A Google Home device on a desktop in an office.

How to Design a Voice Experience for the Workplace

Erik von Stackelberg
Jul 9 · 6 min read

Help employees get their work done

There’s nothing more irritating than a chatty colleague when you’re shooting for a hard 5pm deadline. When employees are trying to complete tasks critical to their business or imperative to their paycheque, they aren’t likely to take the time to pull up an experience that adds overhead or hurts productivity. Understand the workflows and tools that employees already use, and find ways to piggyback your experience to maximize utility.

An individual works in a private office. Photo care of The Gender Spectrum Collection.

Make security and confidentiality a priority

For an at-home voice-based user experience, it’s important to remain conscious of who might be listening in. Rattling off things like bank balances when eavesdropping ears (or young children) are near can be a recipe for disaster, so good conversational interfaces deliver sensitive information with the right line of prompting.

Keep the audio environment in mind

Open office plans — love them or hate them — are widespread in today’s workplaces. Many voice-based devices employ far-field microphones to cut through ambient noise and capture clear user utterances as an input. But in highly-trafficked environments, background noise can hamper interactions and frustrate employees. To help prevent frustration, there are a few things to do:

  1. Be deliberate about your error-handling strategies to minimize frustration: help users understand when your virtual agent literally can’t make out requests, due to noise and interference, and where in other cases the agent doesn’t have the functionality they’re requesting.
  2. Remember that conversation is inherently multi-modal. When humans have a conversation, they use much more than voice to communicate. Look for opportunities to integrate both verbal and visual communication in contexts where only one or the other just wouldn’t suffice.
An Amazon Alexa device plugged in and ready to use at a work desk. Photo by Piotr Cichosz on Unsplash

First impressions are everything

If Alexa doesn’t play the right genre on Spotify because she doesn’t know how, you’ll probably give her another chance later. Perhaps you want the experience to work, or simply don’t mind the failed attempt because it doesn’t have dire consequences. In the workplace, where the impact of change is greater, resistance to new modes of interaction can be more significant and as a result, the bar for first impressions is high. Setting expectations and supporting solid feature discovery for an at-work conversational experience is imperative.

Remember that one voice doesn’t fit all

As designers, we know that colour has different connotations in different parts of the world. But conversation — particularly verbal conversation — is perhaps even more context-dependent. Culturally-dependent idioms, jargon, and conversation etiquette all influence conversational interactions. Multiply that by the range of individual personality types and corresponding communication styles (not to mention various languages), and it becomes clear that getting conversational interfaces right requires a lot of effective targeting.

A Google Home device sits on a desktop with a laptop computer in the background. Photo by Kevin Bhagat on Unsplash

Start small and bring employees along for the ride

By targeting a limited set of functions for a defined workplace audience, you can limit the blast radius of early failures and pivots, but also create a great opportunity for employee involvement.

Myplanet Musings

Thoughts, ideas, insights, and more from the Myplanet team.

Erik von Stackelberg

Written by

Myplanet Musings

Thoughts, ideas, insights, and more from the Myplanet team.