UX agency WLTM international client: how we rediscovered the joy of IRL work

Many relationships were formed entirely online during covid, with in-person meet ups replaced by video chats and messages whilst we were all working and socialising from our bedrooms.

But how will these bonds bear up now the world is returning to normality and travel is back on the agenda?

We recently headed over to Rwanda to meet our online connections at Bank of Kigali for real and find out how tall they are when they’re not just a head and shoulders on a screen.

Spoiler alert: our visit went so well we’ve already booked a second date. 😍

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In-person or remote work?

Lighthouse has been working remotely with clients and as a team long before it was obligatory, so when lockdowns came there was little adapting for us to do.

We know for certain that we can build great client relationships and deliver value at a distance, having done it for projects of all shapes and sizes for years.

In fact, when covid came along we found ourselves helping the organisations we work with – enterprise businesses where becoming remote all of a sudden could present challenges – get up to speed too.

Mike drinking a mojito
the pool at our hotel

Meeting in-person

We set out to Kigali with a solid 18 months of UX and UI design work across their entire product suite under our belts.

An in-person get together was something both sides had wanted for a long time, with a couple of false starts due to pesky covid variants cropping up setting us back.

Going all-out with a 4,000 mile flight as our first business trip since 2019 was an exciting prospect, and not just because we fancied a rooftop pool, dangerously delicious mojitos and the chance to spot zebras.

Our online relationship was clearly blossoming, but both sides were keen to take things to the next level.

three members of the BK team stick post-its to the glass wall
A female BK team member sticks a post-it to the glass wall

High-functioning teams

Rwanda is a country on the up.

It’s already recognised as an African tech hub, an innovative economy and as NewAfrican magazine puts it, ‘a nation on the move’.

Rwanda is a classic example of how African states should sit confidently in the driving seat to determine their own digital destinies.

Faustine Ngila
NewAfrican

There is an immense appetite and need for UX design as processes digitalise, but it’s still early days for the discipline in many African countries. The established community of product professionals we enjoy in the UK is a little way off yet.

That’s why our engagement with the Bank of Kigali is transitioning from a focus on deliverables to building a high functioning product team. We’re so excited to help upskill a young team with little formal training but incredible enthusiasm and potential.

All the best relationships are ones where you’re supported to learn new things 🥰

Tom giving a presentation in the BK office
Three members of the BK team working together with post-its on the table
two members of the BK team writing on post-its
Three members of the BK team writing on post-its whilst Dan B looks on

In-person collaboration

This upskilling work really comes into its own with real-life face time.

During our trip, two of our designers were based in Bank of Kigali’s digital factory office all week, and were able to run workshops and training with a hugely engaged team.

Aside from the novelty of getting reacquainted with actual paper post its, (Miro’s virtual ones are fab, but nothing beats that ‘just peeled’ feel) being in the same room as a team who appreciate and enjoy great collaboration is something that refreshes and energises us all.

We saw the Bank of Kigali team’s learning accelerate during the week too, with ideas and processes clicking with them just as much as we clicked with each other.

We felt close online, but just a week of togetherness has deepened our bond immeasurably and truly made us one team.

The BK and LH teams on a night out, a large group of people holding drinks and dancing together

This is what's known as 'team building' 🍻

Non-verbal communication

Without going too deep into an anthropology lecture, when our relationships take place entirely online it’s easy to miss out on the more nuanced elements of communication.

Facial expressions, gestures, posture and gait, and visible arm and other body movements make up 65–70 percent of the social meaning of a conversation.

Ray Birdwhistell
Anthropologist

That’s why we were able to make such speedy progress with the Bank of Kigali team when we had a bodily presence in their office, not just a name on Teams.

Our deepened understanding wasn’t just based on dancing to Afrobeats together (although that certainly didn’t hurt!), but from the non-verbal signs our bodies were able to give each other.

Workshopping in person means quicker understanding, thanks to our ability to read signals about things like:

  • emotional state
  • attitude
  • stance on a topic
  • if people are confused or getting the message
  • whether they are excited or bored

 

User-centric business

Like their nation as a whole, Bank of Kigali’s leadership have bold ambitions for the organisation’s future. They aspire to be leaders in Rwanda but also Africa – a continent where there’s immense opportunity but not huge resource.

The chance to spend time with the people at the helm, the bank’s executive team, was a pivotal moment in our relationship with BK, and something we couldn’t have achieved without making the journey.

They immediately blew our preconceptions about the C-suite of a traditional institution out of the water – in a good way!

We’d expected meeting in person to be crucial for building trust with these senior shareholders – something that can’t be done with any short cuts – and to ‘sell the dream’ of user-centricity from our position as UX experts.

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Turns out we were on the same page already, with building a user-centric business the top priority of CEO Dr. Diane Karusisi; this level of alignment was a real highlight of the week.

The future’s looking bright for our relationship, with huge plans for our visit in summer.

Lighthouse and Bank of Kigali will be publicly launching the digital channels we’ve been working on together at the 10,000 seater Kigali arena; fulfilling Tom’s dream of playing to a packed stadium is an added bonus. 🤘

A week of close collaboration has turbo-charged our relationship, with both sides knowing we’re in it for the long haul together.

Hybrid working

As the working week drew to a close we reflected on the fact that the world is getting smaller again.

The days of sitting in our spare rooms/kitchens/sheds and working separately are (hopefully) over, and taking a week out to visit a client on the other side of the world is far from unattainable.

If we’re honest, spending almost two years entirely online meant we’d lost sight of just how much value some good old fashioned real life collaboration beings.

The benefits of a relatively small amount of time together shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s especially useful when the foundations are well-established.

Whilst it’s unlikely many businesses will ever go back to all in-person, all the time, a hybrid model that brings people together at opportune moments seems like it’s definitely the way to go.

There are no shortcuts to strong relationships, but if you’re looking to build trust, accelerate learning and deepen bonds, it’s time to block out some time and book those plane tickets.

Oh and btw, we did manage to catch a glimpse of those safari animals we’d hoped for. 😁

an elephant
a giraffe
a gazelle
two zebras

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