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March 12, 2013 » 11:37 pm

Three Simple Hacks for Making Delightful Virtual Spaces

This is Katie Krummeck. She’s the Community Experience Coordinator at Stanford’s d.school. What exactly does that mean? It means a lot of things, but you can get a tiny taste by reading her sign, which sits on her desk on the first floor of the building.

I am in love with the space at the d.school, which — not surprisingly — is beautiful and functional. But Katie’s sign might be my favorite thing there. Why? Because it’s low-tech, it does what it’s supposed to do, and it adds a touch of humanity (among many) to the space. If you’re wandering around the lobby, lost or looking for something, you will eventually run into Katie and her sign, and you will not only know immediately that she can help you, but that she is happy to help you. It’s the difference between a functional space and a delightful, inviting space.

Creating delightful, inviting spaces is simple, but not easy. Unfortunately, we often make it unnecessarily complicated. I don’t expect most workspaces to have wide open, reconfigurable spaces with natural light on two sides and moveable whitewalls and furniture. But why can’t all workspaces have signs like this? How many actually do?

Here are three of my favorite, low-tech hacks in the same spirit as Katie’s sign for making virtual interactions more human and delightful.

Welcoming People to Online Forums

This is one of the oldest, most powerful tricks for making even the crappiest online forums inviting. When people post for the first time, respond to their post, and welcome them. It’s simple, requires no training, and it works with all tools, including face-to-face.

Distributing a (Silly) Printed Team Picture for Conference Calls

Our intuitions about video are largely wrong, and the technical costs and inconvenience are still quite high. (Think about the 15 minutes that we often waste at the beginning of each call, because someone can’t get the tool working.)

Here’s a trick I learned from Marcia Conner. Take a photo of the team, preferably a silly one, and distributed printed copies to everyone to post on their walls during conference calls. It’s cheap, it’s just as good (if not better) at creating a sense of connection and fun, and it works with both synchronous and asynchronous tools.

Theme Your Online Tools

Groupaya was a virtual company, even though we all lived in San Francisco. We took advantage of our physical proximity by coworking twice a week, but we wanted a way to stay connected virtually as well. We tried Yammer, Salesforce Chatter, Google Plus, and Status.net. None of them ever got any traction.

Then we tried WordPress with P2, a hack whose features paled in comparison to the other tools. But one thing we could easily do was re-theme it. So I spent about 20 minutes making the background orange — the same color as Kristin Cobble’s beautiful kitchen, where we often worked — and choosing and cropping a meaningful, delightful photograph to serve as the header image.

That was the difference that made the difference. It rapidly succeeded where the other tools had failed. Our usage numbers only told part of the story. Everyone simply loved using the tool.

Kristin's Kitchen

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6 Responses to “Three Simple Hacks for Making Delightful Virtual Spaces”

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  4. […] energies on figuring out what tool they’re going to use. That’s an important part of creating a delightful, online space, but the more important question is, what’s going to compel your community to make time for […]

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