Now that work from home has become a potentially permanent part of the American work culture, we’ll need to find innovative new ways to replace the human interaction that was a staple of the traditional office. Working from home means that we miss out on spontaneous conversations and interactions that happen when we’re together physically.
When you are a new employee, you get a whole set of new people to work with. When you meet a new coworker in person, you can use visible signals to spark up a conversation with them.
You usually start by spotting organic opportunities to talk to people either by proximity (nearby desk mates), by shared common spaces (elevators or coffee machine) or visible common interests (picture of kids, sports teams). You also usually start with safe ice breakers from those signals and work your way up to understanding the person better over time as you run into them in the office.
User Pain Points
When a new employee starts remotely, the barrier to entry is even higher without a physical office. The new remote employee doesn’t know much about their new colleagues - except maybe their slack username, email, and profile picture. Without an office, new remote employees may struggle to find these opportunities and conversation starters to break the ice and nurture relationships.
As new employees work to adapt to their new roles, these obstacles to establishing new relationships lead to employees figuring out their project colleagues' working styles by trial and error. It can also lead to them deprioritizing forming other connections at work (outside of their project teammates) as they focus their efforts on excelling in their professional tasks. Over time, this can lead to employees feeling disconnected and isolated from their co-workers and their company culture.
Here’s why this matters: By 2025, 36.2 million Americans will be working remotely, an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels. 74% of professionals believe that remote work will become the new normal. So, remote work is here to stay. And it’ll be important to address these users’ pain points to ensure they can succeed personally and professionally.
Our preliminary user research to validate this problem with remote workers found that users overall feel that the current conversations and interactions are transactional and superficial but need to be more. By creating a product that would allow new remote workers to learn more about their new colleagues, it will empower them to feel closer and give them fodder to spark more meaningful conversation.
Landing on a Solution
The goal for this product is to enable these conversations by providing conversation starters to remove the barriers to get to know someone. The hypothesis is that if a new remote worker knows more about their new coworkers, they are more likely to reach out to them, especially if they find that they have similar interests or are working on something that they might be interested in. It will allow colleagues to have a richer sense of who their coworkers are and increase their confidence in reaching out for a conversation.
Sarabot is a Slack bot that facilitates meaningful conversations and connections between remote employees and their colleagues.
Sarabot has four key features that we are launching with:
- Welcoming new employees - When a new employee joins Slack, Sarabot allows other employees to know there’s a new addition to the team and encourages the new employees to introduce themselves with a fun question.
- Generating Conversation Ideas upon request - Sarabot provides remote employees with topic ideas and open-ended prompts to help spark conversations with their coworkers. You can select different categories like “mentor”, “working-style” or “casual”. You can also ask to get these prompts by messaging Sarabot directly. Simply use the slash command /convostarter and select a category to start.
- Matching groups of employees based on a common interest - Sarabot is able to send questions to public Slack channels, then matches employees based on similar answers and adds these employees to a new channel. Simply use the slash command /question in a channel. Sarabot will send a multiple choice question and start matching.
- Team Building Resources - Sarabot also provides some helpful team building resources like simple games you can play with 2 or more players. Simply use the slash command /game to generate links to online games.
If a user needs help to understand all of Sarabot’s capabilities, the user can go to the Sarabot homepage in Slack. The user would go to the “Apps” category, click on Sarabot, go to the top left and click “Home”. There, the user will find a brief intro from Sarabot, a list of features, and an email to send suggestions.
We’ve received promising user feedback showing that Sarabot is engaging and our users even offered great suggestions on what they would like to see Sarabot do in the future. Participants described Sarabot as friendly, inviting, and straightforward. 100% of survey participants said they would download Sarabot if given the chance.
It was an incredibly collaborative process for us as a team to pull all of this together in ~4-5 weeks. While we don’t plan to keep working on Sarabot full-time after the Co.Lab program, we are super proud of what we’ve accomplished, grateful that this program brought all four of us together, and excited about all of the learnings we’ve had during the process.
Product Manager Learnings:
- I learned what it’s like to work in a high-functioning team where trust is at the core.
- I learned how to communicate with my team to prioritize our work and make smart tradeoffs
- I also learned about the importance of showcasing and celebrating wins throughout the process
- I learned the importance of being flexible and re-prioritizing design goals given the project’s constraints
- I also learned how to apply non-linear design thinking to a real product
- And finally, I learned how valuable it is to collaborate with developers early on in a project.
- I learned that the more you learn, the more you have to adapt.
- I also learned having another developer on the team is invaluable.
- And finally, I learned that compassion and trust are the keys to a great team.
- I learned how to effectively work on a team with agile principles
- I also learned to be patient while researching new documentation
- And finally, I learned we can create an amazing product if we listen to each other and work together ❤
Full Team Learning
As a team, we learned that we shouldn’t underestimate ourselves when presented with a challenge like the one we had - building something on a platform we’ve never built on before. We also learned that being honest and understanding from the very beginning allows you to quickly build trust to undertake a process like this.