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New Job. New World. Same Values.

Leanne Paura

Leanne Paura

VP of Design

May 19, 2022

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

Some of us haven’t started new jobs during the pandemic but many of us have (including 100+ of the new Connectors that joined us these last two years!). For those who have, you acknowledge the challenges in getting acquainted with new processes, systems, and building relationships with colleagues remotely. Add this to ensuring that yourself and your loved ones stay safe and healthy. So, what’s the secret to successfully beginning a new job remotely? Values. Learn how Leanne Paura leveraged each of Connected’s values uniquely to overcome some of the challenges with transitioning to a remote-first world since she started in her role as VP of Design.

Connected has always had a social, fun, and dynamic culture. The Connected calendar was full of partner events, learning sessions, workshops, parties, and more. It was a culture that undoubtedly supported the company’s reputation as a premier E2E product development services firm.

As my colleagues like to say, it was the kind of place where collaboration happened naturally, and good ideas were the outcome. 

At least, that’s what I hear.

I joined Connected in March 2020, and at that time, I wasn’t just starting my new role as VP of Design but was also entering, thanks to the pandemic, a new world that continues to define itself with each passing day. Needless to say, it wasn’t without its obstacles. 

So how did I stay on course? By sticking to a set of clearly-defined values.

Smart, kind, reliable, teachers, and learners: these are Connected’s values, and what we strive to be. Connectors truly believe and live these values. Our people are directly responsible for the incredible culture maintained in the last few years.

These values are also the ideals that continue to define Connected as we embrace remote-first work. 

Approaching Remote First, Smartly

We believe in pursuing impact. Close communication, collaboration, and being intellectually humble is how we do it. And actively pursuing impact is how we define the value of being smart. 

I can’t emphasize enough just how much of the culture at Connected relied on being in-person. A big challenge was keeping that culture as intact as possible with the shift to remote work; taking our processes that relied on being in-person to a virtual environment. 

Before the pandemic, in-person research synthesis and concept generation involved a lot of sticky notes, whiteboards, and tactical notes and data. Now we leverage Miro and Airtable, digital tools that allow us to synthesize data in a way that is easily shareable and retrievable. What’s more, we can use these tools for other needs, such as team retrospectives and keeping digital artifacts of exemplary work from past projects. 

While we knew that everyone would need to adapt, it was a learning curve for partners, clients, and their customers to participate in remote research and workshops, and for our team to learn how to navigate this alongside them. But what we discovered was that using these tools opened up new avenues for more efficient, easier, and broader communication and collaboration, which means we won’t likely be moving away from them.

Kind & Connected

Kindness means having a level of self-awareness that allows you to take responsibility for what you do and what you make. It means taking responsibility for how your energy impacts others, whether those people are coworkers or customers.

In a practical sense, for us that self-awareness meant looking at the world around us and figuring out how we can all show up to work as our best selves. However we decide to respond to this new, pandemic-impacted world will impact our team, our clients, and our ability to continue building better products. In other words, self-awareness means listening; to ourselves, our community, and the world around us.

So far, what we’re hearing is some great feedback on the effectiveness and efficiency of remote-first, as well as the flexibility it entails for people in their personal lives. I joined the company just after my second maternity leave. From a personal standpoint, as a parent of young children, I appreciate the willingness and flexibility to always adjust to my schedule. And I’m beyond thankful for the chance to be around my little ones at home, while still being able to work. I also know that I’m far from alone in that appreciation. It feels like we’re able to fit work around our lives and not the other way around.

Reliable; Who We Are & What We Do

Being reliable means not only being there to catch the ball but making trade-offs and communicating them, all while working towards a higher purpose and common goal. 

I quickly learned that when it comes to Connected and Connectors, some important beliefs define the organization, its people, and the expectations of what collectively they can do:

  1. Our dedication to our values and the pursuit of building the best quality products is our primary focus. 
  2. The pursuit of impact and consistently pushing our practice forward by experimenting and stress-testing our methods with new clients, user bases, and industries is what unites us. 
  3. The demand for integrated teams to tackle tough product challenges, and the need for design and research to validate assumptions and test hypotheses is not diminishing, but rapidly increasing.

Although the pandemic caused how we interact as a team and with our clients to change, by focusing on our core tenets and our partners’ and their end users’ best interests we’ve not only met the growing demand but exceeded expectations in the process. 

Always Teaching

We believe it is important to actively share what we know—the knowledge and experience each of us has that can help others build better—whether that’s with your team, your clients, or your industry peers. Anyone can be a teacher. 

Approaching each other in this way instills confidence and fosters intellectual curiosity. Often when working together, we recognize opportunities to offer expertise on methods or skills that eventually translate to a change in our workflow or a way to elevate our thinking and collective capabilities.

To our surprise, going remote-first has also opened up opportunities for us on the Design team to teach our clients more about the people using their products. Prior to the pandemic, we almost always conducted user interviews, usability testing, and other research activities in person. Taking these methods remote has allowed us to invite our clients and partners to sit in on interview calls, testing sessions, and group discussions. Not only does it give clients more visibility into how we do things, but also allows for more in-context understanding and in-the-moment inspiration.

Always Learning

I believe that remaining curious and teachable is the best way to ensure you’re continually growing; and one that aligns with our value of learning. 

No matter who you are at Connected, there are a wide variety of opportunities to learn from others and offer your diverse perspective in group discussions and workshops.

On the Design team, the “Islands” are small groups of practitioners that meet every other week for feedback, design critiques or discussion on project challenges. Members meet in a consistent group that has more project and client context than the wider team would have. 

One of my favourite learning opportunities at Connected comes with getting to know every new Connector on our team. Each new hire creates a “user manual to working with me” presentation that is shared in their first couple of weeks. Our existing team gets the chance to learn about the new team member’s backgrounds, interests, and preferred ways of collaborating. It’s how we start creating bonds and learning about our shared interests in a way that feels natural. It also helps us get a sense of their personality in a setting that is supportive and open.

Final Thoughts

Starting this role was unlike any other, in a time unlike any other. I’d be lying if I said I do not miss the opportunity to collaborate in person and enjoy going into the office to do just that, every week or so. But keeping it simple, aspiring to be a smart, kind, reliable teacher and learner helped me overcome some of the challenges with transitioning to a remote-first world. And fortunately, I work with a team that also holds these values, and is willing to experiment to get to the right solution. 

I’m incredibly proud of how our Design team and all of Connected adapted, evolved, and grew, being reliable to our partners and one another. We learned to be more purposeful with our time, energy, and how we interact with one another. Though apart, we continue to be teachers, always empowering others to do more. We worked smarter, not harder, with new and innovative ways to communicate, collaborate, and add value to projects and our partners. It wasn’t always easy but empathy, open-mindedness, and a willingness to be kind are what helped us persevere.

And if there is one undeniable take-away from my first two years at Connected, it’s that it doesn’t matter where the work takes place or how far apart physically from one another everyone is, our commitment to building exceptional products brings us together with a shared purpose. 

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