Laura Ellena’s #remotelife at Ad Hoc

I’m Laura Ellena, User Experience Research Manager at Ad Hoc. My research team works to include the people who will use what the team builds, making sure their needs and feedback help drive our design and product decisions. For example, we regularly speak with Veterans and let them test out our in-progress work, so that their voices help improve

No typical day for UX Research

As research manager, my days have a lot of variety. I frequently use our co-working space near the White House to plan projects, facilitate remote feedback sessions, and sync with teammates. Some days I visit our government partners at their offices, and when we do in-person feedback sessions we usually meet people in public libraries or cafes. I also visit organizations whose members may use our projects, and go to events to share our work and learn from others.

Since my role is on-the-go and I don’t have a set daily workstation, here are the tools I carry with me every day. The basics are my laptop, phone, power cables for both, earbuds for calls, notebook, sticky notes, pens, and sharpies. One plastic bag holds business cards, Ad Hoc stickers & buttons, and a few computer dongles, which are useful when I’m out meeting people and at events. Tissues and cough drops are great to offer if a feedback participant needs them, and I also carry some basic pain/allergy/digestion medicine and bandages based on past needs. My multi-tool and travel sewing kit round out the less-traditional tools for a tech employee that have saved the day at meetings and events.

The tools that live in Laura's work bag

Our research team is lucky to have Cohorts, an internal system which we use to recruit people who will use the software that Ad Hoc builds and plan feedback sessions with them. We recently took advantage of a teammate’s travel to the area to spend time working on its future with the product owner, developer, and users in the same room (and the designer over videochat).

Wrapping up a work session with the Cohorts team Photo credit: Ian Topper

Of course, I also work from home at least one day a week, so the cats can help increase my skills in obstructed typing. As a fan of both fashion and comfort, I have two habits for looking put together enough for video calls at home beyond the typical pajama pants + nice top combo. A hat or scarf covers unstyled hair, and when I want to look made up without time or effort, just lipstick looks on-purpose.

Koma cat "helping" Laura type

Making #remotelife work

When I joined Ad Hoc nearly a year ago, I was fully remote in San Francisco, working on a project where most of the team was in Washington, D.C. Honestly, I didn’t love it – being so separated from the team and spending most days at home with my cats didn’t fulfill my personal needs for social contact. After my planned move to D.C. created regular in-person time with my teammates and our government partners, I was much happier. Plenty of people love all #remotelife all the time, but I found a different balance that works for me.

We use a mix of audio call, screen sharing, and videochat tools to connect remotely in real time, but Slack is the center of communication, and #remotelife is the virtual water cooler. There are channels for projects, products, and practice areas – but also non-work-related channels for people who share interests like #cooking, #books, #starwars, #bikes and #parents.

One of my favorite channels is #women – a bunch of things are instigated there before getting shared more widely, such as our podcast recommendation list, and early ideas on increasing diversity before a cross-functional team formed to work on it. Ad Hoc women also have a “miscellaneous book club” videochat twice a month. It’s “miscellaneous” because instead of picking one book, we talk about a range of things we’ve read, events attended, things we want to learn more about, and other things women-career-life related.

When flexibility really matters

Recently, I had a difficult family situation to deal with across the country. Since the team is used to remote work, I was able to travel with short notice and keep my work going. Our #remotelife practices made it easy for me to mix flexible hours, remote work, and time off so that I could be present with my family when it truly mattered.

Favorite part of #remotelife

I love Ad Hoc’s informal tradition of including kids and pets in our weekly all-hands video call. When kiddos or fuzzins pop into the frame during a team video meeting, the group usually takes a moment to greet them before getting back to the agenda. Recognizing our whole human lives and families makes Ad Hoc a happy work home for me.