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Project Information

Role: UX Designer (and User Research)

Timeline: 12 weeks

Method: Sprint (agile)

Company: Sentier

Type: Freelance (Course Credit for Projects in HCI)

Tools: MIRO, Qualtrics, Google Sheets/Docs, Figma, Keynote

Thirty minutes into your first video meeting in the morning, because of the concentration one needs to have in video, you are fatigued.

- Satya Nadella

 
 

Problem

How has remote work since the pandemic hit affected how people communicate with their colleagues and co-workers virtually? Design product concept that focuses on these gaps and assists people in their everyday workplace communication.

Background

The focus of the project is to explore how social constructs, communications, and interactions have changed in the remote work environment, and create a design for an application or additions/plugins to an existing application that humanizes virtual interactions

While video conferencing has been a part of the tech work culture for quite some time, the pandemic has replaced the following events and a few more by applications like Zoom:

  1. Professional Conferences

  2. Local Meetups

  3. Social Meetups (Work Happy Hours)

  4. Career Fairs

  5. Many More ...

But numerous gaps exist in the way conversations and interactions take place virtually and there is still a long way before virtual communication can successfully substitute in-person real communications and social relations. 

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Hypotheses

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I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. Let your users get to know you.

Target User

All corporate employees from any and all departments ranging from new hires, direct reports or executives, managerial-level as well as board members.

Methodology

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Secondary Research

Some of the things we looked at were: Non-verbal communication, Bias in communication, Trust building, Surveillance, Open office vs Cubicles, Online Work Meetings, and the gaps between offline and online meetings.

We also looked at patterns in online dating before and after COVID-19

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KEY INSIGHTs

  • Loss of non-verbal communication signals and messages.

  • Absence of Casual Collisions in an online work environment.

  • Affective Trust is important for nurturing relationships, especially during the beginning of relationships.

  • Affective Trust is trust based on emotional bond and interpersonal relatedness and has become typically difficult to develop during virtual communication.

Remote workers had a 4% increase in average daily time spent on their core work and an 18% decrease in time spent on communication (compared to office workers).​

Competitor Audit

We focussed on both direct and indirect competitors. Some of the lesser-known apps are: Gatherly, ​YoTrible, Loom, Around co, Discord, and Marco Polo

Many lesser-known apps have or are working on one or more interesting features to bridge the gaps in virtual communication. One of the apps that stood out was Gatherly which let's people form groups and mingle slightly closer to what happens in real-life

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Existing GAPs

  • Overhearing a conversation or edging into a conversation has completely vanished.

  • Spontaneity is missing from virtual communication. There are no more chance interactions.

  • No physical proximity between people makes it harder to start newer conversations.

  • The communications have become more official and transactional.

Survey

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We noticed that the frequency of casual collisions (random conversations) declined significantly since working remotely and the dissatisfaction with the experience of Virtual Happy Hours increased.

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Asking the participants to compare the experience of collaborating with colleagues and meeting new employees for the first time virtually (since remote work) and while working in-person, we saw a steady decline in the satisfaction level.

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A major bias that might affect the ratings shown in the figure on the right is the fact that the applications serve the basic purpose of remote work collaboration satisfactorily well. However later in the process, we use this data to delve deeper into the more specific & contextual problems related to these applications

We use this data to inform the following steps in the design journey.

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Generative Interview

We interviewed 14 users over a course of 2 weeks to gather first-hand details and accounts of user experience related to the pre-COVID and post-COVID workplace. The participant pool was an unbiased mix of users with different job titles, job positions, genders,  age group work experience, and ethnicity.

The interview touched upon topics of workplace communication, casual collisions, meetings, and collaborative work, out of work activities like happy hours, etc. before and after COVID-19. A 45 min to an hour-long session culminated in Likert scale ratings to get a more quantifiable aspect of user satisfaction. Once all the interviews were done, we used Affinity Diagram to synthesize our interview findings and develop some scenarios to make some progress in the direction of the design.

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INSIGHTS

  • Workplace communication since COVID-19 has become more transactional.

  • It is not easy to collaboratively work only on video calls.

  • There are no more casual collisions or rather they are not 'casual' anymore. 

  • No organic opportunities to meet people.

  • Happy hours are not as fun because I (the user) am still at my desk.

  • No traveling to the office and back saves a lot of time.

  • It is hard to keep track of what employees are doing (quick status check) or if they are stuck somewhere, outside of an official meeting.

  • There is no 'reading the room' while presenting.

  • Watching one's image or video during calls is both distracting and not very comforting

Video meetings are more transactional," he said. "Work happens before meetings, after meetings.

 

- Satya Nadella

Scenarios

SCENARIO 2

Taking the key insights from the data collected during generative interviews, we created 3 scenarios. The entire class created low-fidelity designs or sketches to share the ideas around each scenario. The Professor then grouped all the ideas for each scenario together and the class voted on the ideas or functionality for each scenario. 

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SCENARIO 1

Facilitate Casual Conversations in a remote work environment where people can randomly bump into each other before or after work or during breaks to chit chat or make small talk.

ASSUMPTION: Mobile-first design for this scenario is because the focus on casual conversations implied that the user is not necessarily at their work-desk at least not in their real-time set-up inside an office workspace (50% of the users we interviewed mentioned that most of these conversations with their colleagues happened at water-cooler, while waiting for the elevator or before work starts at the coffee station). The application works in conjunction with or is an extension of their regular chat apps and functions equally well in a web-based or desktop setting.

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SCENARIO 2

Replicate the experience of huddling around and working collaboratively as a team around a common Whiteboard on Wheels (pre-COVID)  to communicate problems and solutions, brainstorm ideas, the feasibility of solution discussions, etc. in a virtual remote work setup.

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SCENARIO 3

Mimicking real-world in-office quick walk-in check-ins with employees for the managers without having to ask them for reports or call-on for official meetings in virtual pandemic affected office set-up.

My design ideas for Casual Collisions and Informal Check-in scenarios were among the top 3 voted design ideas in a class of about 25 students.

Heat Map Voting

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User Story

Scenario 1

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Feature Prioritization grid for Casual Collision Scenario.

Scenario 2

Feature Prioritization grid for Whiteboard Scenario.

FEEDBACK

CASUAL COLLISIONS (Scenario 1)

  • Considering how people use sound and peripheral vision to judge how far or near a person is in a crowd.

  • Giving people the choice to let or not let a smart system pick up topics from their conversation within a group, and displaying it for others outside the group thus fostering lurking.

  • Instead of replicating an office space virtually and creating public areas like a cafe or lounge room, a virtual version of open office space might be more efficient.

WHITEBOARD (Scenario 2)

  • We need not think about or design for how a person would use a Whiteboard alone.

  • Think about the visibility of WhiteBoard.

  • Limited color and design tools are good.

  • Think about space size. (Infinite space causes people to use it for everything)

  • Audio filtering/AI support to notify users about changes.

I don’t miss going to the office everyday but do miss being there sometimes. There is more energy when collaborating with colleagues—do you know how difficult it is to white board on video?! I also miss the side chats, walking to get a coffee and so forth. We’re going to return just two days a week when appropriate to do so and I think that’s the right amount.

 

(Working from home is making a lot of people miserable : Alison Green for Slate.com)

Design - Casual Collision

To maintain consistency across the designs created by each group for each scenario, we mutually agreed on using 1st Wireframe Styleguide - Freebie provided by tmrw.

The concept inspiration and tone for the scenario Casual Collision is well depicted in the image on the right where some people are working, while others walking around and dropping in and out of conversations with people they like.

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First Iteration

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Home screen design for the standalone device concept.

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A screen that depicts the office space. Circles represent people/users.

SEcond Iteration

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FEEDBACK

  • Consideration of proximity to show people working together was a big thumbs up by all participants alike.

  • Users positively backed the concept of having the topics of conversation on display along with groups of people engaging in those conversations.

  • Easily hoping in and out of conversations successfully addresses the users' current concerns of sitting idly in a non-work meeting.

  • The concept of an enhanced digital twin of the real office workspace was a winner and 5 out of 6 users seemed excited about the idea

CONCERNS & IMPROVEMENT

  • Privacy is a major concern for all users. Does the company record these conversations or data? Does muting really prevent the host from listening in? 

  • Users prefer a sense of control when it comes to private, non-work related conversations. Users being able to control the topics that are displayed as a part of their conversation will help build trust.

  • A clear indication of self in the virtual world is goo-to-have.

  • 2 out of 6 users were apprehensive of how people would or would not engage with the background noise

  • Adding more social cues like being able to actively see if a colleague is busy with work or not will help initiate these casual conversations better in the virtual space.

A common suggestion that emerged out of the second round of testing was the concern with having another conversation application facilitating this. Combining the user suggestions with our initial plan (based on the secondary research and the generative user testing) the most optimized solution would be to build the application as an extension of an existing video conferencing apps like Teams or Zoom and make it accessible on laptops, PC, tablets as well as a standalone screen. 

Access all the annotated Design Screens for Casual Collisions scenario here.

We decided to create an application for a standalone device like a screen inspired by the concept of Square created by Argodesign.

FEEDBACK

  • It was unclear who would decide which colleagues (depicted as circles) are shown around you. And it would be nicer to know so or control so individually.

  • There should be different ways to reach out to people like chat, audio call, etc.

  • There should be an easy way to visualize conversation groups.

Above image was taken at the Rackspace office where people are working and simultaneously engaging in conversation with each other.

A randomly captured Whiteboard session in an office space.

Design - Whiteboard

To maintain consistency across the designs created by each group for each scenario, we mutually agreed on using 1st Wireframe Styleguide - Freebie provided by tmrw.

The concept inspiration and tone for scenario Whiteboard is well depicted in the image on the right. People are huddled around a whiteboard and working with a limited set of resources (markers, dusters), discussions can be spontaneously started by the people around and people can join in if they wish to.

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First Iteration

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Whiteboard feature shall exist in the Slack app & can be shared around in chats.

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An active Whiteboard shall have clear indication of the users working on it .

FEEDBACK

  • There should be a way to manage and allocate the whiteboard resources.

  • What happens once the meeting is over or the whiteboard is closed?

SECOND Iteration

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Visibility of the shared Whiteboards

VISIBILITY FEATURE FEEDBACK

  • A carousel of shared Whiteboards provides a good overview, however, users need to find things quickly and might not go through all these Whiteboards.

  • Suggestion: A signifier for edit and read permissions attached to each Whiteboard would be nice-to-have.

  • Suggestion: There needs to be a way to pin a whiteboard for quick access.

  • Concern: Users, rarely, find a Whiteboard session to join. It's always the other way around where someone invites them and they join if they are interested.

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Using & joining a whiteboard session

USING & JOINING FEATURE FEEDBACK

  • Half of the users liked the feature of being able to join a random Whiteboard session of interest, solving the problem of feeling left-out, especially for new-hires.

  • A live whiteboard session like this is great for capturing context in a virtual environment.

  • Concern: Users were concerned about managers looking over their shoulders by asking to join these sessions.

  • A solution like this does not require having a MIRO or Figma board set-up and shared during a meeting. You need not necessarily be in a meeting to access the Whiteboard which is nice.

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Whiteboard resource management

RESOURCE MANAGEMENT FEATURE FEEDBACK

  • The customizability of sticky notes is a nice add-on.

  • Users were divided on whether they like Whiteboard space to be infinite given it's not constrained by physical elements like size, or mimic the real-world constraints of shape and size thus enforcing a natural structure into the sessions.

  • Users preferred that the board was not infinitely configurable but the resources could be requested like in the real world.

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Highlight or lock important sections on the board

'DO NOT ERASE' FEATURE FEEDBACK

  • The customizability of sticky notes is a nice add-on.

  • Users were divided on whether they like Whiteboard space to be infinite given it's not constrained by physical elements like size, or mimic the real-world constraints of shape and size thus enforcing a natural structure into the sessions.

  • Users preferred that the board was not infinitely configurable but the resources could be requested like in the real world.

HISTORY & RECAPS

  • Asynchronous note-taking and change review were well-received however the usability of the feature is questionable.

  • Managers found this feature redundant.

  • Other users liked that there was a quick recap feature that they could just go through in case they missed a session.

  • Suggestion: Pairing the audio & visual notes with the active user makes the recap more meaningful.

  • Concern: The amount of clutter and redundancy these recorded sessions create needs handling. Is Whiteboard the right tool for archiving?

  • Concern: The durability of the whiteboard in the digital space still remains a concern given that it is only a temporary workspace in the real world.

  • Being able to convert a Whiteboard into something more durable like a pdf or an image seems more efficient than making the whiteboard permanent.

Access all the annotated Design Screens for the Whiteboard scenario here.

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Record live session and check for recap and important highlights after a session is over.

Learnings

  • An early mistake we committed was not showing the users (during Generative Interviews) our findings from the Secondary Research. Probably, those could have nudged on to help uncover some underlying and intrinsic concerns or UX gaps.

  • For the second round of testing, due to time limitations, we could not recruit as many users as we had preferred and needed to get a diverse group. The group we ended up with were mostly managers who did not relate to some of the UX gaps and issues we were trying to address.

  • With the Whiteboard Scenario, (as evident from user feedback) we probably went too far with the functionality and the feature add-ons, instead of focusing on something as simple as playing Pictionary online (which probably would have hit home!)

  • While testing or gathering feedback for concept designs, it is important that the research and design team are on the same page and have well communicated the pain-points, the user stories the designed solution specifics, etc. among each other.

  • For a project like this, where the experience we were trying to explore and indulge in was fairly novel to the users themselves, a contextual inquiry would have been a better UX research method than a Generative Interview to identify gaps and pain-points.

  • Taking the feedback from the final round of testing the Whiteboard design, we compiled a new set of How Might We's for future work.

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