The Teams Enablement project at the Gates Foundation was a yearlong effort to support the deployment of Teams to the foundation in a manner that minimized disruption and maximized employee success, launched over a year early in response to the findings from my earlier Employee Experience discovery project. I (and eventually, a Senior vendor designer on my team) embedded on the Teams Enablement project for 9 months to ensure that our delivery of Teams exceeded expectations without adding to employee stress.
The Teams Enablement project was a hybrid of service design, traditional usability techniques, and content strategy. My Human Centered Design team brought a very specific perspective and set of goals informed by our earlier discovery efforts.
- Help employees voluntarily adopt Teams Meetings when it fit their schedule and needs
- Unearth any usability issues in our Teams Rooms installations early enough to minimize cost and impact
- Develop and drive a human-centered communications strategy tied to insights from earlier Employee Experience discovery
- Design specific communications collateral to be distributed foundation-wide
- Work with change managers and Tech Learning to inform new class offerings and outreach events
This was an EXTREMELY high profile and high risk project for the foundation, funded directly by the executive leadership team. We are a relationship-driven culture and meetings are at the core of our work. The loss of the ability to meet could literally interfere with our ability to deploy lifesaving aid or medications globally. The entire foundation was using Skype on-premises, which was an extremely poor solution for a globally distributed workforce. But before we could ask everyone to switch to Teams, ALL global conference rooms had to be converted at the cost of several million dollars: 70 conference rooms in Seattle, about 40 globally, and a number of multi-purpose rooms in our conference centers globally. Our broader team was responsible for both the hardware replacement and the service design and change management around the actual adoption of Teams Meetings. The bulk of this replacement and rollout occurred on an aggressive schedule, from July 2019 – March 2020.
I was the Human Centered Design Lead for the entirety of the project, and in the second half of the project we added a senior UX design vendor to help me with the execution of the strategy as I transitioned partially to other projects. Our stakeholders included the Director and Senior Manager of Global Technology Services and the Deputy Director of Human-Centered Design – as well as customer stakeholders like leaders from the Program Assistant community. Collaborators on the team included the Service Owner for Microsoft Teams, our Program Manager, our Manager of A/V Services, representatives from our Tech Learning Team, representatives from our tech team at McKinstry, and regional office IT representatives.
From a leadership perspective, I also served as a member of the Teams Enablement Steering Committee with the key stakeholders – which was fairly new for human centered designers at the foundation and was a direct result of the trust I’d built from my Employee Experience engagement.
The first task I identified was to provide signage and instructional material for our pilot rooms. Training was not mandatory, and it was certain people would be walking in to have critical meetings and be disoriented by the new hardware. In addition, general awareness was appropriate to align with the foundation’s value of transparency – so hallway signage was also needed to communicate with the teams affected before they ever entered the room.
The in-room collateral evolved significantly over the course of the project based on customer feedback. For example, instructions about the use of the in-room console were originally placed on table tents to remain consistent with current collateral – but in usability tests later, we observed that folks were so used to ignoring the old tents that ours went ignored too. Instead, we opted for a more rugged, spiral-bound, fully laminated guidebook. Examples of these materials can be found at the bottom of this case study.
Pilot Room Evaluation
My next was to plan for and execute the evaluation of the the effectiveness of our 4 pilot deployments of the Teams Room hardware over the course of a month. During the pilot, this took three forms:
- Observation of meetings in pilot rooms
- Traditional usability testing in pilot rooms
- Survey kiosks (iPad + SurveyMonkey) deployed in each room for four weeks
The foundation had never done anything like the survey kiosks before, so this required a pitch for an investment in iPads, heavy-duty iPad stands, and survey design that was appropriate for 60-seconds-or-less engagement after meetings. The survey itself was iterated a bit after feedback in the first few days of deployment.
The surveys tracked perception of meeting quality, use of specific meeting apps (since the consoles were backwards compatible), incidence of issues and specific issue types, and verbatim complaints. We were able to identify and fix several major issues immediately thanks to the kiosk installations and surveys.
Outcome of Pilot Room evaluation
Positive findings included the fact that we saw no regression on Skype connections, creating instant Teams Meetings was easy, and the custom Room Controls menu was seen as much easier to use than its predecessor,.
However, several key changes were made in response to these tests, including:
- A reversal in course: rather than asking attendees to use a USB connection to a dock to project, HDMI cables were restored to the rooms. This was driven by high latency on the USB connection that caused participants to disconnect prior to successful projection.
- Multiple changes to in-room console UI, like “Stop shades”
- More detailed and thoughtful in-room collateral
- Changes to Zoom connection process
As we deployed to more rooms on a much more aggressive schedule, one or two rooms were coming online each week. I adapted the strategy:
- Shorter survey since we’d stabilized the platform
- Kiosks would stay for a week in each room before being moved
- We’d use a numbering system for kiosks and match that up to pair kiosks to current rooms
I was in charge of monitoring incoming reports, detecting trends, and surfacing issues to the appropriate team members.
The kiosk evaluation during rollout quickly surfaced an emergent issue – a new update to Crestron firmware had rendered it seemingly incompatible with our Shure audio systems. The issue was so severe that we placed all future deployments on hold for several weeks, and even needed to bring Crestron and Shure representatives onsite. But without the kiosks, our customers might have been suffering through these hard-to-describe issues for days or weeks at scale, all while new rooms were converted weekly, compounding the problem. That would have severely damaged the fragile initial perception and trust our customers had in Teams Meetings. The kiosks saved the integrity of project.
Still, over time people’s willingness to engage with the kiosks diminished, and several of the iPads stopped functioning. I pivoted again by creating a Microsoft Forms survey as a “diary study” and placing QR codes and URLs on posters and on every conference room table. The reports from this diary study helped us identify a few power users and unique issues later on.
I also continued to do drop-in meeting observation sessions when circumstances allowed, whether incidentally or explicitly. I kept copies of my observation log handy to grab whenever the opportunity struck.
The first of my regional evaluations was in the Washington DC office. Once deployment was complete, I flew out for a week to perform the following tasks:
- Deploy in-room collateral in all conference rooms
- Sit in on meetings (with consent) in a variety of rooms, completing observation logs
- Run usability tests with Washington DC employees, including several power users identified via diary entries in Employee Experience research
- Debrief local IT and our team on emergent issues
Subsequent contextual evaluations were planned for China, India, and Beijing but were canceled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Findings from our earlier Employee Experience discovery project indicated that even the addition of a useful tool was likely to cause stress and frustration due to the high cognitive load most foundation employees deal with on a daily basis, compounded with the mission-critical nature of our meeting technology.
As a result, I drove the creation of an intentionally gradual, phased communications strategy and rollout plan for Teams Rooms. The plan was delivered in 5 waves and the schedule tailored individually for specific regional and functional audiences. I created and shaped the waves and gained conceptual buy-off from our delivery partners.
- Wave 1: Coming Soon! An initial awareness campaign, emphasizing the timeline, preview opportunities, and Skype continuity
- Wave 2: Try Teams meetings. Actively encourage audience to try Meetings and Rooms; provide hands-on training and reference for scheduling and room use.
- Wave 3: Use Teams (when you can). Where appropriate, audiences were encouraged to use teams; emphasized benefits of switching to drive voluntary adoption
- Wave 4: Teams is our meeting standard. Targeted messaging that positions Teams as the rule, not the exception. Begin to socialize phone use and Skype retirement.
- Wave 5: Goodbye, Skype! Ease the steps in Skype’s retirement, and assist any late adopter groups.
Execution of the strategy was a joint effort between the project team, the service owners, Tech Learning, and the Teams Jedi. (The Teams Jedi were a community of practice rolled out along Microsoft’s model of Teams Champions by the Teams service owner.) Some of our influence over the execution included recommendations that training be altered to consist of shorter, scenario-focused sessions as opposed to monolithic Teams sessions, and assistance in planning social learning events and communications for the cohorts mentioned in the Comms Strategy document above.
Impact of our Communications Strategy
The success criteria for our gradual rollout plan was that we would see high VOLUNTARY adoption of Teams to the start of Wave 4, when Teams was adopted as the standard. which could not occur until all Seattle and Washington DC conference room hardware was updated in early 2020. If folks chose to adopt, then the stress and cognitive overload associated with forced adoption of a new tool was minimized as folks had the chance to do it on their own terms.
Our hope was to see around 50% voluntary adoption of Teams Meetings across the foundation by the weeks prior to the official rollout. In reality, one month prior to the Teams Meetings rollout we observed 70% of meetings at the foundation were already Teams meetings – a huge margin over our goal.
This high voluntary adoption was inadvertently even more critical than anticipated – for we announced Teams Meetings as the standard in mid-February 2020, and a few weeks later the foundation shut its physical doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without the momentum we’d built, most of the foundation would still have been stuck using on-premises Skype during the early weeks of the crisis, which was notoriously bad at international calling and connections – or figuring out a new tool in a pandemic. Bill Gates cited his happiness with our Teams readiness and the seamless transition to work-from-home publicly in media interviews, and I received a merit award for contributions to the foundation during the critical pandemic year. Overall, it was a huge victory for human centered research and design at the foundation.
A large part of my team’s work was service design and communications strategy. The HCD team spent a great deal of time creating and delivering key communications collateral including:
- Global poster campaigns
- A variety of in-room and near-room signage
- Internal blog (“Catalyst”) posts at key inflection points
- Detailed in-room assistance guides in 2 languages: English and Chinese
- Chinese localization was done in partnership with a native speaker within IT – I provided localization workbooks and context, and they provided translations that I moved into Figma.
Fonts were Foundation fonts, and colors were chosen to align with Skype and Teams branding (and foundation branding itself, with regard to the in-room reference guides.) Posters from early in the campaign emphasized blue since Skype was still the prevalent tool, and once Teams was emphasized purple became the dominant color.
Content was carefully written to be warm, clear, and approachable, and had to also clear review by Director stakeholders – particularly the global hallway poster campaigns. Rather than talk about the products, I intentionally tried to focus on Q&A and customer value statements tied back to pain points from the initial Employee Experience discovery and the pilot room usability testing.
A few selections from the visual collateral I personally produced can be found below. I also provided guidance to my Senior UX Designer who led the creation of more playful poster campaigns as we headed out of learning and into broader awareness during phase 3/4.