UI/UX System & Service Design Solution
for Emotional Wellness in the Virtual Workspace
What are the challenges of distributed teams working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Distributed teams are groups of remote workers that are separated by vast geographic distances, with some distances surpassing multiple time zones.
To uncover the challenges faced by these workers, I conducted two surveys of 61 working professionals spanning 12 industries, ranging from information technology, oil and gas, to manufacturing. I wanted to see how people who worked across time zones managed their time during the pandemic.
Sample of Individual Responses
- “In general just scheduling meetings or sometimes having to work past my normal hours to schedule a meeting.”
- “Long days – working early mornings until late evenings.”
- “Feeling like I’m inconveniencing my team members if I request a meeting time change.”
Because of the nature of remote work, workers face overwhelming work-life balance problems and emotional stress. This ubiquitous problem is only made worse with time zone challenges because of the limited availability of colleagues during work hours.
However, 18 out of 20 respondents to my first survey who discussed this topic also explained that their managers are willing to be flexible to help their teams manage their work-life balance.
“Since there is a three hour time difference, my team from Arizona is very flexible and accommodating.”Anonymous Survey Respondent, February 2021
If workers in distributed teams are struggling with problems with work-life balance and stress, and managers are willing to be flexible, what is a simple, straightforward solution?
Team members need to reflect and give feedback on how they are doing.
The team leaders then need to evaluate that qualitative and quantitative feedback supplemented with data visualization charts to help them better understand how to manage their team members.
A 2018 study showed that teams who give feedback to their bosses about their well-being “developed a greater sense of awareness and knowledge,” “built roadmaps for what needs to be done to achieve their goals,” and “became more involved and confident in their work environment.”1 Therefore, the process of giving feedback about emotional well-being actually helps team leaders rethink their plans and become more productive.
Your Virtual Service Assistant
for Team Wellness
Milo is a virtual service assistant that is designed to gather and evaluate worker feedback on emotional wellness. Its artificial intelligence technology is intuitive yet straightforward.
- Filling out feedback surveys can be a chore. Milo streamlines the task and makes it easier.
- Milo saves time. Giving Milo feedback can be fast and efficiently done.
- Milo evaluates the data for team leaders so that they can take action to mitigate team problems.
To direct my design focus, I created two hypothetical user personas, Shaundra and Mei. Shaundra is manager of a technology company and works on a team with Mei, who operates in a different time zone. Shaundra starts using Milo to get feedback from Mei and the rest of her team.
Mei has a quick chat with Milo after the meeting on Tuesday and at the end of her workday on Friday. She expresses her feelings towards her work in each conversation. Milo listens and analyzes the entire team’s responses for Shaundra to check before the next team meeting.
I chose to incorporate a common texting-type format. I chose to design a virtual assistant named Milo who is friendly and eager to help.
In addition to the data charts and visuals displayed to product managers (such as Shaundra), the employees (such as Mei) will also be able to view their individual progress to monitor their emotional well-being each week.
The emotional well-being will be evaluated using four metrics:
- Teamwork: How is my team’s synergy?
- Workload: Is the work manageable or overwhelming?
- Energy: How much energy can I devote to my work?
- Leadership: Do I feel directed and supported by leadership?
Chatbot technology is now ubiquitous in product-based companies for customer service, but the technology can be well integrated as an internal service to get feedback from company employees.
An October 2020 research study was conducted on this topic and found that chatbots:2
- Made employees more aware of team emotions
- Chatbots as moderators kept the users more focused and on-task
- The system has to be designed for privacy controls.
As a chatbot frequently used by the team, Milo keeps emotional wellness and team morale at the forefront on team’s mind. Milo also serves as a reminder that emotional wellness is an essential component of effectiveness within a company.
As a plugin-type application, Milo will be designed for collaboration software that my survey respondents said that they frequently use, such as Microsoft Teams and Slack.
Going forward, I hope to present Milo as a model tool for emotional wellness for companies. The design is optimized for companies that are collaborative and typically feedback-seeking, but this reflection and feedback model could also be an asset for companies with emerging work ethics.
Sources: 1Seigyoung Auh, Bulent Menguc, Pinar Imer, Aypar Uslu, (2019, October) Frontline Employee Feedback-Seeking Behavior: How Is It Formed and When Does It Matter?; 2Benke, I. (2020, October). Chatbot-based Emotion Management for Distributed Teams: A Participatory Design Study. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Chatbot-design-instance-NeutralBot-implemented-based-on-design-workshops-with_fig4_345178251