Fei Shao

Thesis

Domesticated office: Designing to foster team culture in virtual workplaces

Abstract

Remote work enables flexible time and space for knowledge workers (i.e. whose jobs involve developing and using knowledge rather than producing goods or services), and it has shown increased productivity compared to working from physical offices (Chavez-Dreyfuss, 2020). However, it challenges the social connection aspect of a workplace. In this study, I present plausible solutions and suggestions on how digital experience can help build company culture in a virtual environment, but also challenge the conventional workplace norms in a domestic space. I wish to open up the discussion of how telecommunication tools change workgroup relationships, and what unconventional workplace norms can evolve from the new situation. I also suggest that because remote working has brought out so many possibilities, future teams should consider allowing different levels of social engagement in workgroups and accommodate different living situations. 

Committee

  • James Pierce, Chair (Interaction Design)
  • Audrey Desjardins (Interaction Design)

Commentary

Read the full essay about Fei Shao’s thesis by Heidi Biggs.

Even though she claims her thesis was not ‘entirely inspired by Covid,’ after a year of being forced into an alternative reality where many/most white-collar workers transitioned to working online, Fei Shao’s thesis about futuristic approaches to remote work felt a little like she was addressing a collective trauma. In her thesis, Shao designs a future scenario where remote work happens through mixed reality (MR) and is thoughtfully designed. Her vision of work, which is less screen-oriented and considers the mundane but oh-so-missed casual social interactions of water cooler talk and the occasional happy hour, ultimately ends up feeling like a wish for a do-over or a rebuttal to the litany of everything that stunk about working remotely all year. Simultaneously, this project seems to speak to the irreversible normalization of longer-term or permanent remote work post-Covid. By designing speculative technology for the workplace around the same time as the extreme dystopic scenario of a global pandemic, Shao also captured an emerging paradigm of work and the complexities it introduces. As white-collar workers were pushed into prolonged work from home arrangements, Shao’s thesis formalized the (oft critiqued) ever-more-blurry boundaries between work and personal life brought about through more ubiquitous technologies. Ultimately, her thesis asks: moving forward, what about work can move to the home successfully (and perhaps less successfully) and how can MR facilitate more robust spatial and social working arrangements within the ever-more-common home office.

— Heidi Biggs

Bio

Fei Shao is an interaction designer passionate about the digital experience becoming a part of our new landscape. She holds a Bachelor of Engineering degree from China Academy of Art with a concentration in Architecture.

At the University of Washington, her work has focused on exploring how digital technologies can flow naturally into people’s daily lives by leveraging the physical environment. During the year of 2020, when video calls unexpectedly became the main source of communication, she was drawn to how the situation has changed the way people perceive their environment and how it would affect human relationships in the longer term. For her thesis project, she started by focusing on studying the evolving norms in virtual workgroups and continued by designing to foster team culture in virtual workplaces. Her final project speculates a future where technology remains the main source of workgroup communication and presents a plausible solution to how digital experience can help stimulate employees to feel connected and motivated in distributed locations.

Education

  • Master of Design, University of Washington, Seattle, 2021
  • Bachelor of Engineering, Architecture, China Academy of Art