Creating Wiggle Room for Inclusion

William Wildridge runs a tech start-up that has developed an innovative digital product called WiggleDesk. The product has harnessed user-led design to help organisations manage hybrid working in a more inclusive way
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Speaker 1: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.

Toby Mildon: Hey there, thank you ever so much for tuning in to this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I’m Toby Mildon, and today I’m joined by William Wildridge. I came across William’s product when I was just being lazy on YouTube one weekend. I’ve got a habit of spending my weekends watching YouTube videos about trains, planes, and traveling around the world. And I saw an advert pop up for William’s product that he’s developing, which we’ll be talking about today, and I spotted a wheelchair symbol, and I got really interested in the inclusivity of the product that he’s creating. So I reached out to William to get him on the show ’cause I wanted to quiz him a bit more about that. So, William, welcome along. It’s great to have you on the show today.

William Wildridge: Thank you, Toby. I’m delighted to be chatting today.

Toby Mildon: So you’ve developed a product called WiggleDesk. Before you developed WiggleDesk, what’s kind of your… What brought you to this point, before creating WiggleDesk?

William Wildridge: It’s a good question, and there’s a short answer, a medium answer, and a very long answer. So I’ll try to condense it. So I… Immediately before starting WiggleDesk, I was working as a data scientist at Google, and I was leading the work from home analytics for their Gtech organisation, which essentially is the organization that deals with all of Google’s customer support. So when COVID happened, oh gosh, almost a year and three quarters ago now. We had to send 120,000 people away from office, almost overnight, and I had to spin up a lot of analytics in order to measure and sort of see if people were able to get work done without the famous offices. And it was a really interesting problem area to be working in because a lot of executives and all sorts of companies, throughout the years have always famously pushed for people to be seen, to be working in an office.

William Wildridge: Now, from a completely personal perspective, I really enjoyed working from home. I enjoyed not having to commute into the office, and I enjoyed having more time with my family, and to be able to get back in to doing hobbies and activities again. And while I sort of working on the more coding aspects of my job, I actually found myself being a lot more productive. I could stick in my big noise cancelling don’t talk to me headphones, and just like really have good focus time without people coming up to tap me on the shoulder. So it was something which I felt was going to be the future of hybrid working people coming back into work when and as it pleased them, and when it was productive for them. And so come this time last year, I was thinking about well, hybrid working is gonna be important, but there doesn’t really seem to be anything very easy to manage hybrid working. If you run a business or a charity, or a school, everything revolves around great big Excel spreadsheets.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

William Wildridge: Other spreadsheet providers are available. [chuckle] And so it was working in the hybrid working space and seeing an opportunity to make things easier. And that was for me the push that led to me saying, “Okay, I’m going to leave a job that I love and have been doing for nine years to go and start off by myself with the aim to make hybrid working easier.”

Toby Mildon: Okay, and that’s when you created WiggleDesk. So could you just explain to us what WiggleDesk is, and what it does?

William Wildridge: Sure. So WiggleDesk it’s a platform, so it’s a website where people can create a profile for their business or organisation, and essentially, it’s a drag and drop floor space creator. And so with that people can upload a PNG or JPEG picture of what their floor plans look like, and then they drag and drop all their desks, their phone booths, their meeting rooms, their car parking spaces onto the platform, and users can then see what’s available and what type of spaces and what facilities are available, and then they can, just with one click, reserve that for the day or the week.

Toby Mildon: And that’s why I reached out to you because I saw your YouTube advert for your product, and I saw an example of a floor plan with desks and meeting rooms on there, and then I spotted the wheelchair symbol. And for those who haven’t met me, I’m a wheelchair user. So I was immediately interested. I said, “Oh, that’s interesting.” Because I’ve had my own experiences of working in open-plan offices, and needing to find desks that are friendly for wheelchair users, so finding a desk, basically, where I’m not gonna stick out in my wheelchair and trip people up ’cause I’ve got quite a large electric wheelchair. So, yeah, if I’m in a walkway, for example, then people have got to walk around me. So yeah, anyway, to cut a long story short, I saw this symbol and I thought, “Ah, that’s really interesting.” And I know that one thing that you’re really keen on in terms of your product development is taking a user led design approach. And I think that taking that approach led you to this wheelchair symbol, wasn’t it?

William Wildridge: Exactly. And so there’s a common idiom in building startups, which is you build something, you share it, you see what feedback there is, and then you make an iteration and share it again. And if you can do that really quickly, that does tend to help build effective and inclusive products. With the wheelchair symbol that you saw, I’d love to claim sort of credit to sort of say, “Oh, I anticipated that when I was building the product and built it in before someone asked me to.”

William Wildridge: But essentially, when I was creating the spaces, it had to have a tagging system, to be able to say, “Okay, this space has a monitor, it’s got two monitors, it’s got my charging hub, it’s got standing desk, all of the good stuff that you want to know about facilities.” But the more and more I was chatting with people and consulting with them about what is your plans for hybrid working, they would highlight things that I hadn’t thought of. And so with every conversation, probably 80% of the things that they wanted, I had already thought of or had already discussed with another client. But because every business and every organisation is so unique in how they work and how they’re set up. Everyone is going to have some element of, “Okay, I need to be able to illustrate this.” So some people, actually they, in terms of aisle seats, that was one of the things that they once failed to illustrate in the product.

William Wildridge: An aisle seat compared to a window seat, some people find it’s very distracting sitting next to a window, where some people would covet that as best place in the office. And so what we ended up doing is creating custom tags, with the ability for people to create anything they like. And so we linked up with a nice icon library called Font Awesome, which have nice SVG scalable graphics. And they’ve got 1000s of different icons in there. And so, with the ability to let people upload their own things, we were then able to see, okay, what’s actually being uploaded, what do people want to illustrate in a business and one of the things we noticed quite early on was wheelchair icons, or to represent the spaces of label or you can actually have people reserve this with different tasks in mind. And so we then built in default into the product. And so when you choose from the drop downs before you even get to the custom tags, it’s got wheelchair as one of the default options in there.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, that’s really cool. And I think from an inclusion perspective, it was good to see that disability had been included, and I know that you went through a process and that’s the power of taking that user-led design approach to capture those requirements. And I know that you found a surprising finding, didn’t you, around inclusion and accessibility with the avatars integration that you’re using? Can you tell us a bit more about that?

William Wildridge: It’s a great question. So we use a graphics library to support everyone’s custom avatar or user icon. And so we use a library called avataaars, it’s got a… It’s got A-V-A-T and then three A’s, and then R-S. [chuckle] And it’s an amazing library, written by a software engineer called Fang-Pen Lin. And so they created avataaars. And it’s the ability for people to say, “Okay, I want this color skin, this color hair, this religious headgear to be shown in my picture, this shirt, this smile, or these eyes.” And so when I was working out all the combinations, I think there’s about 14 trillion combinations of avataaars.

Toby Mildon: Wow!

William Wildridge: So you can like, yeah, [chuckle] There’s all sorts of different ways of representing yourself. And so it’s a really interesting challenge trying to be representational with avataaars, and so I do really like using a cartoon library is probably the best way that I can think of quickly to describe it. And I actually did that for the intention of trying to make this a diverse product to represent people’s diversity. However, one of the pieces of feedback that I actually got from one of the organisations using WiggleDesk, which is a charity that deals with sight issues in the UK, was that, for a lot of people who are visually impaired, they actually would recommend that you have real pictures of people, as opposed to avataaars or cartoon graphics because if internally, they are used to seeing a picture, for example, in their email or in their calendar linking. It actually helps them a lot to be able to say, okay, that’s the same picture and it’s same rough colours and outline and shape as the other one.

William Wildridge: And so, being introduced to a new graphics library and a new product will be an element of okay, having to rely on the shapes and associate them with the same person. And so there’s always the challenge of trying to make a conscious decision to make something more inclusive but then there always being something else that it then impacts. And so it’s a challenge that I’m continuing to think about and work on with every piece of feedback that we get.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, and I know that feedback is really important to you, and you do take this this user led design approach. How do you go about getting feedback and then building it into the product and in the iterations that you do?

William Wildridge: So in order to encourage people to provide feedback, we have to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. And so there’s several different groups of users. And so you’ve got the people who are rolling out WiggleDesk for their company or their charity. And those will be the people who are uploading all the floor plans, dragging and dropping the desks into place. And it’s those people who I often have video consultations with and would have lots of backwards and forwards and I’d probably be quiet for the first like half an hour, whilst I’m furiously scribbling down notes on like, their plans for their future of work. And then you’ve got the users who would actually be the end users and the people in the business, or organisation who are actually making reservations, who are coming into work, who are using WiggleDesk to do hybrid working. And so there’s different ways I suppose, of reaching out to them because when you’ve got thousands of people in an organisation, I can’t have as many video live one to ones as I can with the admins who are setting things up.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

William Wildridge: And so for a lot of the end users, we’ve got live chat supports built into every page of the product where they can give feedback. And so we use a service called Intercom. We started off using Facebook Messenger, as a chat plugin, which is free. Compared to Intercom, which definitely isn’t. But the features that we got from that, as part of their startup program, which gives you quite a bit of support in your first year, at least. I found was quite helpful in making the physical distance shorter, between me and the end users.

Toby Mildon: Right, okay. Yeah, that’s really cool and I think getting feedback is really important and it’s something I talk about in my book. I’ve got a whole chapter on colleague experience and design. And basically, I used to work in user experience and design at the BBC. Developing websites and apps, where we took a human-centered design approach, and I basically pinched all of everything I learnt over in UX and D, and applied it to the diversity and inclusion world. So it’s really about empathising with the end customer, understanding the tasks that they want to complete, the journey that they go through and then removing any blockages that get in their way.

William Wildridge: Exactly and friction. If I can reduce any level of friction, ’cause that’s the thing that people are concerned about with hybrid working, is that there will be extra friction for me to have to manage a remote team or for me to have to make a booking and to come in and I don’t want to have to do lots and lots of forms. We went from 17 button clicks, to actually make a desk reservation to just one. Just through continually tweaking in there.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, that’s brilliant. Now what does inclusive growth mean to you?

William Wildridge: Now I don’t have a great big team of lots and lots of employees, so I don’t think it makes sense for me to answer it in that sense, but in terms of inclusive growth from a product sense and growing a product. I think in short, it revolves to having constant mechanisms to allow people to provide feedback, both reactively and to be prompted. It’s always very important to listen to what people are coming to you to say. If someone is having to come to you and say something, then something has already gone wrong. But if they aren’t telling you things, then you have to be proactive about that and find out, okay, how is this person using the product? How are they experiencing it? What friction do they have? And if you can minimise the engine of, build something, share it with them, get feedback, make an iteration and share it again. If you can close that loop as quickly and efficiently as possible, you’re able to get the growth aspect of it, but if you can listen and really change in terms of how people are experiencing it and what frustrations and friction they have, then I believe you can also get the inclusivity aspects as well.

Toby Mildon: Wonderful. Now before you go William, if the person listening to us today, wants to learn more about WiggleDesk, maybe they’re looking for a solution, like yours to help manage desk reservations and room reservations. What should they do?

William Wildridge: Thank you. So we’ve got a free trial, so it’s Wiggledesk.com and you hit the free trial icon. I would love for people to feel free to get in touch after they’ve done or whilst they’re in the free trial and give me feedback. Let me know how I’m doing in terms of meeting your expectations for inclusivity in the product, and if you see any opportunities for me to reduce friction in your working life, I’d be delighted to listen.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant, thanks, William. Thank you ever so much for joining me today. It’s great to have you on the show.

William Wildridge: Thank you, Toby, for the opportunity. Great to meet you.

Toby Mildon: Thanks and thank you for tuning in to listen to William and I have a chat today. Hopefully you found it interesting. I know a lot of organisations are really focused on hybrid working and future ways of working because of the pandemic. So please do reach out to William at WiggleDesk, if you want to explore his product any further, if you think it would help you in your own organisation, and lookout for the next episode of the Inclusive Growth Show, which will be coming up very soon. Until then, take care and all the best.

Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to the Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.

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