Like many others, we’ve always balanced remote work with more traditional ways of collaborating with clients face-to-face.
But with things edging back to normal, and many companies committing to future flexible working, you need tools which allow you to continue working from home easily and effectively.
This means finding things that enable teams to conduct user research, facilitate brainstorming sessions, run design and development sprints and workshops – all whilst maintaining culture and quality, while distributed.
Change the way you evaluate tools
The conventional way to review working processes and tools at many organisations is to conduct desk research using third party reviews and industry best practices. This is often followed by a quick briefing from the IT department.
We suggest doing it differently, by taking a human-centred approach to evaluating our working practices and tools. This allows you to understand the current and future needs, contexts of use, and the tasks people are trying to accomplish while working remotely. This means you can also make an informed decision about the most appropriate tools and the best ways to integrate them into remote ways of working.
To help you do this yourself, we have created a worksheet you can use to evaluate your own tools. While this can be used on all types of tools, we refer to evaluating video conferencing tools in this example.
Creating a remote work problem statement
Initially, we spoke to key stakeholders to establish principles that would guide our evaluation and selection of tools.
Our principles were:
- Selecting tools based on the way we work, instead of changing the way we work to fit the tools.
- Using the minimum number of tools for the optimal effect to ensure productivity and cost-effectiveness.
- Understanding that it takes more than the right tools to do work - processes have to be in place too.
- Anticipating future scenarios and use cases to ensure the longevity of the tools.
With these principles in mind, we formed a problem statement:
How might we identify the right video conferencing tool to help our team work more effectively and efficiently when remote working?
How we evaluated our tools
Step 1: Identify user needs
We conducted research to understand how people were working remotely and what their experience of using our current suite of digital tools was like. We did this by using both quantitative methods such as surveys and qualitative methods like depth interviews.
Our research questions included:
- What digital tools do you use for work and for what purposes?
- What is the most challenging thing about using digital tools to work remotely?
- How satisfied are you with the tool?
- What do you like/not like about the tool?
- Is there any other tool you’d like to use and why?
- What workarounds to our digital tool suite do you currently use?
Step 2: Analyse findings
We analysed the research findings to identify common themes and pain points around remote working and digital tools. Using this framework and user needs matrix (PDF download), the team identified several recurring needs for video conferencing tools.
Step 3: Build your tool evaluation matrix
We proceeded to rank tooling needs based on their importance and impact on the effectiveness of remote working. Using the identified needs as criteria, we created an evaluation matrix to compare current and potential tools. This comparison was more relevant to our organisation and ways of working than the generic comparisons you usually see on a review or a tool providers’ site.
Beyond hygiene factors such as user needs, pricing and compliance requirements like security and data protection, it was also useful for us to consider the tools’ interoperability (see PDF above) and future relevance (e.g. software update frequency, future features). Understanding these meant we could gauge the tools’ ability to adapt and evolve to market needs and industry trends, providing longevity.
The evaluation matrix allowed us to assess the different tools in the market and rank them based on their ability to meet our needs. We also considered the satisfaction ratings we had collected from our team as part of the survey, allowing us to make a recommendation on the tool that was most suitable for the task at hand.
Rolling out the selected tool
Having decided on the video conferencing tool, we looked into ways to implement and introduce it to the wider team. This could include policies and guidelines on how and when to use it and best practices. Through our user research, we discovered that user confusion and frustration could stem from misalignment in processes and tools, we took this into consideration during the roll-out.
We integrated the new video conferencing tool into our daily work by doing the following:
- Starting a Slack channel for Q&A and sharing of tips, use cases and step-by-step guidance for different scenarios (e.g. running a workshop).
- Writing guidelines to help people understand when they should use the tool vs other remote research tools/other communication tools based on the task at hand.
- Creating templates for use (e.g. invitation templates).
- Putting in place tool etiquette.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of changing the way you work, to stretch the limitations of remote tools. While Covid-19 created an impetus for us all to review tools and working practices, one key takeaway is that it should be a continuous effort to ensure that the tools you use meet the needs of your people and the tasks they’re trying to carry out.
Our review not only allowed us to gain a better understanding of our organisation’s ways of working, but also keeps us abreast of new tools that can help us improve our skills and craftsmanship.
By taking a human-centred approach to understanding your organisation’s current and future needs, contexts of use, and the tasks people are trying to accomplish, you will be able to choose the best tool(s) for the job, instead of choosing based on reviews, functionality and features.
Tried this yourself?
We’d love to hear about your human-centred approaches to solving your remote working problems.