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Behind the feature: Hot-desking

When Andrew conceived the idea of Team Today (originally known as whereabouts) he did it from his own frustrations of working within Hybrid teams. Coming into an empty office and having no idea if team members were working from home or on holiday frustrated him.

We worked together to further elaborate the idea, feeling, “wouldn’t it be great if you could see how many desks were available before deciding to come into the office?”
This led us to add hot desking into Team Today.

Hot Desking is quite a complex feature but we managed to break it down into small deliverable slices or chunks. This meant we could offer value pretty early on whilst we tested market appetite.

Our MVP (minimum viable product) of the hot design feature was simply a way to count how many desks were available and display this to users as they looked to book into the office.

The response was really positive. Simply having a number of desks available allowed smaller companies to keep track of office numbers. This instantly removed the headache of HR managers coordinating on cumbersome spreadsheets or crossing off whiteboards.
But if we wanted to attract larger companies we knew we needed to do more. There could be multiple offices with multiple floors, areas and desks. It felt very much like pulling the end of a piece of thread, the scope kept getting bigger.

Our next slice involved giving users the ability to create multiple floors and assign a number of desks available. This self serve feature was quickly adopted and we built on this to enable multiple offices.

At this stage of our product launch, we were starting to see a lot of sign-ups from well-recognised companies. Often these companies would want a demonstration, it felt the bigger the company the less likely they would proceed on a self serve basis without first having a demo.

The “I’m Out” moment

The first demonstration I did of Team Today started remarkably well. It was with a London based corporate client and it felt like the start of something big. I’m no sales person but the product was selling itself, I just needed to drive so to speak. The customer was engaged, enthusiastic right up to the point I’d demonstrated the hot desking feature.
I then saw first-hand my demonstration go from them loving it to instantly losing interest on the basis of one question.

“So I can’t see who I’m going to be sat next to?”

Despite my best efforts to highlight that booking an individual desk on a floor plan would be slower I’d already lost the deal. It reminded me of Dragons Den episodes where within a blink of an eye the investment was lost.

I’m not going to lie it felt a blow.

Other Hot Desk solutions seemed cumbersome in that they very much focus on the manual nature of the task, treating booking a desk like booking a seat on a plane without necessarily seeing the wider context of the problem.

To continue the plane analogy it’s like booking a seat and having no idea if any of your friends are planning to get this flight.

In that regard, we felt Team Today had the advantage over other hot desking solutions. The simple ability to see ahead who was going into the office and self co-ordinate. We also felt you couldn’t get much simpler than our booking process, literally one click.

Making a leap of faith

In design and especially in a start-up there are moments when validation isn’t possible. That you need a leap of faith but some leaps are riskier than others.

The company I had pitched to felt they needed a floor map and the ability to book an individual seat and despite our own doubts, it was a competitive disadvantage not having one. Like an auto parking feature in a car. The idea of it sounds good but on a day to day basis, it’s quicker to just park it yourself. Importantly there is a big caveat, it still helps sell the car :).

We set about working rapidly to build a floor plan feature where you could book into individual desks. It was tricky and complex to build but we advertised it within the product as a feature that we could set up.

With that came our first large client who wanted a free trial.

During our conversations with them, it became clear they didn’t want users to book into individual seats like we had made. Instead, they wanted users to simply book into areas such as a bank of 6 desks, they found people never sat in the correct seat and it would often be too restrictive.

We were so close but we had got the last 10% wrong. and this is the part where you shout “Research, research, research” and you would be right.

If we would have conducted research across companies using Hot Desk solutions we would have found this out. But just as there is a cost to development when we build something wrong there is also a cost to research. In a well-established platform with reasonable design and research resources, you would of course look to understand the problems associated with booking individual desks.

But in a startup sometimes you need to make a decision based on gut vs risk. How risky is this if we get it wrong? How much would we need to unpick? The truth in this instance is not that much, though Andrew may hit me round the head for saying that.

But the reward was worth it, the client saw the potential in it and just wanted that minor alteration. In that sense, we were co-designing the solution. We unpicked and created a solution with the best of both worlds. The convenience of being able to book any desk in a bank of 6 and being able to see who else is sat on the desk bank alongside you.

On balance which was the better approach?

Research upfront:
Save 1 week of dev rework but potentially miss the client?
Leap of faith:
building something roughly right, landing the client but costing 1 weeks rework?

The truth is had we done the research we may have found other problems that we could have solved meaning losing one client might have meant we got 6 more down the road. It's hypothetical however, we won the client over and a big client gives confidence to other potential customers.

A simple piece of advice I received once was "just make the best decision you can with the information you have available."

Obvious, but enlightening, it meant I stopped worrying about making decisions, we work in an agile manner for a reason, it enables us to shift direction quickly.

After we released this feature the demos no longer had an obvious gap. More and more large clients are signing up. Now we get requests for minor additions, our customers are enthusiastic and passionate about the product, seeing opportunities to improve hybrid working for all.

(Update: So it turns out customers wanted both areas and desk booking :) so we re-added the ability to book a desk directly alongside area booking. Now we have a really powerful office management solution.)

Thanks for stopping by and reading,

Robin Gibson
Co- Founder and Director of Design

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