Gates Foundation Remote Work Discovery

In March 2020, at the beginning of the office COVID-19 closure, foundation staff faced many new challenges. Once it became clear that the pandemic would extend for more than just a few months, various groups within Operations started rethinking how remote collaborative work could become more effective in the absence of in-person interactions.


As a result of several thousand staff members quickly adjusting to use of Microsoft Teams and Zoom, foundation support staff were facing a surge in demand for their time. I was asked to assist with two workstreams to address the following immediate needs from the Audiovisual Support and Event Planning teams.

  • Shared visualization technology: How might we provide staff with technology to make their remote meetings more engaging to participants without physical whiteboards?
  • Larger-scale event support: How might we clarify options for staff to produce remote events either independently or with help from the Event Planning and AV teams?


Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation


Perform generative research to provide the AV and Event Planning teams with a clearer picture of staff needs. This would better position them to offer the appropriate level of technology and service to staff in the rapidly-changing work environment.


As a member of the Human Centered Design team embedded within foundation Operations, I did competitive analysis, conducted interviews with 18 key stakeholders across business units, attended job shadows, synthesized findings, and made recommendations.


3 months


My team promoted the use of the shared visualization software Mural early, leading to widespread staff adoption within a year. I also helped to found a community of practice centered around user engagement, which features educational sessions for staff to get up to speed on technology and best practices. It supports over 350 users, with daily posting in Teams channels and weekly sessions that range from 10-100 attendees. My involvement with the AV and Event Planning teams led to less work overlap and more staff members empowered to self-produce virtual events.

Shared Visualization Discovery Work

During the start of the work from home period, different teams were quickly repurposing existing tools like PowerPoint and OneNote, and finding that ideation and visual planning was not as effective as it used to be in person. These tools were not designed with real-time collaboration in mind, and as a result, some teams had to halt work and rethink their approach to real-time visualization. I helped to identify key use cases and patterns for Whiteboarding and make recommendations for software that would be suitable for the majority of staff.

What is whiteboarding?

Top issues with remote shared visualization

Common whiteboard scenarios

Workplace Collaboration Matrix

Product Comparison

In May 2020, a pilot period for Mural began. We were particularly interested in whether foundation staff would find the interface intuitive enough to reduce distractions and create structure in their meetings. All signs were positive, as early adopters became adept at using the software to drive engagement in virtual meetings and events. By May of 2021, Mural was rolled out to all foundation staff, and by July 2021, there were 482 engaged Mural users. (Defined as those users who create and share their own boards)


Adoption rates of Mural

Virtual Events Discovery Work

During the start of the work from home period, the AV team, a service-focused, well-liked, very capable group of technicians was purposely taking on more work than it could handle. Their reasoning was that the work needed to be done, and trusting their own capabilities (while putting in overtime) would be more effective for customers than delegating the work to an expensive third party who was unfamiliar with the situation. It quickly became clear that this was unsustainable and could lead to early burnout on the team.

I partnered with the AV and Event teams to assess the situation and help bring clarity to their service offerings so that work could be more evenly distributed.


  • Foundation staff would be empowered to produce effective events, no matter what the size, type, participants or subject matter.
  • The AV team would have some new guard rails to protect against the need to take on more work than it could handle.
  • Event organizers and presenters would understand how best to engage with IT and the Events teams.
  • Virtual Events offerings would become more standardized, creating efficiencies.

Learning Objectives

Top Findings



  • Tighter definitions for the AV Team’s service offerings have allowed greater shared understanding with the Event team—reducing overlapping efforts.
  • Reinforcement of process to triage incoming event requests via weekly meetings.
  • AV Team’s time is more freed up to work on hardware-related support for hybrid meetings on campus.

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