THE BLOG
01/15/2015 09:56 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Role of User Experience in a 'Workplace Unplugged'

2015-01-14-projector.jpg
Welcome 2015. I remember when 2015 seemed so far away, yet here it is. Do you remember when you would wake up and you didn't have a phone to check? You would arrive at the office and sit at your desk to work on your daily tasks. Do you remember going to a meeting room with a notepad and using an overhead projector to communicate your "slides" to colleagues in sheet after sheet of blue, black, green and red.

Now, I look around the office, café, shopping center or even the car and it seems like the desk, conference room and focus space are everywhere and anywhere - so long as the person has a device, connectivity and a headset. "Workplace has gone digital, employees based in an office can often take their work on the road, which provides opportunities to live closer to family, relocate to a new city, travel, or to simply work from home in your pajamas." Space, has become whatever the user needs it to be for that specific activity at that specific time.

How did we get here? From being tethered to physical space, to becoming roamers with the freedom to set up our work-camp wherever we choose. By examining some common trends in workplaces that are embracing the "unplugged," we can shed some light on how we acquired our freedom to roam.

Wireless

When we say the word "wireless" most people think of wireless networks which clearly enable people to work from anywhere in the office or connect their mobile devices to move around easily. However, these are now being enabled further with wireless docking stations, wireless charging and wireless presenting. Wireless, is changing your day . You no longer have to make the conscious decision or action to "be connected" - you just are.

Devices

Each day sees the arrival of more and more devices that allow the roaming worker the freedom to move and to carry less with them. This then enables spaces to transform from one use to another. For example, with wireless phone charging the employee no longer needs to carry around that charger or hold their previous fears of being unproductive when their battery runs out. With wireless projectors, a bustling café can transform into a serious presentation area. With a headset that can connect to all of your devices, you can get up seamlessly during a call and move from your laptop to your phone without disconnecting. There is no need to be still and no need to stop, unless it is your own decision to do so.

2015-01-14-office_example.jpg

A Push for Collaboration

We hear it time and time again. Collaboration brings better innovation and higher satisfaction. This philosophy is evident in "unplugged" companies whose offices are becoming collaboration hubs. However, the world created by wireless connectivity and these devices also paves the way for new needs, expectations and requirements in ensuring effective collaboration. In fact, if implemented correctly, the mixing of devices with various communications types, such as voice, video and data, is incredibly powerful in increasing the "efficacy of communicating across functions, levels of expertise, and even language barriers".

This all sounds amazing. The ability to move around, work seamlessly on, present with, and collaborate using all these devices = a win for the user. Not needing to hang up a call while I move to the next place; accessing work from anywhere in an almost constant state of productivity = a win for the business. But wait; everything comes with considerations and on this topic, there are quite a few things to think about.

The Good

"Unplugged" means fewer wires, fewer adaptors and less complexity. This means decreased opportunities for wires to go missing or for user confusion and general mess. You would be shocked how much hassle wires can cause a real estate or an IT team. Yes, there is even a term to cover the mass of wires - "cable management".

Being unplugged also gives the benefit of greater flexibility and today's workplaces are changing rapidly to accommodate this. In fact, "Many enterprises focus on providing employees with a flexible workspace that provides ubiquitous access to corporate resources and services - through any device and from any location"

To be Carefully Considered...

With any change in the workplace there comes a level of complexity in educating the users and enabling adoption. The truth is, while many newer companies are hiring people that have grown up in the unplugged world, many companies still face the "sliding window of enterprise" where there are various user types all working together. Some users will need more help than others in moments of change. If this is not addressed and understood it can have very negative effects on adoption. With collaboration, adoption is affected by the lowest common denominator i.e. if one person is not able to use or to connect to the newer service etc. and there is no one available to help them, then all participants will need to revert to a method that they are familiar with, leaving the newer method obsolete.

When conferencing occurs all over the office, privacy considerations should be taken into account by the user. If true privacy is needed (and to be honest, these times are rare for the average employee), then the workplace should provide for this type of space. This is not to be confused with the need for focus, and areas of peace and quiet to concentrate in. With more open collaboration, there is a need to provide these types of spaces also.

Security is another such consideration. With "networked" objects, the need to ensure data is kept secure at rest and in transit is imperative. Anything connected, can be exploited. Cyber Security should be a part of the design process, not an afterthought, to be considered from the very beginning.

Lastly, there is a lot of opportunity to waste investment and to potentially get it really, really wrong. Many rush into the trendy "open" office and then miss the key understanding of the space; that it is all about the person, the activity they are trying to do and how the space enables it. Considerations such as the placement, feel and enablement of the space all play a key role.

How UX can Help

The increase in devices coupled with an increased push for collaboration in new ways and spaces, requires something to connect the dots. That something is User Experience methodology. UX plays a paramount role in ensuring adoption and productivity from a workspace.
"UX is incredibly important for enhancing the experience of our workplace interactions...it can be used to inspire and facilitate enhanced levels of productivity from all stakeholders." The whole flow of a user has to be considered. For example, with technology comes the opportunity for it to break; in this case what happens? How is the user returned to a productive state? Failing to take these considerations into account leads to a higher chance for dissatisfaction and a lower ROI. Using the UX Design process to plan your workspaces can help you to think through the true impact of your decisions before you invest in spaces that may not be up to the task.