OOO — Out Of Office
How to spend quality time as humans in the era of tech’s flex work teams. Our stories.
Our studio was born in 2012 as a web design firm; we were excellent in creating simple websites with an eye-catching design.
Today we’re a 13-people team.
We help entrepreneurs and forward-looking companies to transform their ideas into successful digital products.
We’re digital designers and developers. Our main working tools are our laptops and many of our conversations are mediated by teamwork software such as Slack, Trello and GitHub, even when we are a few meters away from each other. The products we work on, mostly web and mobile applications, are intangible. The relationships between us and our clients could not exist without displays, emails and online checklists.
When we happen to be offline for a few hours, we are frequently surprised by people working without their eyes constantly fixed on the screen, talking to each other, using their hands to create tangible things. Think about cooks and waiters working in a restaurant: they receive immediate and continuous feedback from their clients; every evening they see the outcome of their work and can be satisfied or disappointed about their job. I don’t think their “physical work” is better or necessarily generates more value than our “digital work”. However, I’m pretty sure that due to our virtual routine we tend to lose focus of the ultimate goal of what we are doing: we are supposed to satisfy some real, specific needs of our client’s clients. These people seem distant and virtual to us, so we often risk to focus our efforts on design and technology details and not on them.
Change of approach
In the past two years, we decided to adopt rituals and methodologies to “focus on (all the) people”:
- On Moze team, to be more cohesive (E.g., everyone of us can work from the office, from home or wherever they prefer, but one time a week we all meet together for a breakfast or a happy hour);
- On our client’s team, in order to benefit from the value of their know-how for the sake of the project (E.g., involving them strongly in our work process, with frequent meetings and workshops);
- On final users, the people who should adopt the stuff we build, in order to shape products around their real needs (E.g., starting any new project with a Design Sprint and doing live research through the Jobs-to-be-done framework).
Getting our hands dirty
In addition to these significant operational changes, we had a very simple idea: to spend some time with people who work without the Wi-Fi. It seemed a good opportunity to do something together in an unconventional way.
We first started meeting Novepunti, a printing workshop in the outskirts of Milan. It was founded by ten design professionals who wanted to preserve and spread the culture of traditional typography and printing methods.
We spent an amazing day with them, discovering how fonts we use every day on our designs had been invented, and learning the movable-type printing process.
At the end of the day, every member of our team clutched their own printed poster in their hands.
Our second experience in the world of real things was at Pizzeria Tony e Max. Max, who runs this rustic restaurant with his wife Melina, is a real Italian “oste”: he is both, an excellent pizza maker and a charming host telling his guest incredible stories about his past life.
We asked him to teach us some secret tricks of the trade. As soon as we entered he gave each of us special equipment: a kitchen apron, a rolling pin, some flour, oil, water and salt.
While everyone of us was awkwardly trying to give some shape to our dough, Max offered his freshly baked breadsticks and pizzas. There are no words to describe this mystical experience.
Ok, a group of design & tech professionals spent half a day making pizzas. That’s great, but…
…what have we learned as a team that day? Here are some impressions I’ve collected from Moze people:
- Some of us commented that there is not a more iterative process than the one of a man who every day has to prepare the product and every night must “go live”. It would be great in our work to be able to measure the end users’ satisfaction on a daily basis, as Max can do. We wondered how we could do it.
- There is no limit to improvement. Max has been constantly improving his pizza dough for twenty years. And he will continue to improve it.
- Every time is different: the same result is not always achieved in the same way. For example, the amount of flour and yeast should vary depending on the humidity of the air. When you are creating something, you must always consider all the factors in the context in which you operate.
- Max’s pizza is incredibly thin and crunchy. When you taste it, you can distinctly perceive the flavor of every single ingredient. It doesn’t make you too thirsty, which is a sign of high quality dough. In short, you’d like to eat dozens of them. That’s a really great UX: not a product designed to arouse your first emotional “wow”, but an overall experience that leaves you satisfied and begs you to repeat it.
- Working as a team is better. None of us had ever made pizza from scratch. Each of us could have learned on their own, but learning together has given us the opportunity to correct each other in real time, give each other useful tips, optimize our efforts.
All of these are universal lessons, valid not only for traditional craftsmen but digital ones as well. In addition we found value in spending time together out of the office, being at the same time designers and users in the process of creating something beautiful for ourselves.
This is what we learned. This is how we want to continue learning.