• The O'Briant Group

Changing How You Work Due to Coronavirus? Three Ways Design Thinking Can Help

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

All over the world, companies are asking employees to stay home or avoid large gatherings in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus. If you’re having to change your work style and patterns, the tools of design thinking can help ease the transition.

What’s Design Thinking?

A problem-solving methodology incubated at Stanford University, design thinking is taught in the world’s top universities and used by the most successful companies, including Google, Apple, and GE. The tools of design thinking, also known as human-centered design, help us navigate the unknown by focusing on human needs and experiences.

Three Design Tools for a Changing Workplace

  1. Cultivate an experimental mindset. Whether you’re trying to participate in a conference from the other side of the globe or holding team meetings via video chat instead of in person, remember that you’re in loosely charted territory. Even if you’re already familiar with the technology and etiquette, your colleagues might not be. Think of these early attempts at making change as prototypes. Plenty can go wrong, and that’s OK. You’re participating in a huge experiment, so take each glitch -- and each success -- as an opportunity to learn and improve next time. Focusing on experimenting to find what works, instead of doing something new perfectly the first time, takes a lot of stress off you and your colleagues.

  2. Listen more than usual. Design thinkers focus on understanding human experiences and perspectives using techniques borrowed from cultural anthropology and psychology. Here’s a pro tip: ask your colleagues what they want and need in this new situation, then spend plenty of time listening to their answers. Do the same for yourself, either aloud with a trusted person or in writing. You might find, as designers usually do, that you’ve made some assumptions about others based on your own needs. This exercise will help you follow the platinum rule: treat others as they want to be treated. You might avoid having to learn about differences the hard way. Even better, you’ll deepen trust and strengthen your ability to collaborate.

  3. Ask “How might we…?” Most of us are good at noticing problems, and when we’re trying something new there will be plenty. A key skill in design thinking is turning problems into questions, which we then solve for. We do that using a tool called the “How might we” question, HMW for short. Once we’ve turned a problem into a question, creative solutions begin to flow. Here are a couple of examples:

Problem: My team can’t go into the office for our big presentation. Our bosses will be on a video call instead.

HMW Question

  • How might we make presentations via video call even more powerful than those delivered in person?

Problem: Working from home is tough for me. I struggle to stay focused and I’m distracted by chores that need doing.

HMW Questions

  • How might we help people who work from home focus when they need to?

  • How might we incorporate household chores into the workday?

About the O’Briant Group

An innovation and design thinking firm headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, the O’Briant Group helps clients from Fortune 500 companies to educational systems to entrepreneurs create scalable, sustainable change. We’re proud to be partnered with Google Cloud, Grow with Google, and Georgia State University. Learn about us at

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