Long Distance UX Relationships During The Pandemic

Sal Bolaños
5 min readApr 15, 2020

In 2020, we were all thrown a major curveball when COVID-19 hit our world and caused hardship for many companies and workers. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for folks who have lost their jobs, businesses, loved ones and anyone who is hurting during these difficult times. For those who know me, you know my empathy level is through the roof. During times like these, I aspire to help however I can and so I hope this post can do just that:entertain, bring a smile, and push those who are still working but trying to get through this in the best way possible.

As this pandemic came crashing through our lives and the work from home orders began taking effect, business successfully went on as usual at TransUnion. Was it because we’ve always had a flexible remote working environment? Was it because our technology was prepared? Or was it because some teams have bonded so long, built relationships, grown with each other, know each other almost like friends? It’s probably all of the reasons I stated but the one main reason that sticks with me is the team bond.

Why I say that is because I’m still pretty new myself. I actually barely know my team yet and they barely know me, let alone each other. What I’m saying is…while most of my peers and their teams have had the privilege of being intact for a year or more, I knew they would be okay through all of this as those relationships have been already established and perhaps tested.

And, that’s why, this specific post is so personal to me.

And just so we are clear, this post isn’t another top 10 ways on how to work remote or ways to keep the team inspired. A simple Google search will return hundreds of ways to do that so I will save you from my basic recommendations for now.

For this specific post, I wanted to talk about my current experience as the new Product Design Director at TransUnion and how building a much needed design team has really felt like a long-distance relationship for the past 30+ days…especially when all your direct reports are new both to you and to each other.

As many of you know, starting a new job in itself is especially hard if it is in a leadership role as you’re hustling to make connections, build great partnerships, establish trust among your peers and build the right team around you to help everyone be successful. This all takes time, commitment, a lot of in person chats, many meetings, quick project wins, and chemistry. Like a relationship, you can’t just rush into things and being hired over the holidays while many people were taking time off, I felt I couldn’t make close enough relationships like I wanted to. However, I stayed committed and kept trying to establish a mini footprint for design.

Shortly after the holidays were over, I was able to begin to hire a few key pieces of the team and we continued down our road of finding quick wins in whatever way possible. Within 20 days after a few hires and ongoing recruiting we found ourselves with an immediate consumer-insight driven proposed solution that the organization was absolutely craving for a team like ours to bring to life. (Because I can’t say what the name of the project was, we will just have to leave it as that…but yes, TransUnion has some good stuff cookin’ up 😍 ) Any ways, as you can read from my words, we as a team and an organization were pretty excited and growing momentum just within the 3 months of existence. Then… here comes COVID-19.

Not thinking of it as much at the time, I knew we as a team would be fine because we have worked remote before and shown we can get stuff done. What was interesting to eventually realize was that my larger product team had something my team didn’t.

A history.

Like relationships, everyone has a history or has been “seeing” each other for a while now. Maybe a year, maybe two years, maybe five, hell you might even be going two decades strong. Either way, this little advantage I did not really think of as we went into our shelter at home policy, was something I thought would hurt my team’s amazing process and momentum. I mean, we were just getting to know each other. We’ve had great workshop sessions, team reviews, solid stakeholder presentations, a few arguments, tons of usability test insights…we were just hitting our stride and it was clear this relationship just felt good.

This isn’t goodbye, this is just see you later.

Yes, I just said that and I now can admit we are in a long-distance relationship. We have to keep our cool, provide the right amount of space needed. We can’t be that creepy annoying partner who texts you a million times “where are you”, “what are you doing” “where is that”. We can’t be the person who questions your every move. We can’t be the person who disappears and can’t be found. You know what I mean… the person who says “I just text you back… I know you saw it”. Instead of being that person, we have to find a way to be the same people who got us here today. We have to seriously treat this like a real relationship since we didn’t have the advantage of working together for the past few years. Luckily TransUnion is such a great place to work who has a great HR team who has done everything they can to ensure teams are connecting often but I sometimes think to myself our situation is sort of rare in its own way since we are all still new to each other. I guess if this was going to happen to a new growing team, I am happy it is happening to this one because this is where our own skillsets as Experience Designers come into play as it is more important than ever to have empathy for each other and not just our consumers. I call this process Experience Design Bonding (XDB) and if you are currently going through something similar just remember what they say in the movies… if we can make this work now, I know we will be able to make it work later.



Sal Bolaños

Sal Bolaños is a Creative & Design Director who specializes in Experience Design and Strategy. He currently is the Head of Design at TransUnion.