IoT Device + Mobile Prototyping
Time frame: 3 months
Team: Bobbie Chen, Katanyu Guin-glr Chuenmeechow, Andrew Connolly, Rissa Lee
I collaborated in a cross functional team with a product designer, an engineer, and two business analysts on this IoT project. I was working end-to-end as I was involved from the early stages of concepting, conducting remote usability tests through to the prototyping of the micro-interactions. This was created right before the pandemic and has become more relevant than ever as society transitions back into the office. How does one maintain the productivity you had at home? How do you communicate your availability to other individuals living in the same space?
You’re focused and finally in a good rhythm for working. You’re in the midst of a breakthrough when a coworker comes by to ask you a question. To avoid being seen as unfriendly, you talk to them at the cost of your productivity. You can’t just put yourself as busy in-person like you can on Slack. It’s not their fault, how could they know? Or could they? Introducing Dash, a system to bring your Slack status IRL to prevent unwanted interruptions in the workplace while promoting healthy conversations.
Who are we building it for?
Dash benefits any individual in a physical workplace, although it was initially designed primarily for those with cognitively demanding work and most susceptible to a loss of productivity from unwanted interruptions. By providing transparency into one’s availability, all parties are engaging in conversations when they want and need to.
Remove the need to tip-toe around unspoken workplace etiquette
An IoT solution to workplace interruptions. Dash brings your Slack status into real life to reduce interruptions and create more meaningful conversations through clear communication. It’s more than a productivity tool. It brings people closer together by reducing the uncertainty and awkwardness of approaching coworkers.
Provide transparency and visibility into one’s availability to talk
Increase the opportunity for meaningful conversations that strengthen the relationship between coworkers
Dash is a two-pronged solution. First, the IoT device with a low energy E-Ink display driven by a Raspberry Pi to physically show the status of the user.
Secondly, the IoT device is paired with a mobile application that has capabilities to sync with Slack and Google Calendar to update the display at any time.
Where was I again?
The Challenges of an Open Office
Open offices are supposed to increase social interactions and create a healthier work environment; however, studies have shown that it decreases productivity and interactions due to the awkwardness. The unspoken workplace etiquette makes it stressful to start a conversation and awkward to turn one down.
Why does it matter?
We conducted a survey of 95 participants with experience working in an open office and found several trends that convey decreased productivity in the office.
How often are you interrupted in a day?
39% of people stated that they lose over 30 minutes of productive time a day from these in-person interruptions.
This is increased to 66% for software developers.
It’s Hard to Say No and it’s Hard to Tell if Someone is Busy
Although the problem of decreased productivity is apparent and individuals are aware of it, it’s difficult for them to take any preventative measures without the risk of seeming unapproachable.
68% of people feel obligated to help even if they know they will lose productivity.
46% of individuals have taken some sort of action to prevent these interruptions, with 75.6% of them choosing to wear headphones.
Productivity is Key
Employees are often put in a difficult spot as productivity is a metric in which their performance is evaluated upon, yet they have to constantly sacrifice this to adhere to social norms.
The Open Office Affects Well-Being
The unspoken etiquette of an open work office places stress of both the initiator and receiver, resulting in the decrease of face-to-face interactions. Lack of privacy is a big factor in conversations that occur in the open-office.
Face-to-face interactions fell by 70% when switching to an open office
What is an open office really like?
We started this project with the goal of better understanding the dynamics of the open office. We surveyed 95 individuals of varying backgrounds and the results illustrated the complexity of how seniority, profession, and personalities all affect the interactions.
People are Not Always Responsive on Slack
As an entry level, I feel like I am interrupting people more than I am being interrupted. People take forever to respond on slack sometimes even if I see they are not super busy in office.
Not All Interruptions are Bad
While lots of productive time is lost, I would say about half of the interruptions are urgent enough to re-prioritize my attention towards them. It's the other half of interruptions that I would like to cut back on.
Why Do You Help?
How might we...
decrease unnecessary interruptions?
allow transparency into one’s availability to talk at any moment?
Headphone usage is the most common form of showing unavailability; however, people also like to use headphones for the sake of listening to music leaving it’s meaning up for interpretation on a case by case basis
People rarely turn others away when asked to talk, even if they know that they will lose productivity
Entry level employees tend to perceive themselves as the interrupters, whereas senior level employees feel they are the ones being interrupted
Tell me about your average day
After understanding the general landscape and dynamic of the open office, we utilized interviews to dig deeper into how it affects software engineers specifically and listened to stories of in-person interruptions.
How do you Approach Someone with Headphones?
I’m a little more apprehensive if they are wearing headphones. Most likely slack them first.
People look for Cues in the Details
I try to see if they are staring at a line of code deeply or browsing web pages, but it’s difficult to tell.
Lack of Privacy
Everyone is listening to everyone. I normally Slack people if it’s more sensitive stuff.
Different Departments have Different Needs
At some point the engineering department was on the same floor as sales team. Sales always need to talk a lot and do a lot of calls from their desk. There was a chill vibe that was too chill with music always playing and it didn’t feel very productive.
"Slack first" is the common protocol when people need something
There is a lack of privacy in the open office which deters in-person interactions
People leave the office or work from home if they do not want to be interrupted
What if you could show your status IRL?
Iterations through Usability Testing
After validating the user need of a solution to reducing unwanted interruptions in the office space, we remotely conducted a series of user testing sessions of the concept and prototype.
Should the Dash Status always be Synced to the Slack Status?
I really like that you have the Slack integration...I guess, from an outside perspective, if I see this display and someone’s busy, but they left their Slack status as available, I might be confused as to which one I should listen to?
Should there be Presets? Custom Statuses?
Slack is meant to be professional, I don’t see more than 8 or 9 statuses during a day. I don’t think anyone would run into the issue of too many customization messages
Lunch is a Common Social Interaction
When asked what custom messages could people envision themselves setting, one status was common across 12 sessions. Lunch was by far the most popular custom status mentioned with an intent to mingle with others.
Yes, I see value in custom statuses, grabbing lunch for example. Yo all my friends, come hit me at x. A healthy work lifestyle allows for more social connection.
I could see myself putting lunch for a custom status and I could hit other people up to see where they're going.
An Opportunity to Learn from Others
You could set a status to invite other people to talk to you about something specific.
Social interactions in the office place are not only about work, but also about building relationships with your coworkers
Lunch is generally the acceptable time to socialize and when interactions are welcomed
Reducing unwanted interruptions and fostering a healthier work environment
Dash’s mobile application provides transparency into one’s availability to the people around them with just a few taps. It’s ability to sync with Google Calendar and Slack reduces the effort and keeps up to date automatically.
Syncing with Slack
Sync to slack with a simple button. Rearrange your home page however you'd like.
Update status simultaneously across platforms
Personalize the homepage
Setting a custom status
A custom, clear form of communication for you and others.
Customize any status
Access frequently used statuses
Provide clarity in availability
Syncing with Google Calendar
Update your calendar and your Dash will update itself. Set defaults, make exceptions.
Set defaults for calendar events
Create overrides for special occasions
Adjust your schedule on the fly
Energy Efficient Device
An important factor in designing the IoT component was energy consumption. Instead of using an LED screen that would be on for 40 hours a week, Dash uses an E-Ink display to take advantage of the infrequent change of statuses. The trade-off is a 20 second transition period for the E-Ink display to rewrite the screen.
The Dash application utilizes event-listening through Slack and Google Calendar API and communicates with the Raspberry Pi via Bluetooth Low-Energy. This further lowers the energy consumption of the Dash system while providing the same utility.
Let's prove that we're helping
Although Dash is designed to solve a real and validated problem in the office and consists of many features that users seek, it is still yet to be implemented in a real environment to understand it's effectiveness.
Survey users to identify how much productive time people feel they lose before and after Dash and cross analyze with the number of interruptions.
Understand if Dash is facilitating more relevant conversations and opportunities to socialize during lunch.
Opportunities for Growth:
Evaluate if Dash is enabling conversations around topics that traditionally could be awkward to approach.
Adaptation to Working from Home Due to COVID-19
Working from home has resulted in similar issues to the open office. Home were architecturally designed to have open spaces; however, it is not ideal for a working environment. Instead of coworkers interrupting, it is now family members or other roommates. How can Dash be adapted to communicate the same message to children? roommates? significant others?
Returning to the Office Post COVID-19
As companies have employees return to the office, it is a great opportunity to re-establish new and healthier work environments. Dash can also help the complex dynamic of the mix of in-person and remote employees by providing remote teams presence in the office.
The device currently is efficient in regards to energy consumption. However, the form of the device is still in a primitive state and needs testing as to its readability from long distances and multiple angles. Paper prototypes would be an effective way to research which form factors are most important to the user and the reader.
Design with Intent but an Open Mind
IoT devices are ever present in our surroundings and have the ability to do so much. With an additional component to a mobile app, it is even more important to design with intent.
Solve the problem and make it even better:
The project started with solving productivity issues in the open office; however, it pivoted into tackling that and improving relationships between coworkers.
Without energy, all IoT devices are rendered useless. It is essential to only use as much energy as needed to increase the feasibility of adoption.