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Box freshens up for a 'systemic' change in how we work

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright May 21, 2020
Box has refreshed its UX this month, bringing forward new functions designed to help users making the shift to remote working from home

Box work off hours chart from Work Unleashed blog - via Box
(via Box)

Suddenly, people are using your app more than even before. Surely that's the worst possible time to tweak the user experience? Apparently not, if you're a digital teamwork vendor. Last month Slack rolled out a long-planned UX makeover, this month Box has introduced a sleeker look-and-feel. Why now? Because UX matters, says Box Chief Product Officer Jeetu Patel:

Something that we've been talking about for 15 years now, all of a sudden has gotten into the front and centre in the narrative in the market — user experience really matters.

People are working at home, and they don't have IT support. It's an anxious time for everyone. How can you take out the friction from them? At least as it pertains to their files, and the collaboration in the job they need to get done with the files. That's one area that they don't have to worry about in life. That's something we've got covered for them.

Along with the new UX, Box also introduced several new features — a new way for users to organize files into personalized 'collections', sleeker integration with Zoom video chat, the ability to request extra information when asking people to upoad a file, and a facility to mark up shared files with annotations directly in the file preview within Box. This provides a consistent way of annotating the 140 different file types that Box supports and will roll out next month.

Features to help remote working

Some of these new features were not originally planned to roll out until later in the year. Box brought them forward because they're especially useful when people are remote working, says Patel.

One of the things we thought about is, what are usability enhancements that could be particularly useful over here that we should probably pull up that we have in our roadmap? One of those, for example, was annotations. We pulled up annotations, which was slated for a little later in the year, to happen earlier.

We rejiggered our roadmap because this was something that, when people are working remotely, they're not sitting around the table with each other whiteboarding. So it's much easier to then just comment in a file with each other. And it just becomes a very virtual thing that's very real. It's a very real need.

The other one that we pulled up was deepened Zoom integration, because you started seeing such a huge uptick on video conferencing. That seemed like that made a lot of sense.

Looking out for ways to make people's lives easier in these changed times has become top-of-mind for the Box product team, he adds.

We've created this very specific workstream, where on a constant basis, we're adding more and more features and capabilities to take out the friction.

For example, the process for sharing a file or folder was simplified in recent weeks so that it now takes one click instead of three, he explains.

Those are examples of things that it seems trivial, but it actually isn't if you think of someone who was sharing a lot during the course of a day, doing something with three clicks versus one click. It's that emotional fatigue that you're trying to avoid and make sure that they just feel delighted because something just works, and works without any friction.

Collaboration is a must-have

Honing the user experience is in Box's self-interest too, of course. With existing users making more extensive use of the content teamwork platform, while other users come on board for the first time, the more that Box can do to create a positive experience, the more likely they'll continue to use the product long term. No one wanted the lockdown, but while it's here, it's good business for Box. Patel explains:

We wish times were better from [the point of view of] what's happening to people around the world. But from a business standpoint, we've been very fortunate to be able to help our customers, because there's a very acute need for what we're doing right now.

If you think about what customers are asking for and why that's the case, there are three things that you need:

  • To be able to manage the files and access them from anywhere anytime. We've been doing that for the past 15 years.
  • They need to collaborate in real time with people both inside and outside the organization.
  • And they're working across a basket of applications, whether it be Slack or Zoom, or Teams or Box, and they just want to make sure that all of them just work well together ...

Collaboration as a category, while extremely important, in the past used to always be a nice to have, because there were more important things that sometimes needed to be pursued. All of a sudden it has become one of the most important must-have capabilities that an organization needs. We internally talk about it as it went from the category of being a vitamin to becoming a painkiller.

Nor does Patel see these new ways of working being lost once the pandemic and lockdown are over:

Remote's created a new normal that'll change the way that we work forever. I don't think it's just going to be during this period of time when people are worried about COVID-19. I think it's actually changed systemically how people are going to work for the foreseeable future.

My take

As I've written previously, the pandemic is accelerating several existing trends into the mainstream. Even if normality starts to return, these changes to how people work are, as Patel says, systemic. Not only because remote working provides more flexibility in how people organize their work and their lives, but also because putting teamwork onto a digital platform helps make it more efficient.

This presents a golden opportunity for vendors like Box to prove their worth and demonstrate the benefits of digitally connected teamwork. If that means changing the UX midstream, so be it. It's a tribute to the flexibility and rock-solid reliability of cloud platforms like Box that this kind of change can be rolled out at such a crucial time and no one blinks an eyelid. Older enterprise application platforms from the on-premise world should look and learn.

[Image note: the chart illustrating this story is taken from the Box article Work Unleashed — Where, When, and How We Work is Changing]

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