When an innovation studio asked its interns to better the office using technology, we kept our possibilities open. Before committing to a means, we wanted to seek out expert advice. When it comes to improving office life, who better to ask than the employees themselves? We interns became a platform for people to anonymously and comfortably communicate honest feedback.
Tucked away in Pittsburgh’s industrial strip district, a revamped flour mill houses a family of quirky robots and whimsical gizmos. Deeplocal is a paradise for the technologist who never wanted to grow up. When the internship coordinator assigned us interns an office improvement project, it came to no surprise suggested solutions celebrated technology — from fixing the proximity sensor on door locks to installing automatic occupancy signs for the often-queued bathrooms.
Yet, I wanted to improve office life, not through
technology, but through participatory inquiry.
Luckily, I wasn’t alone. I united people with similar human-centered beliefs. We designed for our respective teams while crafting an alternate response during cross-group meets. Our team believed open-ended exploration could lead to more thoughtful, holistic change.
Come decision day, the internship coordinator approved our HCD Office Life Improvement Project. She appreciated the idea of “internal consultants” finding ways to better the office.
Our budget of $2.35 didn’t hurt.
We first distributed a survey, motivating the twenty workers with freshly baked cookies (where the $2.35 came in). The survey quantified our hunch from office conversations: some roles had more potential for improvement than others. Long-time positions such as technologists have established a status quo. Yet, newer roles from designers to strategists were still negotiating with the workflow, culture, and community.
With newfound focus, we mapped out people’s roles and invited employees to fill our knowledge gaps. Participants rearranged sticky notes representing co-workers and drew relations between them. The activity anchored joint exploration into the organization’s social structures. With each employee’s perspective, we gained clarity into the nodes, clusters and outliers that scaffold the community.
Through interviews and design activities, we uncovered a universal desire: administrators, designers, and technologists alike wished communication between departments could improve.
No one felt these communication repercussions more than new hires. Using personal experience and interview insights, we created a new-hire portal, where in addition to answering the basic who, what, where, how, people could add in their skill sets as well as what they would like to learn. With the agency scaling, helping new hires adjust supports Deeplocal’s larger trajectory.
The report, an artifact to spark conversation, informed administration during its end-of-year assessment. The deliverable anchored discussions that would otherwise be difficult or unconventional to bring up.
Digging through office politics, we encountered systemic questions much larger than our team or even the organization could address. Yet, we witnessed participants’ swelling pride given the chance to contribute. Concluding an interview, one employee said, “Ask me about [office improvement] anytime. I’m really invested in what you guys are doing.”
In another instance, an interviewee narrated a personal case embodying a compelling area of improvement. I wrote a summary generalizing the story. After sending them the draft, the individual expressed gratitude those words were exactly what they wanted to convey while also maintaining utmost respect.
These exchanges created something immeasurable.