JournalFeb 2015

When Hyper met Hanno

I woke up this morning like I do every morning: slumbering in the semi-darkness as I roll out of a friend’s sofa-bed I’m crashing on while I figure out my next few weeks in London.

But by the time I’m out of the shower and wrapped in multiple layers to face the biting cold waiting for me outside, I feel that tingling excitement that has stuck with me since I arrived exactly a week ago, seeping in again.

As always, I proceeded to check my email during the 40-minute commute from Canary Wharf to Brick Lane where I’m doing my first qualitative research for my IRP (Industry Research Project). And as always, I regretted not having written my blog post the night before, blaming it partly on giving priority to other things instead. But this morning something in an article about how an operations manager reached her life goals caught my attention. By writing her goals on 121 post-its and clustering them around various themes, she found a simple way to achieve them and wrote about it on Medium to help others use the same process as a lifehack. What really caught my attention though was:

“The writing helped her to process what she’d learned, but more critically, having other people read it would hold her accountable.”

I realised that the same could be said about this blog, which I created to remember the journey I faced during my thesis. But I wasn’t delivering what I had promised to myself. And I hate not keeping promises I make to myself. So let’s do something to fix that.

Where does this journey really start?

Well, it starts at The Hatch, a coworking space at 37 Heneage Street, right off Brick Lane.

The Hatch

Every day for a week, I’ve been going there to meet Matt, a content and business strategist and designer working for Hanno, but not at Hanno. That’s because Hanno’s team, unlike other design teams, doesn’t have its own office. Each member – or ‘shipmate’ – works remotely from wherever he wants to, be it in a coworking space in Budapest or in more environmentally friendly surroundings in Bali. Obviously I was intrigued to know how they’ve managed to work this way successfully for the past three years.

I contacted Hanno in November 2014 after reading Arnas’ story on how he became one of Hanno’s location-independent designers. My first chat with Jon, Hanno’s founder, was really casual and straightforward (and now that I met the rest of the crew I can definitely say that this holds true for the entire team). In the following weeks, Jon gave me useful feedback on the thesis structure I had in mind, such as the initial topics I wanted to focus on:

  • Digital nomads and their environments (motivation, myth vs. reality)
  • Benefits and challenges of working remotely for the various stakeholders (nomads, clients, employers, locals)
  • Processes when working remotely (communication, workflows, digital tools)
  • Relationship between nomads-employers and nomads-clients
  • Co-working spaces and hubs (networking, community: how do they support/hinder productivity?)
  • Effects of digital nomadism on local communities
  • Ethical and bureaucratic issues (tax evasion, work permits, insurances)
  • Personal development of digital nomads
  • Future prospects of remote work

I got in touch with him again in January when I realised I had time to start shadowing the way Hanno’s team worked as a case study for my thesis. Since I was temporarily based in Manchester, we agreed that the easiest way to start observing their workflow would be to transfer to London and get involved with Matt’s daily routine, to get a first hand experience of working remotely with a team. I was told I would be helping out on a one week sprint with one of their clients and to meet Matt at The Hatch at 9am.

As of Day One, I barely had time to walk in when Matt got me diving into the deep end by introducing me to the regular 9am ‘stand up’ with Arnas and Sergei. Hanno’s stand ups reminded me of Hyper Island’s morning ‘check-ins’, but instead of going round and saying how we were feeling that day in true Hyper style, these stand ups help the rest of the team to know what each team member would be working on that day.

Remote team Skype!

As Jon and Matt pointed out to me, communication is even more crucial in a virtual team. In fact, it’s more like overcommunication: so far I’ve counted at least 5 tools they use for communication alone (without including email, which they rarely use). And that’s without mentioning all the other tools which are all used to communicate indirectly too. I’m still updating this list as I go along, although Hanno does a better job of explaining their choice of tools in their Logbook.

I started getting to grips with a few of these, in particular Asana, which is Hanno’s number one tool for organising projects and tasks. Or as Matt put it: “If I would have to pick one tool above all of these, this would be it.” And it’s not restricted to their team – for Hanno it’s so important that they even get their clients to use it, instead of email. I wasn’t convinced about it at first but it finally won me over when I realised I wasn’t desperate to reach inbox zero any more. Besides, there’s a little feeling of satisfaction each time I get to tick a box for a task that I’ve completed, which helps build up that sense of productivity.

I also got to push myself outside my comfort zone again (thank you Hyper Island for making me appreciate this now). Before HI, I was a visual designer who, like many designers of these times, shifted from print to digital in the past few years. As a T-shaped professional I still consider graphic design as my main skill, but during my Masters I also learnt other skills in brand strategy, business transformation, digital technology, storytelling, team development and facilitation. Being at Hanno and working alongside Matt on content strategy and brand messaging over the past week has been challenging but also a valuable way for me to understand how I can apply what I’ve learnt in a new context.

It’s been an intense but eye-opening first week. Now that I’ve actually been able to meet the Hanno team (at least virtually), I can’t think of a better way to have started this journey.

Posted by
Laïla von Alvensleben

Laïla was a designer at Hanno from 2015-2018, helping us implement ways to work more effectively as a distributed team.