Connecting Remote Teams
Microsoft

Background

In spring of 2022, I joined an incubation team that had been working on a product to improve connection of remote based teams. The product was an app that hosted multi-player games and activities through the Microsoft Teams app.

Our fundamental challenge was to foster community, engagement and conversation in a remote context, using Microsoft Teams as a platform and frame for these experiences. This initial set of products shipped as "Games for Work" app in the Fall of 2022 to enterprise clients of Microsoft Teams.

Role

I had the opportunity to work on the UX and visual design of several of our titles and various platform features. I was able to contribute in a variety of other ways including motion and even some audio design for certain interactions.

One really rewarding part of this role was being able to directly collaborate with several software engineers on our products. I worked with our Product Managers from initial concept, to wireframes, visual design and fully functional launched product.

Challenges & Solutions

1. Balance of Experience

In testing, we noticed that some participants were competitive while others were more comfortable with low-stakes activities. We looked for ways to engage less competitive players by offering metrics that stirred conversation.

One idea that I introduced in our Icebreakers game was to highlight shared affinity within the group. Rather than a ranking by score, we displayed a "Top 3" of people who responded similarly.

This was a broad success across test groups and sparked lots of conversation even among those who did not know each other very well before.

2. Communicating User State

How do you enable the leader of a meeting to manage and lead a group activity well? A natural group leader would always emerge and be looking for options to help the experience.

For each app we implemented a "host" functionality that equipped the user with features to intuitively manage the experience.

One of the most important pieces of this was allowing the host to understand the status of each player.

  • Vote/input status of each user
  • Score (if applicable)

The host also needed utility options to keep an activity moving forward if they or another user was going to be away from the computer.

  • Ability to transfer host controls
  • Ability to remove a player

It played out a little differently in each product, but the main pattern was to have an avatar with vote status and score, plus a settings button for the host to access options for that player.

A tricky and engaging part of this problem was also how the nature of "free to play" / "free to leave" functionality guided the architecture of the app from a back end perspective.

3. Working with Nested Interfaces

One convenient thing about the Games for Work app is that it is nested inside of Microsoft Teams. This made it easy to access and bring right into your meeting.

A downside to this, was that you had several apps nested inside an already full app. How could you clearly understand what to do to manage the activities?

The first iteration was dependent solely on the Teams sidebar to launch and browse the library of activities. It was less than ideal, and had users looking in many places at once.

To help with this, I designed a persistent "Games for Work" header bar that included a linked icon to other available games and a reload button for any situations where users might get stuck. This mirrored more of a conventional task management pattern.

This helped make the use of our constrained space and minimized the complexity we initially had. Everything centered around the "stage".

Individually, each game had a visually lighter secondary bar that included game specific options to avoid the cognitive clutter of multiple bars.

Shipping and Press

In November of 2022, "Games for Work" was made available to enterprise Microsoft Teams clients with 4 initial games. We continue to work on refining and creating new activities for the app.

As a fun note, the release was featured in mainstream press including The Washington Post, CNBC, and a good natured roast by Seth Meyers.

After launch, I continued to work on designing several game concepts. When my contract ended, new products were being tested internally with different groups.

Recommendations

"...Cameron ramped up very quickly when he joined the team, and took on design ownership for an incredibly challenging experience for a UI that had a LOT of ambiguity and experience challenges to work through, and throughout the entire process from the initial design proposal to the end result he was a joy to work with."

"He is an out of the box thinker who works very well with all disciplines. He produces high quality designs quickly and independently based on a UX framework that he defined with the team. Cameron articulates well his decisions and thought process, and he's very open to feedback. I highly recommend Cameron."

"...He quickly became an invaluable member of our ensemble. He is always able to back up his instincts — which are usually spot on, by the way — with the rationale that led to a particular design result."