Case Study

Employee Experience 2019

Employee Experience 2019

My first challenge at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was to identify the greatest areas of potential impact for the Information Technology department to invest in with regard to employee productivity and collaboration in 2019, using human centered design and research techniques over a 6 month period. By the end of this period, the work encompassed:

  • 29 1:1 interviews
  • Multiple observation sessions: job shadows, meeting observation sessions, IT Office Hours, etc.
  • Direct experiences as a new employee
  • Participatory journey mapping sessions with stakeholders
  • Diary studies and surveys

Project Team

I was the sole design and research resource on this project; I conducted all research activities, analysis, and report-outs. My key stakeholders were our Deputy Director of HCD, a Senior Manager from Global Technology Services, and our Director of Global Technology Services. From time to time, I brought my work to my peers on the human centered design team for feedback.

Overall Process

After drafting a project brief and obtaining buy-off from my key stakeholders, I immediately jumped into interviewing, recruiting using public message boards internally since I was only 2 weeks into my tenure at the foundation and had no existing network. I broke my interviewing up into 3 cohorts:

  • Cohort 1: Wide net – volunteers
  • Cohort 2: New employees
  • Cohort 3: Filling gaps: Mac users, under-represented roles and offices

Pivoting based on early findings

During the interviews in Cohort 1, I set up a “project wall” in a commonly-used leadership meeting space to increase visibility of interview findings. For each interview, I created a summary card with workspace photo, device details, key pain points, and software usage. I also began a heat map tracking the most common pain points with sticky flags to show trends as they emerged. This proved to be a very effective conversation starter.

An example of a wall card pairing – summary of devices, apps, and pain points, plus a photograph of a workspace.

One finding jumped out immediately. The expectation had been that my findings would lean towards Office app usage, like “Sharepoint is ineffective.” At first, communications tools were out of scope. But my interviews CLEARLY indicated that Skype for Business was BY FAR the biggest pain point and time sink across the board; we had Directors losing 30 minutes A DAY to dropped calls and embarrassing incidents with CEOS of partner companies. I made the case to my stakeholders that we needed to pivot my work to dig deeper on this finding and build a strong case for accelerating the deprecation of Skype, which was not planned until 2021 and would potentially be a multi-million dollar effort. I gained support for this shift – we still gathered other findings, but I added techniques and interviewees to make sure we got adequate coverage on this important issue.

Other interesting findings with wide-ranging impacts

Some people used over a dozen collaboration tools on a daily basis.

These individuals were extremely taxed and ANY new introduction of a tool, even a helpful one, was viewed as extremely problematic. This had a large impact on my later communications strategy for the Teams rollout in the latter half of the year.

Tools like Microsoft Teams were being used as “digital water coolers.”

People were most excited about Teams and Slack when they brought a sense of team culture, NOT when they increased productivity. This had an impact on our recommendations later, during Teams adoption particularly during the pandemic.

Foundation hardware was (usually) well-liked, but some emergent device usage was seen.

Personal tablet usage was on the rise because there was so much document review, and leaders were modeling this behavior. Laptops and phones were well-liked, but were not judged on daily portability thanks to the proliferation of most cloud services. Those who needed portable devices were less happy, and there was less satisfaction with monitors and peripherals.

Final topline findings

The findings were split into satisfaction drivers, productivity issues, and trends. Click here to see the report.

Satisfaction Drivers1. Flexible working arrangements
2. Integrated conference rooms
3. Reliable standard configurations
4. Targeted IT Services
Top Productivity Issues1. Widespread Skype failures
2. High email volume
3. Lack of a standard knowledge management policy
4. Insufficient IT service communications
5. SharePoint is perceived as difficult to use
6. Limited support for MacOS device connectivity
Trends in our Workplace1. Larger, distributed, matrixed teams
2. Increased mobility is changing collaboration
3. Growing need to perform document reviews
4. Increasing data debt and desire for change
5. OneNote is increasing in importance and scale
6. Paper is valued, but tablet curiosity grows
7. Foundation supplied phone peripherals don’t meet expectations

Top 5 Opportunities

For those who just wanted to know how to take action, the following 5 actions were recommended:

  • Dramatically reduce the prevalence of conferencing issues by accelerating the replacement of conference room hardware.
  • Target the Teams rollout to specific workgroups, and tailor training to their collaboration needs.
  • Develop and launch a formal knowledge management policy at the foundation, with fewer apps and options.
  • Consider and explore improvements (like tablets) to the document review experience.
  • Ensure MacOS devices have Intranet connection parity to PCs, regardless of work location.


The project yielded a wide variety of deliverables, per the list below. See the bottom of this page to browse and view examples.

  • Executive summary presentation and full 26-page report
  • Two journey maps: onboarding and the meeting experience
  • 2 posters: Collaboration Roles and Collaboration Models
  • Capability Model flow chart


Foundation-wide adoption of Teams Meetings

As a direct result of this work – and even before findings were finalized – my Director stakeholder launched a proposal to the foundation’s executive leadership team to accelerate the replacement of all conference room hardware worldwide to support Microsoft Teams over a year early at a cost of $2 million. I personally wrote most of the proposal, drawing straight from the findings to support the proposal. Our request was granted, and the Teams Enablement project was launched in July 2020. As a direct result of that project, the Foundation adopted Teams Meetings officially two weeks prior to the pandemic closure, meaning we were no longer dependent on a on-premise technology when forced to work from home. I received a merit award for impact to the foundation for the combination of this work and the ensuing Teams Enablement work.

Driving greater customer understanding cross-organization

The Onboarding journey map was taken up by our Onboarding working group as an input into their overhaul of the Starting Gates experience.

The understanding we gained of the use of Slack at the foundation – unsanctioned – prepared us to help us transition those groups onto Teams in a logical, customer-connected way.

Additional new projects and services

In addition, the Knowledge Management and Mac compatibility recommendations led to a new multiyear project and new services respectively; and my connections through the interviewing project led to 2 additional ethnography projects by request in the ensuing 6 months.

App usage flow chart as seen at the foundation in 2019 during the Employee Experience project.

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