Accomplish More with Your Remote Meetings – 5 Tips from Remote Meeting Experts

There are very few things we truly have control over, and a pandemic is not one of them.

In these past few months spent in isolation, our DevFacto UX team has reflected over the processes that made us successfully pivot into remote working – what works, what doesn’t, and why the mute button is so much more elusive whenever there’s more people in a meeting. Early on, we shifted all of our discovery workshops online and developed a formula for facilitating effective remote meetings via Microsoft Teams. Here, we share our top tips on how to make remote meetings work.

See, for us, UX professionals, being in the same room with our customer early in the project is incredibly beneficial to the final product. It is actually one of the reasons why we turn our software discovery sessions into collaborative ideation workshops.

Normally, we run these sessions in person, sometimes even in a specially designed room. During ideations, the group comprised of client stakeholders generates divergent ideas and converges on an action or decision to move forward. As a UX designer, this is usually the longest stretch I get to communicate with clients in person. It’s also my best shot at gaining a full understanding of the complex business problems they face. Being so, the workshop becomes a crucial step in establishing the necessary amount of trust to build software that humans love to use. Understandably, the stakes for our remote meetings are high because the success of the final product starts with expert meeting facilitation.

How do we understand a problem, gather requirements, and design a solution when we can’t meet our customers face to face? It starts by following these five tips during our Microsoft Teams meetings (but you use these with any remote meeting tool):

Tip 1: Turn on your camera

When we think about remote working, the most difficult barrier is the inescapable awkwardness of trying to collaborate while we are physically alone. Where the solution begins, is us – the facilitator of these sessions.

It was my eighth-grade teacher that told me, “trust takes years to build but just a moment to break”. I can’t imagine how long it would take to build trust trying to facilitate workshops remotely with your camera off.

Tip 2: Acknowledge that virtual meetings are awkward.

The first step in eliminating something is to acknowledge it. There is a spirit to human connection that a computer could never replicate. The subtleties in facial expressions. The cues we get from an intake of breath. Shifts in posture. The presence a person brings to a room.

What we found was the most pivotal in creating an engaging environment was to acknowledge firstly, that this can be awkward, probably will feel awkward, and it is not ideal. Then to establish a human connection, we start by turning our cameras on, looking into it when we speak, and making it apparent that we are not bots on the other side of the screen. We are humans enduring something that is completely out of our control and making the best of it.

Tip 3: Energize meeting participants

Another barrier we have come to identify is the lack of eagerness to asking questions.

Think about it in a typical workshop setting. Questions come up when a facilitator gives space for participants to feel comfortable asking them. We take these cues from a facilitator when that space has been created in the pauses in their speech and the open air, they let fill the room. When we find ourselves in remote settings, those kinds of cues are gone, resulting in fewer questions and less engagement.

Our solution is to start off with an ice breaker, aka energizer activity, at the beginning of these remote sessions. These serve to get everyone involved in a meeting, but they also come with another purpose – to create confidence through education. At DevFacto, we specifically choose exercises that can introduce concepts related to the workshop we are running to equip participants with the knowledge and confidence needed to share opinions.

This knowledge usually comes in the form of guidelines and terminology. We found that by doing so, participants felt more comfortable and assured in voicing their opinions and, at the same time, we were able to give them deeper insight on why we were making certain recommendations.

Tip 4: Plan silence

Another method we use at DevFacto is to frequently pause to ask for questions and have slides with questions to serve as a prompt to participants. My advice to remote meeting facilitators is to be comfortable facilitating to silence – it’s necessary for reflection.

Tip 5: Give your meeting participants a sense of control.

Our final barrier that we’ve identified is the distraction that comes from working in a home environment. Part of creating a space for collaboration is making sure the participants know what is expected of them in a meeting. Do not surprise your participants with tools they need to download and links they need to visit on the spot.

Give your participants a sense of control with a more transparent approach and send out a detailed agenda prior to a remote meeting. Include how long each activity will take, any links or tools they should have ready, and when the breaks are going to be scheduled.

For each break, encourage the participants to turn off their cameras, mute their mics, and stand up. Once everyone has settled back into the meeting, re-energize them again with a light-hearted activity.

Keep in mind to choose activities that require collaboration and interaction to keep your participants engaged. At DevFacto, we’ve adapted by introducing online collaboration tools like Mural into our workflow with features that allow participants to add, remove, and vote. Some of the best exercises to facilitate remotely are retrospectives, problem framing discussions, and journey mapping.

When we remember the human side of facilitation, doing it remotely doesn’t seem so overwhelming. The thing is a good facilitator is a good facilitator. Enter any space and make it safe to share ideas, offer yourself in an honest way, and recognized the value in the insights of your participants. Remote collaboration is a unique experience that requires an adaptable and flexible way of facilitation. Once you overcome the barrier that is your screen, you will see the amazing connections humans can build.

For consulting on getting the most out of your company’s new remote working landscape, contact us at https://www.devfacto.com/contact-us/.

The Changing Shape of Digital Transformation

The moment of truth – will COVID-19 be the tipping point for digital transformation.

 

If “necessity is the mother of invention,” than COVID-19 has forced business leaders all around the world to rethink their digital transformation strategies.

At its core, coronavirus is disruption. What it really is, is a disruption frenzy, as nations try to slow the virus, this pandemic is impacting our political environment, our healthcare system, our economy, and the way we use technology. When disruption comes, businesses must adapt or die. And, not just adapt but adapt better and faster than competitors.

The truth is, even before COVID-19, the business world was changing at a pace that was hard to keep up. Those businesses that had already embraced a culture of change and realized their digital transformation goals might have been better prepared for this disruption than others. For others, it’s been a challenge. A recent survey by Gartner reports that only 12% of organizations are highly prepared for the impact of coronavirus. This does not mean you should hunker down and wait out COVID-19, it’s time to rev up your digital engine and position yourself for growth when the pandemic subsides.

Here are the areas you should be focusing on:

Cloud first

As COVID-19 pushes businesses to their limit, there has never been a better time to focus on cloud strategies. With the rapid response to the pandemic, millions of people have shifted remote work, pushing companies to adopt cloud-based solutions at an unprecedented rate. Rapid to deploy, cloud-based solutions are the reason organizations around the world remain productive during this time. If there was ever a good time to migrate to the cloud, this is it.

Boost process automation

Unexpected circumstances place an added burden on the workforce. Consider automating repetitive processes to free up teams and allow them to focus on more meaningful work. Extending automation throughout the enterprise can help mitigate disruption and offer stability in times of uncertainty.

Harness the power of data

Now more than ever, business leaders need to analyze risks and develop the best methods for mitigating them. They need to know the effectiveness of the current recovery processes. To do this, they need to use data effectively to guide business decisions and improve the well-being of the organization and its employees. Fostering a data-driven organization galvanizes the vision of faster, better-informed decisions to enable businesses to return to normalcy sooner.

Be champions of collaboration

No matter the industry, digital collaboration platforms are the foundation of work during the pandemic. The success of operations today highly relies on the ability to collaborate in real-time and from anywhere. Many businesses are recognizing the need to improve collaboration to ensure business continuity now and into the future.

Deliver valuable experiences

As the coronavirus crisis accelerates the transition to a digital future, the shift to digital customer experience also hits fast-forward. Empathic tools such as service design and design thinking seek to address customers’ acute needs and forge stronger ties with the market in the post-COVID-19 era. Reimagining customer experience to meet the changing needs should drive your next steps in your digital transformation journey.

The new era of business reinvention is upon us. For most industries, revenues will fall in 2020, that’s a given. But companies can emerge stronger, more innovative, and more purposeful. By creating a forward-thinking, customer-focused digital company, leadership teams can mitigate today’s threat and accelerate into an eventual recovery.

 

COVID-19 Business Intelligence

Boost Productivity with IoT Smart Buttons and Power Automate

Enterprises today look to new ways to automate and extend their business processes. Many find great success with using Power Automate (formerly Microsoft Flow) or by leveraging a collection of apps and services in the Power Platform and Office 365.

IoT platforms are slowly becoming a part of this frontier. As companies look to scale their operations, the increasingly look to IoT for modern solutions.

Although IoT systems are still relatively new and often riddled with technological challenges such as connectivity, security and longevity, there are devices available on the market that can help enterprises carry-out a wide range of actions in just a few easy steps.

Smart buttons are one of those relatively low-cost and programmable IoT devices that can be set-up in 5 minutes! These buttons typically offer three events: single push, double push and hold. Each event can perform multiple actions such as running a Power Automate workflow.

I’ve been chasing these small IoT devices since 2017 and in that time I’ve explored a number of options made by various brands. There is a good selection of brands that make smart buttons including Flic, goButton, AWS IoT Button and others. Out of all of these, Flic certainly stands out by offering a Power Automate (Flow) integration. Their buttons are easy to use and I’m impressed by how quickly they can be hooked-up to a Flow action.

Set up smart buttons with Power Automate actions

Setting up a Flic button is self explanatory: just buy one, install Flic App on your mobile phone, create an account and follow the steps below to assign a Microsoft Flow trigger to your button.

Flic smart button

Select your button to setup actions

My Flic Power Automate Trigger

Select the desired event

Smart Button - add flow to your event

Add Flow to your event

As your final step, you will create a flow to respond to your preferred event. Flic’s trigger action, “When a Flic is Pressed”, links button with a desired action and triggers the workflow:

When a Flic is pressed action

What are the uses for smart buttons?

Easy enough? Let’s delve into some possible scenarios for using these little IoT devices in enterprises:

Replenish and re-order

Assign a serial number for a consumable product or a spare part to each button and place an order with a single click.

Send emergency alerts

Place buttons in various locations around the worksite and notify others of an emergency with a push of a button.

Book a meeting room

Place a button in a meeting room and automatically create a Microsoft Teams meeting with a push of a button.

Track employee happiness or customer satisfaction

Monitor sentiments around the office by placing two buttons in a single location to track happy/sad faces.

There are many more ways these IoT switches can bring functional intelligence to enterprises. Is your company considering adding smart buttons? I’d like to hear your thoughts on how these devices can bring value to your organization.

 

Empathy: More Than Just Another UX Buzzword

One would think that as humans, we all come to this world with empathy as an innate quality. Then why is the term Empathy in both the software design and development worlds spreading like wildfire? Shouldn’t it be a given? Aren’t we, by nature, empathetic? Turns out, we are, but we’re also imperfect, forgetful and easily distracted. The 2018 Hawaii false missile alert and the Google Glass case are only examples of our lack of application of empathy.

As creatives, our job is to facilitate and produce solutions to continue to innovate and help real people. As user experience designers, practicing empathy is a great way to keep our own priorities in check and understand how our users really think and feel.

What’s Empathy then? (And what it is not)

A simple way to define Empathy is by understanding what it isn’t. Pity, sympathy and compassion are not Empathy. Here’s how designer Elizabeth Alli defines these levels of engagement:

Designer Frank Chimero has a point: people ignore design that ignores people. But how can we best relate to users’ pain points and design a useful solution?

Froukje Sleeswijk Visser’s empathy framework comes in handy when doing user research. Considering all of these stages is crucial:

1. Discovery

UX Design Empathy Framework - Enter the User's World and Make Contact

2. Immersion
UX Design - Immersion - Directly experience the lives, context, activities and environments of people.

3. Connection

Empathy Framework - Connection - Interpret the world through the lens of their values, history and culture.

4. Detachment

UX Empathy framework - Detachment - Come back to your designer role and begin to reflect on what you've learned and experienced in order to generate ideas

Practical toolkit

There are several methods to empathize with users such as ethnographic studies, interviews and bodystorming. One that stands out for its practicality is the Empathy Map, which allows teams to align on a shared understanding of users needs and wants. It’s a great tool to study users and guide design decisions.

So, what is the verdict on empathy? Jon Kolko, founder of the Austin Center for Design puts it best: “[While] absolute empathy is impossible, the pursuit of it, isn’t. The closer you get to your users, the more likely you’ll do something for them that they find usable, useful and desirable.” And that is undeniably the goal of great software design.

Related reading

UX design and empathy: are we doing it right?

4 Essential Steps to Designing with Empathy

 

UX Heuristics: What the Heck is a Heuristic, Anyways?

As designers and developers, we are confronted with design problems every day. The solutions we create connect customers with brands or help employees accomplish vital workplace tasks. Each day, we design and develop products for users who have different values, interests and varied levels of technological aptitude. When the stakes are high and users diverse, how do we make sure they all love their digital tools?

This is where UX Heuristics come in.

So, what’s a heuristic?

The origin of the word heuristic lies in curiosity and inquiry. It’s often defined as an approach to problem solving that employs a practical method to reach an immediate goal – in other words, heuristic is a rule of thumb. In user experience design, heuristics are set of general principles used to uncover problems and identify areas for improvement. At DevFacto, we use them to evaluate, facilitate, and in some cases predict the strength, quality, and effectiveness our work.

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein

The set of heuristics we use are based on the well-regarded work of Abbey Covert, whose list was built in consideration of Nielsen & Molich, Peter Morville, Lou Rosenfeld, Ergonomics of Human System Interaction and most recently Resmini & Rosati.

Here are the 10 UX Heuristics that we at DevFacto have developed over the years of working with hundreds of clients on a variety of software, mobile and workplace solutions:

  1. Findable – The ease with which information can be located.
  2. Accessible – The ease of approachability or entry.
  3. Clear – The ease with which a user can understand what is in front of them.
  4. Communicative – The information provided to users throughout their experience.
  5. Useful (Effective) – Helping users produce desirable or intended results.
  6. Credible – The quality of being trusted and believed in.
  7. Controllable – Placing the user in the driver seat.
  8. Valuable – Being of great use, service and importance.
  9. Learnable – Being quickly understood with minimal training.
  10. Delightful – Exceeding expectations and creating “wow” experience.

How to use UX heuristics?

Your first consideration of heuristics should be in how they can drive you to ask the right questions. You can gain value simply by asking questions like “is (some important thing) findable in my current project?” or “does the solution I am building communicate the right things to people using it?”

When you can identify the most applicable heuristics against a particular task or user goal you get closer to achieving meaningful outcomes. Suddenly, you’re honing in on what makes a great interaction for that user, and creating a really valuable piece of work.

Interested in diving deeper into UX Heuristics? Download our Heuristics in UX Design eBook – it’s a great introductory guide to UX Heuristics and how to succeed using them, brought to you by our UX team (best of all, it’s completely free).

UX Heuristics Guide eBook

Related Articles:

Thinking Like a User

It’s More Than Just a Meeting Room

Tales of a UX Designer in a Dev Shop

I wonder how many designers, after reading the title of this post, thought of a perfect meme to describe how that scenario plays out. I mean, even though we all know that working with brilliant developers who can bring your most precious ideas to life is the dream, we also expect that the designer-developer relationship won’t be filled with rainbows and unicorns.

Last summer, when I was thinking of joining DevFacto as a UX consultant, not only did I picture those memes too, I was also unsure if this type of challenge was going to be a good fit for me. Could I picture myself debating which features matter and which ones don’t, every single day? Hmm…

Luckily, soon after coming on board, I got to meet the developers over beers and got a true sense of the personalities on the team. The excitement of collaborating with brilliant minds quickly grew on me and I looked forward to learning within a fun, supportive culture. Now, six months into being a DevFactonian, I can report that I’ve learned a few lessons and busted some myths about the relationships between UX designers and developers. Here are my top 3 discoveries:

1. Developers attach to their work as if it were a baby (just as much as designers do)

Whether in a dev shop, or a design studio, we all protect what we create, foster and put effort into making. So, when someone else modifies our work in any way, it’s difficult to detach oneself but very easy to discount any modification as a nonsensical idea.

Whenever that happens, it helps to remember that we are all in this together and we share the same goal – make the best solution possible. Or, as I like to think about it, create “the perfect baby.” In each project, we all contribute from our own experiences to build a product that combines a fresh, sleek look with exceptional functionality. However, ultimately, we do this not to appease our own egos but to create value for the people who will be using what we’ve built.

2. Sharing your process promotes collaboration

After talking to one of our brilliant devs, I realized that effective collaboration is all about sharing the process. The developers write code, make something come to life, and it either works or it doesn’t. In that way, the mind of a developer is binary. Meanwhile, as designers, it is our job to come up with various ways to create success (usually there are many) and put forward the best one in a mockup or a prototype. However, sometimes we fail to share how we arrived at the presented solution. This makes it hard for a developer to understand why we are making certain suggestions and can lead to a rejection of the idea.

Collaboration comes from having a common understanding of a problem.

Therefore, sharing both my approach and context helps them see where I’m coming from and take my modifications as potential improvements, rather than just self-preference edits.

3. Feelings matter

Even if we try our best to be rational and logical, at times it can be hard to accomplish. As software users, we respond to emotions, we make mistakes and get distracted. We like or dislike things based on how they feel, even if that sentiment makes no sense. That’s just how we’re wired. Even though we’re trained to think differently, it is still easy for us to fall into certain patterns and behaviours quickly.

It’s easy to forget we’re all just human and that does not make us the ideal user.

Empathy has been THE card up my sleeve as a UX designer. I use it both internally with our project teams and externally with our clients. In my work, I’ve learned to play that card as much as possible for the sole purpose of creating products so easy to use, that people will want to use them more.

I do know for certain, that there are still many lessons to be learned and plenty of discoveries to be made about the process of designing user-centric software solutions. But one thing I can attest is that despite the left-brain and right-brain differences between designers and developers, the awareness of the value of good user experience goes well beyond our roles.

Thinking Like a User

Pitfalls of self-referential design

Building software that’s easy to use and intuitive is a tough task to say the least. As developers and designers, when we set out to create software that humans will love using, we need to take our individual opinions out the equation as much as possible. This task, however, is easier said than done; thinking like a user is a skill that needs constant practice and consideration.

Self-referential design is one of the greatest risks to a successful software project. The professionals developing and designing the solution and the companies we are building for, each have their specific point-of-view and personal preferences. Although these individual biases are based on extensive professional experience, they often yield software designed for the creators themselves rather than the end-users.

At DevFacto, we are constantly looking for new and effective ways to design user-centric software. One of the guiding schools of thought in this area started at Cooper in the early 1990s, when design methodologies were for the first time applied in the world of software development. Amongst the best-known ideas introduced by Cooper is Design Thinking – a human-centered design process for creative problem solving, now widely used by tech giants such as Google and Apple. So, when our UX team got the opportunity to attend Cooper’s Immersive Design Thinking workshop we were beyond thrilled!

Design thinking concept in user-centric software design

User journey doesn’t always end in success. Design Thinking helps us build software humans love to use.

Approaching user-centric software development

This past summer, a group of four DevFactonians consisting of Business Analysts and UX Designers, were lucky enough to take part in a three-day long Cooper training course in San Francisco, a city brimming with unique architecture and distinctive people. If there’s a center for creative thinking in the world, that could very well be it, making the location a perfect setting for a Design Thinking workshop.

From day one, we dove head first into the program exploring the latest techniques and best practices in human-centered design. Through creative exploration, we learned powerful ways to identify and solve almost any design challenge. One of my key takeaways was a realization that identifying the real problems can be very enlightening, especially when faced with how our presumptions change as we learn new information. By following the Design Thinking process, we shine a light on the various points-of-view of the different users, which affords us a chance to build empathy and plot a course that respects their goals and pains.

Over the three days of training, we ran various exercises to help understand and clearly define the problem we were tasked to solve. Starting with planning and conducting research interviews, through generating insights from user research, to using exploration and storytelling in creating concepts that address the goals of both businesses and consumers, each of these exercises built on the previous and helped us remove assumptions by focusing on finding new and interesting things to consider. Once we uncovered the real problems, we learned how to work on effective solutions through modeling, ideation, and prototyping.

During the training we were tasked with conceptualizing a new photography product or service. The solutions we and others there came up with surprised and delighted us in their creativity and uniqueness. Many of us had ideas that changed significantly through the process as we learned new information. Overall, we discovered the importance and power of careful research and thoughtful planning.

Benefits of the Design Thinking Immersive training

Traveling to take the Design Thinking Immersive course was in many ways an enriching experience. In addition to our new understanding and skills, the four of us grew closer as a UX team by working together to solve challenges creatively. Since returning from San Francisco, we have all been able to incorporate the new knowledge into our work, making a positive impact on our respective projects. Most importantly, by applying the principles we’ve learned about through Cooper, we have not only grown as designers, but we have also elevated he experiences of the users who interact daily with the software we build.

Effective Business Analysis Pt 1: Why and Who

Business analysis (BA) is key to delivering quality software–not just something reliable with a low defect count, but fit-for-purpose, valuable software. Effective BA results in a functional design that incorporates business improvement that goes beyond stakeholders’ requests. In this two-part blog post, we’ll look at what makes BA effective. Read more

The Value in Speaking the Right Language

It can take professionals a few years to find their voice. Younger developers often don’t have the experience or the confidence to speak at a conference, let alone guide a room of stakeholders through the complex process of building an application. Read more

Live Sketchnoting @ UX Camp YEG

I was asked to live sketchnote UX Camp, a day of user experience presentations put on by UX Edmonton. Having sketchnoted UX Camp last year, as well as events like ‘Reimagining Shaw Conference Centre’ recently, my acceptance of invitations like this is pretty quick now. It is fast becoming something I love doing, regardless of the stress involved in drawing at speed in front of a large group of people. Read more