Home office — making the ‘new normal’ experience better.

Identifying the issues faced by users while adapting the work-from-home pattern and trying to enhance the same

My self Rimmi, mother to a 6.5 year old sweet girl & 1 year old naughty boy, was playing with my kids and a cousin called. She told me about an opening of a Product manager having some UX experience. That is when i started my research and got myself enrolled wtih Growth School for the introduction workshop.

In the Mastery program, for a Design Thinking project we were asked to understand user problems for a specific area and help them in enhancing their experience . Since I was likely to join a new organization in work-from-home scenario, I decided to choose Home-office as my area for exploring user problems.

Home = Office = Home …this is the new equation… some had the WFH experience while the rest will sail through!

How the was my design thinking journey?

What is Design Thinking?

For me, until this course it was thinking about a design….simple. After this course I realized its not just simply thinking of a design, BUT it is an iterative process in which we seek
i.to understand the user
ii. challenge assumptions
iii. redefine problems
in an attempt to identify alternative strategies / solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding.
Design Thinking provides a solution-based approach to solving problems.

To conclude, Design Thinking [DT] it is a way of thinking and working as well as a collection of hands-on methods.

The pandemic has normalized remote work. Many are spending more time than ever inside their homes, as remote work, distance learning and social distancing shape the workweeks of many families.

Lets see if I can tackle the Home-office problems that are ill-defined or unknown by using the DT phases Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test

EMPATHISE with the users

It starts by learning how users have set up their office ,away from office & how is in the current scenario.

MY INTERROGATION LIST

1. Please introduce yourself? I would like to know about your profession and family?

2.Are you working or studying ? Please state if it’s a government job / private job / school / college?

3.What is the typical number of hours you typically spend in front of a screen working or otherwise?

4. Do you have calls ? Average duration of calls ? Total duration during the day?

5. Which place do you work / study most of the time? / What kind of set-up /furniture/equipment do you use? / Do you have a dedicated home office or do you choose an on-the-go location?

6. What do you prefer ? [Table chair / portable stuff / standing desk } Closed rooms or open areas — what’s your choice?

7. Do you prefer to work in the same room / same place every day ? or you prefer it anywhere — anytime mode?

8. Are you sharing a device? [in case you have kids online class]

9.Can you describe your BEST and WORST experience of a Home-office

10. How often do you move / exercise ?

11. At the end of the day? / Do you see any impact on health ?

12. Do you have to deal with social isolation / loneliness?

13.How would you rate YOUR overall experience in your kind of Home-Office?

DEFINE the problems

Defining stage feels like a data analysis job. Studying all the collected data from the users, analyze each input to carefully pick up the pain points and list the user insights.

After thorough study few problems bubbled to surface. Every users problem is important for him / her in his/her environment .

? How could Sarang , Ritesh and Dharma have a daily routine which is conducive for work & health?
(They have long working hours causing impact on health )

? Is there a way Riteish can achieve work-life balance?
(He is saving on the commutation time which he wishes to consistently use for relaxation / exercise / family , but ends up slogging)

? Can Dharma get a dedicated space so that he could highlight his animation projects?
( Dharma is a 3D artist and has a passsion for his profession …he does monthly phot shoot of his baby and would like a space to showcase it and many other things he does)

?Is there an option where Dharma, Sarang, Ritesh could socialize with their friends , have team outings and fun activities ?
(They all are missing the office events, gossips, tea-time-talks and other recreational activities)

? Get to know how Sarang and Dharma enjoy some nature to refresh the mood and increase the morale ?
(Sarang used to go out in natural environment in and around the office to enliven the mood. On the other hand, Dharma needs to give a break to his eyes if he is constantly looking at the screen….to find out minute flaws in his graphics)

?A way for users to make their home office arrangement well lit and ventilated .
(Dharma and Ritesh work environment does not have good ventilation.)

? How could Dharma face minimal distractions during work hours ?
(Dharma’s mother watches TV most of the times when he is working.)

? How can Dharma and Ritesh plan their day in a way, where they take enough breaks in between work?
(taking breaks is taken as a negative thing in their office)

IDEATE a solution

I gave a shot to the CRAZY 8 strategy to ideate solutions but I was not able to manage (Number of solution) =8*(Number of problems) for all my problem statements.

Ideas ranged from simple to complex, feasible to impossible.

Users could follow office like routine to simulate the routine...dress up in formals for half day, take a drive / ride around the area to get the fresh air to get a feeling of commuting , invest in setting up private office space or go for economical portable partitions to segregate the work space , invest in high end ergonomically comfortable chair for proper posture, participate in online recreational activities [movies / games / chat rooms etc.,.]

Below are the Top three ideas which I shortlisted among all the others

Idea #1
Simulate office routine
— Just dress up as if you are going to office. When you do so
i. Family / other members know that your work-day has started.
ii. User knows that “I am at work”.
iii. There is no panic if a meeting turned out to be a video call which is now the ‘new-normal’.
iv. User is not lounging in pajamas till 12 pm
v. The most important one, user might feel fresh & energetic as it will kick off the feeling that one can not go out

Idea #2
Invest to improve health
— Market now provides a variety of props to assist you working in a way that is healthy for you or at least minimizes the impact on health.

Idea #3
Virtual socialization
— When a user would have been in the real office, they would typically have a “chai-group” for “chai-time” breaks. Block that time in calendar for the virtual tea break with the same set of people…and have similar conversations in a virtual scenario. Similarly, users can plan and organize team events to keep that fun element alive.

And the winner is Idea#2 for Prototype

PROTOTYPE a model

PROBLEM STATEMENT — To enhance the user experience of Home office for working individual.

IDEA — The idea was based on investing small amount to money in buying props that could assist in improving the health impacts caused due to work from home…where the user gets careless about the correct posture , constantly keeps gazing at the screen.

  1. Posture corrector belt
    When working for long hours , the drooping shoulders and bent back is causing severe problems including constant back pain and discomfort in sitting.
    To avoid this, users with back pain / neck pain are advised to use a posture corrector belt that will prevent the shoulders from drooping and help them get the right posture before

2. Anti glare screen prtotector
Eye strain is caused by staring at screens for long hours.
Users with eye issues are recommended to invest in anti glare glasses or anti glare screen as per their convenience and budget.
This will reduce glare, and protect your eyes from damage.

3. Add plants on work desk
Having plants in the office has been shown to increase attention span, improve creativity, lower stress and stabilize mood & increase morale

This simple step can actually keep user inspired and productive.

What’s the 20–20–20 rule?
If you find yourself gazing at screens all day….to reduce eye stress, Doctor recommends every 20 minutes spent using a screen; you should try to look away at something that is 20 feet away from you for a total of 20 seconds.

TESTING the prototype

Now that I had solved something in my mind and worked on a prototype, it was time to test with users seek feedback.

USER 1 (Dharma)

“Crisp and simple solution. Good ones!”

Dharma likes the use of anti glares but he thinks anti-glare screen feels like an obstacle.
He appreciated the 20–20–20 rule but think its difficult to implement.
He feels that maintaining a real potted plant is an overhead & artificial potted plants will not give a natural feel.

USER 2 (Ritesh)

“Ideas are nice and can be done. I have seen my mother using a back support belt similar to what you suggested. Did not know even I could use it for my posture”

Ritesh is ready to invest in a posture correction belt
He liked the idea of having the green elements on his desk.
Ritesh appreciated the 20–20–20 rule but not sure if he will do it every 20 min.

USER 3(Sarang)

“Rimmi ji great work on ideas and prototype”

Sarang found this idea of posture correction belt & anti-glare screen worth implementing. He has witnessed the benefits of anti-glare screens in his old organization.
He feels carrying potted plants is an overhead as he needs to find a place.
He likes the 20–20–20 rule but thinks its difficult to implement.

Main Highlights of the Feedback

User are interested in solution that are in their comfort zone.

Plants around the work area was welcomed by all.

Comfortability.

Low maintenance ideas accepted

Improvisation in the design

After seeking the feedback from my users, I have tweaked the solution to cater their requirement.

  1. For users who feel an anti glare screen is an obstacle , they could buy anti glare glasses. Users who already wear spectacles, should upgrade the lens to support anti glare feature.

Anti glare lenses

Anti glare glass

2. People who cannot maintain a live plant should go for real-like artificial potted plants [already covered in the idea ].

Those who are not comfortable with artificial plants as they dont give a natural feel, for them I will suggest take low maintenance / very low maintenance real plants …which need watering once-a-week or once in 15 days.

3. [User suggestion] For users, who use portable laptop table, are suggested to use the glass slot for keeping the plant.

4. Set up reminder for 20–20–20 on Phone / Laptop / Desktop / Tablet / Fit watch which ever is preferred. Typically the alarm will ring for like 30 times in the work hours…even if the user does it for 10 times …eye stress level will be reduced.

Lesson Learnt from the project

Any exercise or project or activity teaches you something or the other. This Design Thinking project was no exception to this.

1. Until this exercise, I always thought that UX is only in the IT world…as I am a software professional….but now i realize that EVERYTHING is user experience….literally every experience.

2. Gathering user problem is a small part of DT….understanding the pain points from said & unsaid things is the key to a good solution

3. “One solution does not fit all “. This is an old saying…but I felt the pressure while designing the prototype

4. Even if 10 different users accept 1 solution, expectation of each user is Unique

5. DO NOT ASSUME [In my virtual break idea, I assumed that all people who go on a break have tea ….probably because I am a tea lover…somewhere I considered myself as 1 user :( ]

6.Which problem should be prioritized over the other is a challenge too

This is not the end but a new beginning .

I am excited for …
1. We are currently doing the interiors of our new apartment, and I will be using DT to enhance the user experience of our wardrobes in 3 different bedroom :) [ m,aster bedroom user , children bedroom user , elderly people bedroom]

2. I am joining a new organisation in Jul 2021 for a UX related profile as a Product analyst. I am excited to explore this opportunity with my learning and experience.

3.How it feels to do this as a part of the job…day in day out.