February-May 2021 (4 months)

Amber Yun, Claire Kim, Kevin Jin, Amy Chen

User research, sketching, prototyping, testing, spatial design


Future of Work

Our team researched and designed a solution to facilitate better hybrid collaboration between remote and in-person designers. 

Design Question

How might we facilitate hybrid collaboration for in-person & remote designers in brainstorming sessions?



The Opportunity in the Workspace

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges in the job sector in the past year. Along with these challenges have come opportunities —opportunities to reimagine workspace norms rapidly and utilize technology to adapt work schedules to modern lifestyles. Many companies have moved online to facilitate social distancing during the pandemic, and several of these companies are planning to continue remote or hybrid work styles even after the pandemic is over, due to popular demand.

According to survey reports, many business leaders are convinced about the productivity gains achieved, thus workers splitting time between the office and home is expected to become the new normal. While hybrid working is becoming a trendy buzz topic, there is still much to be learned about what technologies, company rules, and resources are required to make this happen.

Our team decided to take on this challenge of exploring this unknown space and building out our own solution to hybrid work.

Brainstorming Solutions

Our team used rapid ideation exercises to come up with 100s of potential solutions we could offer for designers in their ideation phase. We realized that our many ideas fell into three distinct buckets.

Considering that the physical layout, software used, and meeting behaviors were all integral parts of a workspace environment, I realized that we couldn't just take one of the three kinds of solutions to fully solve our design problem and proposed that our team design a three-pronged approach including a solution from one of each of these buckets. 

Physical layout solutions

Meeting behavior solutions

Software solutions

Rough Prototyping and Testing 

We tested one of our top 3 collection of ideas on ourselves. At the next two team meetings, we used our physical layout design as our meeting space, tested out beta visual collaboration software engineered by our team, and followed a guide of meeting norms.

After our initial testing session, we gleaned several valuable insights and made large changes to our physical design and meeting behavior norms.

Initial Physical Layout Design

Improved Physical Layout Design

In terms of the meeting norms, we found that raising hands before speaking limited natural conversation between in-person and remote team members and encouraged participants to leave their audio on and speak out in all possible circumstances rather than using the chat box or waiting to be called on. 

I also proposed including “loyalty huddles”--a short meeting concept created by Shawn Moon with the purpose of increasing customer loyalty for a business by increasing empathy and understanding in team members. This includes 1) Acknowledging/Celebrating Team Members’ Accomplishments 2) Sharing updates on individual progress. 3) Share new commitments to be accomplished after the meeting 4) Schedule a follow-up. I believed that the opportunity for each team member to speak up at the beginning of the meeting would provide a natural and efficient opportunity to check that everyone’s audio was working correctly.

Prototyping and Testing, Again

In our third and fourth testing sessions, we tested our 3-pronged hybrid work solution with groups of 3-4 designers who had never seen the solution before. 

In these testing sessions, we tested these specific hypotheses about hybrid meetings:

  1. The workspace layout will take at maximum 11 minutes to set-up for the first time, which with a 90% learning rate in 3 months of meetings, will become an average of 5 minutes to set-up.

  2. Five minutes is the maximum amount of time participants would be willing to spend to set-up the workspace.

  3. A remote participant’s video feed must be life-sized for them to feel present in the room.

  4. Remote participants physically turning their heads to talk to other team members reduces zoom fatigue.

  5. Not being able to see oneself makes a meeting more engaging for remote and in-person participants.

  6. An overhead camera and/or whiteboard camera adds value for remote participants.

  7. Starting a meeting with music and an ice breaker increases participant engagement and catches all audio/technical difficulties in the first 10 minutes of the meeting.

Understanding How Designers Ideate

These methods of research helped us better understand the environment and structures that designers perform under during their ideation phase and taught us some modern methods of workspace design. 

After defining the problem we wanted to solve, we knew we needed further insights to drive an informed solution.

Our team:

  1. Toured 2 workspaces designed by Gresham Smith, Caterpillar and GSM

  2. Observed graduate school design students during their brainstorming sessions

  3. Conducted competitive analysis on existing hybrid collaboration software solutions

Analyzing the Data

  1. Set-up took 25-30 minutes on average for the whole group, but some participants finished as soon as 2.5 minutes in their first time use.

  2. Maximum set-up time that participants would realistically be willing to take is around 2 minutes.

  3. In-person participants said that physically turning their head to speak with remote participants in the room was helpful. (Though none of our remote participants had the correct gear to fully test our remote participant workspace design, the in-person participants’ feedback leaves us optimistic that this would be the same case with remote participants.)

We collected data in the form of interviews, surveys, and observational notes throughout and after our testing sessions. The most prominent feedback that arose was:

Getting Perspectives

After updating our designs with the feedback from our testing groups, we wanted to get a final piece of perspective from the professional designers we were working with. 

We presented our work as a team to David Owens, a professor of entrepreneurship and design at Vanderbilt's Owen Graduate Business School, and Lizzie Gercok and Jack Weber from Gresham Smith urban design company. 

David, as a seasoned design thinker himself, provided us with a new vantage point on our work. Jack and Lizzie were able to give us expert advice on specific tools and technologies we could incorporate as workspace designers themselves.

With this feedback, I adapted the physical layout design, Claire updated our meeting norm guide, and we created the most-informed version of our "future of work" solution. 

A month after our team wrapped up our project, Lizzie and Jack from Gresham Smith invited me to present my team's work to the entire Gresham Smith design team. 

Presenting Our Work to a Larger Audience

In true, future-of-work fashion, I presented our work virtually through Microsoft Teams, "Sorry, everyone, we're having some tech issues" and all. 

It was an awesome opportunity to share the findings that my team and I had over the previous 4 months, and we hope that our design work can impact workspaces in the Southern region overseen by Gresham Smith designers and anyone else who is using this opportunity to reimagine the future of work. 

Other Work

May - July 2021 | Product Design

Led user research and usability testing for an online creative brief tool aimed to standardize and streamline brief creation for video creation.

Netflix Case Study

July - August 2020 | Web

Designing a socially-conscious way to stream and consume on-demand media. 

View Our Presentation

Discovery of Unique Hybrid Workspace Challenges

To better understand the problem and opportunity space, I led interviews with GSM, redpepper, other designers and students on their hybrid design experiences.

From our conversations with designers, our biggest findings were:

From our analysis/affinity mapping[link], our biggest findings were:

  1. Ideation exercises are the hardest to activity for designers to replicate in hybrid settings

  2. During hybrid meetings remote and in-person people tend to converse among themselves

  3. It's harder for remote participants to stay engaged in hybrid meetings

From here, we boiled down our specific design challenge to be:

How might we facilitate hybrid collaboration for in-person and remote designers during ideation?

View our presentation video