Creating a Visible Research Culture in Distributed Offices

Supporting researchers where they are

Carolyn Wei
Oct 30, 2017 · 6 min read

“Your company should be your best product.” — Jason Fried

At Facebook, it has never been more important to make sure that our researchers are doing their best work. Without understanding our customers’ needs, motivations, and workflows, we can’t build products that truly support our new company mission, “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

Sustaining that level of performance requires a strong research culture. This means we need to invest just as much time thinking, building, and iterating on the team culture as we do building and iterating on our products. A team of researchers who work closely together and share an understanding of their common purpose can help each other do their best work — and share their insights in a coherent, persuasive voice.

But in a distributed office, far from most of our research colleagues, such a strong culture doesn’t come as easily. There may be far fewer researchers in a distributed office than in headquarters. But that gives the opportunity to get scrappy and bootstrap our local team culture.

As researchers in Facebook’s Seattle office, the first engineering office opened outside company headquarters in Menlo Park, we’ve experienced unique challenges firsthand.

How we got here

Find meaningful connections with other researchers

For example, spontaneous conversations between an Ads researcher and a Business Platform researcher helped the pair make connections between their formerly separate research about publishers (businesses that publish content and ads on their sites, like Buzzfeed or the New York Times) and developers (businesses that develop their own mobile apps). They had the “aha” that both types of businesses had similar motivations. This collaboration eventually spread outside of Seattle and into Menlo Park to become a well-received brown bag presentation on the similar behaviors and motivations of publishers and developers.

Make the research relatable through storytelling

Create a culture of growth and support

We also find career support in our local office. Last year, we ran a peer coaching circle where Seattle researchers could connect to one another about career development, a topic we generally have less opportunity to talk about in regular research team meetings or even manager one-on-ones. It lets us share sensitive topics face to face, an important part of our communication repertoire. The experience helped leverage the knowledge and skills we each had and let us get to know each other in a deeper way, beyond our product team functions.

Where do we go from here?

Thank you to Behzod Sirjani, Jonathon Colman, and David Hayward for helpful comments on previous drafts of this post.

Authors: Carolyn Wei, Researcher at Facebook; Jill Christ, UX Research Manager at Facebook (from left to right)

Illustrator: Sarah Lawrence

Facebook Research

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