enhancing gratitude in your neck of the woods through a digital appreciation forest
Timeline: March 2021, 18+ hours
Role: Lead Designer
Team: Me, Jacques Chen, Cristian Mihailescu (dream team!)
Event: UBC Biztech x Product Management Club Produthon 2021
★ Won Innovation Prize, awarded to the three most innovative products ★

Rapid design at UBC's first-ever Produthon

In March 2021, I participated with two other students in Produthon 2021, a competitive virtual event planned by UBC BizTech and UBC Product Management Club. My team was tasked with innovating and prototyping products to address real-world issues in a collaborative and fast-paced environment. We all took part in the product research, ideation, and validation stages, and I led the visual design.

After roughly one year since many students and employees transitioned to remote work due to COVID-19, the *very* timely theme for this event was "Innovating in the Digital Workspace". Four mentor sessions were included throughout the competition as an opportunity for teams to get a professional opinion on their work, guide us through our ideation, and answer any questions we had.

Struggling to engage in the virtual workspace

Since the start of the pandemic, many companies have switched to work-from-home models to prioritize the safety of their workers. However, this has led to increased feelings of isolation and a lack of recognition. It is harder to build working relationships without organic opportunities for small talk. All of these factors lead to higher employee turnover, lower productivity, and a lack of cohesion within organizations.

Encouraging employee recognition to help teams thrive

Grovve is a B2B employee recognition platform that focuses on expressing genuine gratitude, fosters coworker relationships and integrates with workers' existing workflows. We designed a gamified interface for employees to enjoy, offering unique methods of expressing gratitude that build team chemistry. Through a proposed collaboration with the Arbor Day Foundation, every "gratitude" sent equals a tree planted! With Grovve, expressing appreciation has real social and environmental benefits.

User Research

My team discussed our own personal strifes with remote work and school (and there was no shortage of complaints...). It was tempting to dive into a singular idea quickly, but we we tried to stay conscious of our limited perspectives and decided to conduct a survey of a group of remote employees. The questions were tailored around what workers value in their work/company, the definition of meaningful work, and ideal post-COVID work landscapes. A commonality that arose was a desire for appreciation for their work, whether in-person or remotely. The difficult global landscape, socially and environmentally, also added to a lack of meaning and motivation.
▸ "I like that my company gives appreciation and recognition when work is above average standards"
▸ "For me, meaningful work is when I can see its importance and its impact on the overall goal of the department"
▸"I find it hard to focus or care about my work with everything happening in the world"
With the event time constraints, we were able to schedule a virtual user interview with a Technical Product Manager at a local tech company that had transitioned to work-from-home (WFH) in March 2020. Additional informal conversations were also had with mentors at this event - lucky for us, they were all current Product Managers working remotely. This gave us valuable insights into the vastly different goals and priorities of a someone in a directorial role.
▸ "I don't use any specific tools for employee wellness, but it's something on my mind and I try to make sure no one is overworking"
▸ "It's been harder to build working relationships due to COVID"
▸ "If I was to introduce a new software, I would need data-driven results to justify the spend"

Research Synthesis

Having dug deepers into the thought processes of our users, we created two users that helped inform the rest of our design process: a Software Developer and a Product Manager, both working remotely. We also synthesized our research into key insights.
▸ Employees across all levels are feeling underappreciated
▸ Creating meaningful, genuine professional relationships has become more difficult
▸ Managers want to maintain high employee satisfaction and happiness, but they need to be able to justify using software
▸ With the onset of the pandemic and other local/global tragedies, making a difference and being able to view it tangibly has become more important
With the short timeframe of this event, my team and I quickly jumped to brainstorming right away using insights that emerged in our user research. Our included:
▸ A platform to match compatible employees with potential employers
▸ An environmental management system to build a "smart" workplaces
▸ A one-stop online marketplace for locally-owned small businesses
▸ A platform to help users find activities in their area based on customizable criteria

We eventually settled on a high-level idea we felt passionate about and thought addressed the painpoints in our research best: an employee recognition software that helps build team comradery and save the environment at the same time🌲

Learning more about gratitude in the workplace

We were able to get advice and feedback from experienced Product Managers and Designer through mentor sessions. We brought our idea of a recognition software to a session and spoke with two managers. While they had used software with similar intents in the past, both of them agreed retention was an issue. They attributed this to a lack of authenticity and genuineness. The UI of many of these programs were not visually pleasing and felt like a chore to use.

After our conversation, we decided to conduct competitive research to scope out the recognition software market - while there were several major companies with similar foundations, our sustainability focus and real-world impact set Grovve apart.

Bringing Grovve to Life

At this point, we had established our vision: help teams thrive by enabling them to easily share employee recognition and gratitude in a personalized manner, remotely or in-person. We ideated various features to target our user goals, keeping distinct employee and manager personas in mind.
With Grovve's seeds planted firmly in comprehensive user and market research, we set forward with building the actual design.

Seamless Integrations

From speaking with our potential users, one concern raised was that employees already have to juggle multiple platforms. We designed integrations with common task-tracking softwares like Jira and Asana. When a coworker finishes a task on a project connected to you, Grovve suggests the user to send a gratitude. Messaging platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Hangouts are also designed to work alongside Grovve, letting you check notifications directly from your team forest homepage.

Personalized Gratitude

Genuine appreciation was one of our main design goals with Grovve. Gratitudes sent through Grovve can take many different forms: simple notes, a photo, a video, and more. We came up the idea of sending a "Grovve" itself, something like the coupons given as a kid (or received as a parent) for free hugs and car washes. They are meant to show genuine appreciation, for times when you truly want to express gratitude in a meaningful way. Users can choose through a pre-made list or create a custom Grovve, like a round of golf or extra half-hour for a lunchtime nap, for even more personalization.

Immediate and Visible Impact

Based on user sentiments that it was difficult to find meaning from their work, we decided to design the digital forest to grow alongside a real one. The forest is direct in the middle of the dashboard, with friendly and colourful icons populating it. After sending a gratitude or Grovve, a tree immediately sprouts on the worker's team forest. This corresponds to a real tree planted through the Arbor Day Foundation. On the right-hand-side, the number of real trees planted by the team is highlighted.

Comprehensive Analytics

An easily accessible dashboard with team analytics provides a benefit to high-level company goals. This dashboard has a ROI calculator based on number of employees and gratitudes/Grovves sent. The user can also track individual employees and make sure appreciation is occuring throughout the whole team.
We won one of three Innovation Prizes, awarded to teams with unique products with potential. We were all extremely proud of what we created in a short timeframe, and I learned so much about research, ideation, product validation, business, and design through this experience. All prize winners were invited to present the following weekend at Exhibition Night - you can watch our 8-minute pitch below. You can also skip straight ahead to the prototype walk-through (done by me!) at 27:40
As a hybrid of traditional hackathons and business case studies, the Produthon was heavily centered around design and product management. I learned to prioritize business and B2B desires with design goals - before you can design a delightful experience for users, why would they want to use it in the first place?

Additionally, this was my first dive into creating a digital product driven by data and user-centric design. I quickly learned that agile research and problem/product definition is key. My team spent most of our first day ideating, creating surveys, conducting user interviews, and speaking with mentors - we were able to validate whether or not our product was truly solving a problem.

This was my first foray into functional user-centric design and it opened my eyes to the power of listening to your users. I am so thankful for my amazing team and the well-planned event for pushing market and product validation - we focused on our users and the design followed.

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