July 29, 2014

Redesigning the Workplace: A Class with Bandwidth Labs

In the summer of 2013, I met a tall, bearded, bright entrepreneur named Tyler Barstow at a Technori event. We became fast friends as we exchanged ideas about how to make the world a better place. At one point, he told me that I needed to share my ideas around education with his amazing uncle. I’ve heard a similar line a thousand times, so I brushed it off.

However, Tyler actually followed up and introduced me to Scott Barstow, the Director of Bandwidth Labs in Raleigh NC.

Scott was fascinated by our work in higher education and his excitement for the vision was invigorating. Throughout the fall and winter months, he watched closely as we launched the first class of Ei. He checked in regularly to celebrate successes and offer suggestions during challenging times. He even featured us in his podcast and invited me for a two-day trip to the Raleigh area to meet several businesses and friends.

Throughout that time, he became increasingly interested in one of our core competencies, Human Centered Design, and was curious if/how he might bring Ei into his workplace to lead a small group of teammates through a similar type of workshop that we lead our students through.

This would be no small feat for Scott. Design Thinking is still a relatively new concept for Bandwidth and the idea of using company resources and a full day of time took some serious convincing.

But he took the leap, and on July 15th, twenty Bandwidth staff members and two Ei instructors met in a small office space to spend the day together.

The class was facilitated by one of Ei’s key instructors, Alan Webb, and the Founder, Victor Saad. As people walked in at 8:30am, no one knew what to expect. Everyone was one-part tired and one-part anticipatory.

Alan and Victor started by sharing the stories of their work in higher education – explaining that the idea of learning everything during a two or four-year season of life will eventually be obsolete and we’ll need to redefine ongoing education by intentionally engaging and documenting new experiences to excel in our respective fields.

Then, they began diving into the entire d.thinking process.

Every workshop is rooted in a key problem in which the participants are going to address. In this case, Scott, Alan, and I decided to focus on redesigning the way we work. For Bandwidth, it was a problem that was just far enough outside of their everyday jobs that it would push them to think differently, yet close enough to their world where they could see and feel the necessity for new ideas.

Towards the beginning of the workshop, the participants were divided into groups. Each group began by leaving the space to interview people in different workspaces throughout the building. This gave everyone a chance to step into the shoes of someone else and gain empathy.

Upon returning from their interviews, groups honed in on the specific type of users they saw, creating Point Of View Statements and Composite Characters. The goal of this stage is to truly get into the mind of a particular type of person and to design for them by pulling insights that surprise us and guide our possible solutions.

The day progressed into sessions of Ideation – brainstorming a slew of new ways to meet the needs of our users.

By 4pm, the room was full of sticky notes and ideas, but this wasn’t just a day of talking. We were set to build prototypes—to see what it would look like if we picked an idea and ran with it. This pushed everyone to think outside of their typical presentation mindset. There were no powerpoints or handouts. These prototypes would need to be three dimensional so the teams could test their ideas with the very people they interviewed at the beginning of the day.


And that’s exactly what they did. Before the day ended, participants rushed back to some of their interviewees and asked them to join the group for a moment. For the next hour, the room became a design science fair, with everyone examining the proposed solutions. The energy in the room could have powered an entire NYC city block. Participants had developed all types of inventions, spaces, and services that could improve the modern workplace.

We ended the day with a final debrief on what we learned and how that could be applied to our daily work lives. Everyone was interested in a second class to dive deeper into each component.

We know firsthand that a one-day experience is brief. However, we’re still blown away by what can happen in such a short amount of time when people rally around an idea and a process to solve a problem. We can’t wait to see where this leads for Bandwidth and for other companies at large.

Thanks for having us.

Special thanks to Scott, Alan, and the Bandwidth crew who were willing to make this happen with us.

And thanks to Chad Sattler for capturing the event via photo & video.

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