This is Officehours

The Officehours community

In this first post on the Officehours blog, I’d like to introduce our service. Instead of a long text, I’ll do so with a simple Q&A. Following are a batch of questions I often receive, when I tell friends about what we’re doing.

What is Officehours?

Officehours is a service that helps people share and access knowledge, conveniently. Through the system, advisors set times when they’re available for online discussions. Interested learners then apply for these sessions. Approved requests run for 10 minutes.

Who’s it meant for?

We think there are three main use cases for this service: 1) Those who need help with their career, or a topic they don’t fully understand. 2) Mid-career professionals who want to share their insights and build their reputations as experts. 3) Elders who wish to give back to the community—while protecting their contact information and managing their level of commitment.

Why did you make it?

After a few years of running smashLAB, blogging, and writing books like Speak Human and The Design Method, I started getting emails from designers with questions. Most times, I’d try to help, but doing so was often inconvenient and time consuming. As such, Eric Shelkie and I started looking at how we could use technology to make this process simpler. We’re of the opinion that many want to help others, and that this help can be incredibly valuable.

What do I need, to make use of Officehours?

All you need to use Officehours is a computer with a modern browser, and a set of headphones (with a microphone). Officehours also works on smartphones, but isn’t fully supported on these devices, yet.

How much does it cost?

You can use Officehours for free. In time, we’ll introduce more features (e.g. screen sharing, greater control of sessions) that you’ll be able to access for a low monthly fee. That said, these features don’t yet exist, and will be entirely optional.

How do I find an advisor?

Just visit the Advisors page, where you’ll find Officehours advisors listed in order of their next session. With time, we’ll add more ways to find/filter advisors. That said, we just launched the service, so the list of advisors is still rather short.

What time zone are hours listed in?

We get this question a lot (and probably need a better way to explain this point in the user interface). That said, it’s pretty simple. We localize the listed times to match your location—so there’s no extra effort for you. For example, if an advisor sets a session in Toronto at 12:00 Eastern Time, and you’re in Vancouver, you’ll see the time listed as 9:00 Pacific Time. Easy, right?

What are sessions like?

Currently, they’re a little like speed-dating via a VoIP call. About an hour before your session, you receive a reminder. As your session nears (let’s say 15 minutes before), you sign in and click/tap the Enter Session button. Once you have, you wait on hold (listening to the worst music ever) until the session begins. When it does, you get 10 minutes to ask/answer questions. A countdown timer runs, for the duration of the session. When the countdown ends, the session automatically terminates. You then rate the session, which helps us understand whether the discussion was fruitful.

Can I be an advisor?

Yes. We know that expertise varies, and that many have lessons to share. As such, just go to your profile page, and click/tap Edit Profile. Once your profile is complete, you’re welcome to Offer sessions as you’d like. (Remember to tweet your sessions, so others know you’re available.)

I already help people—why would I want to use this service?

Some won’t want to use our service, and we get that. However, we feel there are real benefits to using Officehours to help people. The biggest one is in the ease of use. Instead of sending emails, scheduling meetings, and sending reminders, our service automates the pesky legwork.

Why are sessions limited to 10 minutes?

Odds are that you’re busy—as is the person you’re helping or learning from. As such, there’s little need for small talk or meandering discussions. Instead, we encourage learners to define clear questions, and get right to the point. In doing so, they receive the utmost value from sessions. This helps advisors concentrate on imparting as much useful feedback as possible.

What’s in it for you?

We struggled when we first started our design studio, in 2000, in part due to our lack of knowledge. In retrospect, our inability to access others’ advice and experience slowed our progress by many years. We believe that the right advice, at the right time, can make a huge difference in one’s life. This idea of opening all the world’s untapped knowledge/experience is something that motivates us.

How will you make money?

Initially, we aren’t not too worried about that. We saved a fair amount of money by working hard with our design studio, over the past few years. As such, we can concentrate on making Officehours good, without needing to think about revenue quite yet. Once we get the system running well, we’ll introduce special features. These will be available to those who subscribe/sponsor this service. :-)

What’s next for Officehours?

Although we feel that Officehours in its current state is a good first step, we know it’s imperfect. Notifications are sometimes flaky, there are bugs we need to correct, and some parts of the UX are likely confusing. So, we’re slowly inviting users to try out the service. As people like you join, we gain a stronger understanding for what isn’t working. (BTW: If you find problems, please tell us about them.) As we collect these findings we’ll make improvements. Our immediate focus is on testing and refinement, so we can deliver a stable service. Once we feel Officehours is in great shape, we’ll start adding new features.

Got other questions about Officehours? Feel free to ask with a tweet, and I’ll add the answers to this post.