you need to be distant. Use the digital channels that work best for your style of project and your team dynamic.
Collaboration can be sustained by digital tools, not a problem. Simply work out what type of activities you need to undertake, work out the problem first and not the solution! Don’t go straight to ‘a Zoom meeting’ or ‘Skype and a shared screen’ – instead, work out what the collaborative activity is seeking to achieve and then determine what type of tech can support the activity.
Finally, if you can, take an agile approach. When the business environment is uncertain and dynamic, agile methods and tools are well placed to support you. Again, choose your tools wisely and don’t let the tool lead the way.