As someone who normally works from home two days a week, I was already set up well for remote working. So, when lockdown started – and I got over the initial weirdness of ‘working from home on a Monday’ – I quickly settled into the new routine.
What has really surprised me though, is how (dare I say it) easy it has been to continue my job pretty much as ‘normal’, despite not being in the office.
As I lead our Front End Innovation (FEI) offering, a lot of our work is collaborative and face to face. I work closely with others both within Team and our client base – on strategic and creative activities – and would think nothing of hopping in my car or on a plane to ensure those activities happened in person.
I am fairly well practiced at Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom etc from pre-lockdown use of video conferencing for meetings and presentations from both home and the office – and it has mostly worked well. During lockdown, our use of video conferencing and other online platforms has massively increased, as I’m sure it has for many – and while I am not saying these platforms should be a replacement for face to face collaboration, they have stood up surprisingly well to the activities I have demanded of them.
Some of our FEI activities, such as device selection or technology scouting, are primarily desk-based and so we can continue with these as normal. But, for those definite face to face activities – workshops, user research and creative sessions – I have been impressed by how well they’ve worked remotely.
Here are a few examples of front end activities that we have undertaken remotely in the last month:
Decision support workshops
In late March, Paul (our Director of Design) and I facilitated a 3 hour interactive workshop via Microsoft Teams. It’s not the first time we’ve facilitated workshops remotely, but usually the remote participants are together in a conference room and at least one of us is on site in each location to support the interactive activities.
This time we had 18 participants in two European countries, all dialling in from home, as well as Paul and I in separate locations too. We had to do a fair bit more preparation in advance, change some of the activities we had planned and lay down some rules around cameras and muting when not speaking. And it went brilliantly!
We took the client team through key information from 5 months of work, and the client was also able to present. We facilitated healthy debate from participants across the different functions and undertook a voting session to help all participants communicate their personal points of view. The result was a clear decision on a route forward; ultimately what we were there to help define.
Again, you can’t beat meeting a patient or healthcare professional face to face; for example, if you want to explore what it’s like living with a chronic condition. But, online market research tools – such as threaded online communities – come a very close second. Platforms like this allow participants to upload videos and photos and share their experiences with us as well as with other patients. In return, they allow us to present concepts and gather feedback in a variety of ways. If you get the questions and activities right, you can get rich insights into both the emotional and practical challenges that patients face – just as you can when you meet face to face. We ran a programme recently using this tool and were really impressed by the output.
In addition to online communities, we’ve also stepped up our use of video interviews and online focus groups to engage with patients and healthcare professionals across the US and EU. There are many benefits to remote research; as well as the absence of travel time and costs, you also aren’t restricted to locations, making recruitment easier.
Over the last month we’ve run several creative sessions on internal and external projects, with multiple participants all in their homes. We’ve found that if you prepare in advance and have a facilitator in charge as usual – to keep control and add some structure – these sessions can work just as well remotely as they can in person.
We would recommend keeping the number of attendees down to avoid chaos. But, with shared respect for the situation (and the facilitator!) and some of the tools Microsoft Teams offers – the whiteboard, forms, file sharing, screen sharing and just plain old holding up sketches to the camera – these sessions can work really well!
It’s the collaboration of different minds and skills that produce great ideas. And we’re still doing just that.
Working remotely will never replace the personal connection of meeting and collaborating face to face. But, in the midst of these uncertain times, we are certainly making it work – and work well.
As we all adapt and become more adept at working remotely, I imagine that our use of online tools will only increase. We look forward to carrying out more and more of our front end activities using online tools.
This is likely to be our new normal for some time so I’m happy that we’ve found solutions that work well, and that we can build on as we continue to learn and improve.
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