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Opinion /

Hybrid working; from challenges to solutions within weeks

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Once upon a time, long before the pandemic Freestyle were arguably ahead of their time and already well and truly embracing of flexible and remote working. Our people were trusted, and there were no set rules or criteria, just a mutual, adult agreement that you’d work where you needed in order to get your best work done, whilst also maintaining a healthy/work life balance.

Freestylers mostly chose to work in the office 3-4 days a week, with a day or two working remotely…it just worked. The working environment was buzzy, people enjoyed collaborating and having a laugh together, and there was a lot of ‘learning by osmosis’ that just happened when people sat in close proximity to each other.

Equally we were able to get our heads down at home, wear comfy clothes, maintain a work/life balance, and just ‘handle’ those life things that get chucked at us (poorly pets, school sports days, cars in for servicing etc).

So what changed?

During the height of the pandemic when offices were closed, many of our team struggled, they were desperate to get back to the office and be around other people. They yearned for social interaction and missed the ‘water-cooler’ chats and opportunities to collaborate in person.

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As soon as we were able, we looked at how we could safely re-open, initially with restricted numbers in order to keep people safe, and the original idea of a booking app was born. Fast forward to today in an almost post-pandemic world, and the challenges that we face are slightly different.

The world of work has evolved and hybrid working has become the norm (yipee!) with that however it’s also become ambiguous and complicated all at once. Whilst others worked to figure out their approach, one thing we knew for certain was that we wanted to keep flexible and hybrid working at our core, and that we needed to find ways to ensure that hybrid working was truly serving our people and our business.

The challenge!

Hybrid working brings with it a multitude of benefits, and there is no denying that many of us benefit from the opportunity to work remotely, be that from home…or anywhere else!

Remote working opens up opportunities to spend more quality time with friends and family, eliminating costly commutes and for many working remotely creates a richer environment for focus and creativity. On top of that, working from home can support a better and easier work/life balance, and can ease the stresses and strains of juggling work with everyday life ‘stuff’. It’s a no-brainer.

However!

There are challenges for both employees and employers alike. Despite advances in technology that enable us to be far more digitally connected than ever before, truly feeling connected as a human can prove tricky (not impossible….but tricky for sure).

Remote working significantly reduces opportunities for in person social interaction, and with that comes challenges in;

• Creating a community and sense of belonging

• New starters fully integrating with the wider team

• A general sense of connection

• True, effective and fun collaboration

• General growth and learning through osmosis…sitting within close proximity to your peers

• Fully joined up thinking

• And organic ‘water cooler’ chat that not only stimulates great ideas but bonds peers too

For now, we ask our team to be in the office at least one day a week. In order to maintain genuine flexibility, we’ve not stipulated what day that should be, so there could be people in the office any day of the week.

Chuck into the mix that our team come from far and wide and that we want to ensure that those making the trip into the office aren’t arriving at an empty office and we’ve got ourselves a new challenge…when is the ‘right’ day to be in?

We needed better company wide visibility of who was in and when so that we could arrange our diaries and ensure we’d cross paths with those we wanted or needed to see.

Sure, we could ask our team mates every day if they are going to be in…and yeah we had a Slack channel for #whereabouts, but in an already noisy Slack world those solutions just didn’t cut it.

Enter The Booking App.

A proof of concept for an urgent need

Initially a Google spreadsheet was born. It solved the immediate need  and was relatively easy to maintain (if not a little manual), creating replica fields for each week powered by many complex cell formulas. As we rolled this out, it became clunky and highlighted some of the new needs and challenges mentioned above. Booking into the studio wasn’t just about restricted availability, it was about helping us build on our Freestyle community.

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With the Google spreadsheet in our back pocket as a proof of concept, it was time to validate a new stable digital product. We assembled a small team of UX, design and full stack developers to create an easy to use digital booking product that didn’t require weekly set up or manual reminders.

For speed, we began this process with a basic user flow and designed screens for the digital experience. This was made possible with fast decision making on key criteria;

1. It would be on mobile

2. It would provide a view of the next 10 days

3. It would allow bookings for the next 10 days

4. It would hold historical data for two weeks

A composable tech build for speed and flexibility

Given the core skills sets of our specialist team of  engineers, designers and strategists, we worked through a process that highlighted areas for additional future uses and more complex interactions beyond studio bookings. Not only did we want a prototype at pace, we also wanted a flexible and appropriate foundation for future functionality, forming a product backlog to develop towards.

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Rather than going down a lengthy, full native app route which can be slow and expensive, we opted for React Web using the  cross-platform framework Expo. Super quick to build in, Expo gives you the ability to launch iOS and Android web apps in a matter of weeks. As a web app, all the features of a phone are now available ‘on the web’, so technically speaking it looks, feels and acts the same as a native app.

Within a few weeks, we had a prototype running on people’s phones. Here they could login, book into the studio and see when others had booked in too.

A test and prioritisation plan to be sure of intended outcomes

With our early prototype ready, we created a test plan to bring the science to our validation process. From a user perspective, this set out how we believed the prototype would be used, what would be an indicator of success and how we would measure it. From a technology perspective, it included checks that our data was handled and stored accurately.

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We ran self-led, observed user testing sessions. This helped us iron out our UI and identify the most useful views. Follow up ‘Jobs to be done’ interviews opened up further opportunities for improvement and future uses. Here’s a few examples:

“I’m only coming in for the morning.” - Not everyone comes in for the whole day, so we needed to allow for half day selections.

I don’t have an office key, is someone coming in who can open and lock up? - By updating the profiles of people who have office keys, we could display this for everyone and avoid key holders having to manually enter on every booking.

“I’d like to bring Luna, my whippet, but are there any other dogs coming in that day?” - We love dogs here at Freestyle, however not all dogs love each other. So we introduced a selection for when our best friends are coming in with us.

A look to the future

By coming at new needs in a ‘Jobs to be done’ framework, our ideas haven’t been limited by studio booking tasks. We’ve opened up opportunities for additional value throughout our hybrid working lives. Here’s a sneak peak at some of the next features on the horizon.

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Automated ‘in office’ live status via Wifi connection  - Sometimes plans can change last minute and booking updates are forgotten. By hooking into the wifi, we can check and prompt whether people are actually in the office when they said they would be. This will ensure accuracy in case we ever need to rely on it in an emergency.

Built out profiles to share our working styles and personality types - Whilst we share a collective desire to achieve outcomes, we don’t all think alike, behave alike, or work alike. Our profiles can be used to inform our team how we operate, promoting awareness and greater collaboration amongst us all.

Working on internal projects such as this that solve our own business and user needs enables us to experiment with new technology, hone our skills and processes, refine how we collaborate and push our creative thinking.

Freestyle uses proven methods to identify opportunities and prioritise technology investment to directly address the challenges that businesses face.. If you're ready to have a chat about how we can help you to address your talent challenges through digital transformation, drop us a line: hello@freestyle.agency

 

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Co-written by:
Emma Simkiss, Managing Director at Freestyle and Tom Downing, Technology Director at Freestyle.

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Tom heads up technology here at Freestyle, which includes the mentoring and growing of the engineering team and defining the technology strategy for the business. Tom works strategically with our clients and partners developing future fit tech strategies, API first composable architectures, and forming long term strategic platform partnerships. He’s also a BIMA (British Interactive Media Association) judge and mentor.

As Managing Director Emma is responsible for the day to day running of Freestyle, and believes in keeping people at the core of what they do. With 15 years experience spanning both client and agency side, Emma brings a diverse skill set, and a passion for relationship and team building, team leadership and coaching led cultures.

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