How we’re getting into design and development pairing, remotely

Update: For a deeper look at how we do pairing, keep an eye on our guide to remote pairing, which we’ll be updating frequently.

Ever since I started dabbling in web design, I’ve always worked remotely. And regardless of whether you’re freelancing on your own, or are a part of a team, collaborating over distance can often be tricky. In a few years being part of a team here at Hanno, and collaborating with developers before I joined here, I’ve naturally been exposed to a lot of different processes, explored new techniques and tested endless amounts of tools in my time.

One of the newer techniques I’ve been using, has been pairing. It’s a relatively new addition to our workflow at Hanno, and we’re just finding our feet with it, and starting to see the benefits.

Jon and Arnas pairing in KL

Although we’re a distributed team, and despite some obvious drawbacks, like being dependent on a strong internet connection, and that it’s naturally a little trickier to handle it remotely than it is side-by-side in the same room, it’s undoubtedly becoming one of the most crucial parts of our workflow.

Pairing is a great way to boost collaboration, especially on a remote team. So, for example, when Arnas and I are working together on an update for our own site, we have to pair up as soon as possible. We brainstorm and feed off each other’s ideas as we go, and often try out some quicker fixes and implementations of those ideas, as we’re pairing. Even if we’re just trying an idea out using Chrome’s web inspector tools and one of us ends up refining, testing, and making it fully-shippable later on, we can go from a glimpse of an idea to working implementation in a matter of minutes.

By contrast, doing it the old-fashioned way, with IM, group hangouts or calls, design ping-pong and endless feedback rounds, would take us considerably longer, and be far less efficient.

While we don’t have a full ‘XP’ (extreme programming) process, and don’t pair full-time on projects like other teams we’ve worked with, at Pivotal Labs and Novoda, we’ve found ourselves pairing up on frontend work more and more lately.

For this, our main requirement is a solid tool to connect two people and allow easy screen sharing. For us, that tool is Screenhero, which brings together solid screen sharing (with multiple cursors!) and voice chat. It’s the first time we’ve found a really dependable tool to allow us to pair remotely, without feeling lag and frustration.

We’re looking forward to trying to bring pairing into our remote toolkit more and more in the future, and sharing more practical advice and learnings as we figure out how to make it work even better for us. But right now, we’re definitely of the opinion that it’s something other remote teams should be trying to bring into their process, if they haven’t already.