COVID-19 disrupted life as we know it in multiple ways. From displacing students and employees to requiring us to stay home for extended periods of time and distance ourselves from others in public, our lives have been turned upside down. So, we began to consider all the changes that working from home has introduced to our lives. We came up with a lot of situations that those working from home have had to adapt to.

While brainstorming for our product, our team decided that there were two main aspects impacting those who had been displaced due to COVID-19. Productivity and not having social interactions with coworkers were the two ideas we were trying to decide between. In order to determine which one we should focus on for our product, we sent out a survey to people we knew who had been displaced. After receiving and compiling responses, we realized that most people missed the social interaction that came from working in person. Since moving to working from home, coworker interaction has dwindled drastically.

We decided to focus on coming up with a solution that would reintroduce the social interaction while working from home. Through discussing our various ideas during our meetings, we decided to develop a network for employees to build profiles on. Then, employees are able to learn about one another, be encouraged to have spontaneous conversations, and have a notification system for updates such as birthdays or anniversaries. We also decided to allow others to see which coworkers had similar interests, so they could begin to learn more about their coworkers and have the option to message them. This would help employees still feel connected to coworkers while having to work while being separated from them. We decided to have it connect to Slack so employees wouldn’t have to download another app. Since Slack is used by many companies, we felt that building something to go along with it would be accessible for many displaced employees.

Team Members

Jasonna Rogers (Go Squad, Junior English: Creative Writing @ IUPUI) Jasonna was responsible for collaborating with team members and coaches to come up with a practical solution to help displaced employees. She helped develop and send out the survey. She also helped her team members put this document and the slide deck together.

Allison Crick (Go Squad, MBA @ Indiana State University) Allison majored in accounting and marketing and is now in the MBA Program at ISU. She was responsible for the go-to-market strategy, coordination of team documents, and the creation of our final presentation. Allison also partnered with Arie as the presenters of our submission.

Arie Sztainberg (Go Squad, Junior MIS, Data Science minor @ Butler University) Arie was responsible for research for the environmental analysis, customer persona, BMC, and SWOT analysis. Arie also was the connector between the go and pro squads, as he has knowledge in both areas.

Rika Shimizu (Pro Squad, Senior Computer Science, Art and Robotics minor @ Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology) Rika was responsible for researching different approaches to technical solutions and helping to develop the SlackBot interface. She was also the creator for the mockups used in the demonstration.

Rachel Milford (Pro Squad, Junior Cybersecurity and Business Information Systems @ Anderson University) Rachel was responsible for researching and helping develop technical solutions for the Slackbot creation. She also helped with the design and interface implementation of the Bot.

Nick Stitely (Pro Squad, Senior Computer Science Major and Psychology Minor @ Butler University) Nick was responsible for creating the local development environment and making the Slackbot accessible to the rest of the team. He created numerous workspaces where people could join, view, and interact with the bot.

How did you decide on this customer segment, problem, and solution?

In order to decide on our customer segment, problem, and solution, we interviewed our coaches to gain an understanding of the current challenges their teams are facing in working from home. From this conversation, we discovered our customer segment as professionals working from home and decided to create and distribute a survey to identify the biggest problem individuals face when working from home. Our survey results included the following:

-75.6% of employees indicated that what they miss most about the office is being around their coworkers.

-Nearly half of the respondents indicated that they are slightly less or much less distracted when working from home.

-59% of respondents indicated that they are slightly more or much more productive when working from home.

Based on these statistics and several open-ended responses including “isolation” or “lack of face-to-face interaction,” we identified the main problem as the lack of employee connection. This is why we decided to create the solution of a new Slackbot that would increase employee engagement to improve employee morale and company culture in a virtual setting. Considering the purpose and functionalities, we named the bot Connect Central.

How did your team build and iterate on the solution?

In the beginning, our team examined the issue that many workers have faced. Working remotely. As our team is composed of students with little to no work experience, we felt that we were not the best suited to answer this question, so we drafted a survey to better understand the issues that people face while working remotely. Based on our survey results we determined that the greatest issue people working from home are facing is the loss of workplace culture. Many options such as a website or an app were considered, but after consulting with those in the field we determined that adding one more platform was undesirable. We noticed the sheer quantity of companies that already use Slack for messaging, as a result, we came up with “Tech Connect”. Tech Connect is a modern slack bot designed to provide the users a feeling of connection despite the distance that we are all facing during this time. From our process of creating our product, we learned that bots are an efficient way of communicating with employees and bringing social interactions in the workplace back while working from home. One of the ways this is done is by automating regular scheduled activities, such as warm-up and cooldown call that could help people get back the sense of commuting to and from work.

Many different prototype bots were built during the past few weeks. The functionality increased and changed slightly along the way as we sought to develop the easiest design and what was the most practical and useful for the user. Our user testing results enabled us to gain a better understanding of the best way for the employees of the company to feel connected and maintain the company culture. They provided valuable feedback as far as how they want to interact with the bot and other functionalities that could be useful.

Key Metrics

To begin the process of identifying a problem and brainstorming a solution, we sent out a survey to employees and students that were working from home. With 84 responses to our survey, we used the data to our advantage and found that productivity was not actually the problem, but isolation was. Work from home employees missed in-person meetings and running into people in the hallway. While they cited that losing that aspect of the workplace has made them slightly more productive, they also stated that it made them less happy. Another trend we found was that employees were having a very hard time transitioning from work life to home life since their work was simply at home.

Technical Architecture

The design and schematics of our Slackbot happened via discussion and without documentation. The survey results were analyzed and discussed as a team and the solution of Tech Connect was born. Given the integrative nature of our solution with Slack, we did not feel the need to create any diagrams. It was very easy to conceptualize what it would look like once developed. The first link below is a general link to the Slack API documentation that we used as reference material. We were able to build upon the existing framework of Slack to make it more personalized and provide a more connected feeling that, as shown in our survey, is lacking due to the remoteness of this season. The second link below is our GitHub repo with our bot (Tech_Tim)’s code. https://api.slack.com/ https://github.com/nstitely/wfh_team2_final

Key Tools, Libraries, and Frameworks

To create our Slack bot we used Google documentation on how to build a Slack bot and their relevant features. We used Google because Slack bots have recently been re-designed and it was the quickest way to seek out the latest documentation. In addition to Google, Slack API documentation was utilized frequently. Our bot is built off of an already existing platform and utilizing the Slack API allowed us to integrate our work nicely. The Slack API allowed us to understand the different interactions that the bot can have with the users as well as help us understand how to code the different methods. We chose to code our bot using Javascript and we used Bolt as a framework. We decided on this approach because a lot of the documentation and API on Slack were around the Javascript language and many of the framework documentation for building apps were around Bolt. We thought that by choosing this approach that we will have an easier time troubleshooting and debugging our code. In order to get our bot alive and running, we used Ngrok as our development tool in order to request a URL to collect all of the interactions and store data that the bot was having with the user. We chose to use Ngrok because we decided not to make our product accessible to the public yet and using Ngrok was a fast and easy way to get started on development.

If you had another 5 weeks to work on this, what would you do next?

Go -Due to the time constraint, we were able to only interview 7 people from our target market. If we had more time, we would conduct more interviews to feel even more confident in our solution. -We would further develop our marketing plans to successfully advance our Slackbot on the Slack App Directory.

Pro -We would expand our Slackbot’s functionalities to include the following: -A fully functional trivia game and leader board -Cross compatibility with other platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, etc. -Profile viewing/communication would happen in direct messages in order to keep the clutter in large channels at a minimum. -Increased quality of notifications. For example, if two coworkers liked rival sports teams and there was a game coming up, both coworkers would receive a notification about the upcoming game.

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