AnswerLab

UX Research Team

What can other companies learn from the way you’ve designed and maintained your work environment?: 

Outstanding UX practitioners are known to be drawn to environments that provide continual learning and foster collaboration with other practitioners in the broader UX community. We actively foster and develop learning and collaboration through two programs:

  1. Professional Development through AnswerLab University. UX practitioners crave ongoing learning, their success in this field is dependent upon identifying trends and being innovative. To this end, we provide ongoing learning opportunities through AnswerLab University. Leveraging the vast amount of experience within our own UX Research Team, AnswerLab University offers a curriculum of courses throughout the year that include topics ranging from methods (moderation techniques, exploratory research methods) to consulting, client management, and presentation skills. An added benefit of our internal training program is the opportunity that it creates for collaboration with the team, something we’ve heard time and time again through employee surveys is one of the most valuable aspects of working at AnswerLab.
  2. Thought Leadership Program. In many organizations, UX researchers often work as lone wolves, with relatively small teams. Often the onus is on the individual to seek out interaction with the larger professional community through meet-ups, etc. Very few other companies place the focus on honing Leadership as a core skill, but here at AnswerLab we place great emphasis on developing a voice as part of the larger UX Research community. Our Thought Leadership Program is led by a Senior UX Researcher in partnership with our marketing team. The purpose of the team is to set the strategic direction for thought leadership within AnswerLab, and to identify professional development opportunities for the larger research team (encouraging submissions to conferences, publications, and ongoing participation on Twitter and our AnswerLab blog). One of our User Experience researchers in New York is the President of the NY UXPA chapter, providing a platform for our research team to participate in speaking events, panels, and other important local events. The impact is that our researchers enjoy the blending of their AnswerLab work with collaboration with the larger community while developing their own speaking and writing skills while networking with peers in the industry.
     

Career Development

We know from our employee surveys that understanding growth opportunities and career paths are key areas of concern for our UX practitioners. To this end we place a strong emphasis on our Performance Management Process in order to ensure that employees fully understand their career path and opportunities for growth in the organization. Our Performance Management process is comprised of:

  1. Quarterly check-ins
  2. Annual 360 Feedback
  3. Annual Self Assessment
  4. Annual Performance Review

 

We have defined a career path for our UX Team that includes 3 levels of researchers (Associate UX Researcher, User Researcher, and Sr. Ux Researcher). Beyond the UX Researcher level, employees can opt for a Principal path (involves remaining a practioner, with a heavy emphasis on thought leadership and internal consulting) or Manager path (involves people and project management).

What are the key aspects of your work environment that make it conducive to productivity and employee satisfaction?: 

Supporting productivity and satisfaction of our team is achieved in a few key ways:

Bonus incentive programs aligned with company KPIs (key performance indicators) Each researcher earns a quarterly bonus comprised of Net Promoter Score of their personal clients, Company performance, Delivered Revenue, and “AnswerLab Development” – which rewards contributions to building the company as a whole through technology improvements or thought leadership participation. Ensuring that compensation is aligned to key company objectives helps each individual understand how they are working toward a shared vision for the company.

We bring the entire company together in San Francisco twice a year Camaraderie and relationships are important to highly functional teams. As a distributed company with employees in 4 markets, we bring together the entire company to the corporate headquarters in SF for 2 of 4 of our quarterly All-company meetings.

What challenges and opportunities in creating a positive work environment are unique to user-oriented practitioners?: 

One of the greatest challenges for UX professionals is to enable continual learning and to appeal to the interests of a broad range of individuals. We achieve this in a few key ways:

  1. AnswerLab University (as described in greater detail above). The program is designed to offer a wide range of courses relevant to consultants in UX.
  2. Embrace Diversity – We seek employees from a wide range of backgrounds to ensure there is a healthy diversity in thought and perspectives. We have UX researchers from social science, computer science, and business school backgrounds; Our team collectively speaks six languages and have come from across the globe including Asia, Russia, and Europe.
  3. We are technology agnostic and we encourage embracing new technologies
    We pride ourselves on being highly adaptable to evolving technologies, we are always piloting new tools both internally for our own processes or with our clients. Unlike some organizations that are wedded to specific tools or technology suites, we are continually looking for ways to improve and leverage technology. This enables us to pick and choose best of breed tools and apps, whether it be for data collection, analysis, collaboration, and presentation tools. We encourage our employees to continually experiment with new tools through our Tech Benefit program (described in greater detail above).
  4. We regularly survey employees (see greater detail below) to ensure we are making decisions that positively impact the greatest number of people based on their direct feedback. This feedback influences everything from what kind of coffee we serve to how we spend our training budget, what issues senior leadership addresses in company meetings, and what our requirements are for our physical office space.

 

Please provide any employee testimonials and, if available, retention/turn-over data that indicates your work environment is especially healthy.: 

Donovan Watts, UX Research Manager, 7 years
Having worked at AnswerLab for over seven years, I've seen the company grow tremendously. In that time, myriad opportunities to build my skill set and climb the ladder of responsibility have been offered to me. In addition, incredible benefits such as the 'Be Healthy' and 'Tech Benefits' have been driving forces in my overall physical well-being and technological acumen. These and many other thoughtful programs are what keep me not only going, but motivated to work at AnswerLab

Claudia Smith, VP of Research Solutions, 5 years
AnswerLab has created an environment that encourages and rewards stepping outside of your comfort zone.  I have been able to define and shape the plan for future growth and development.  It’s common to wear many hats in a growing company, but it’s not common to be empowered to actually define your own career.

Ligja Gill, UX Researcher, 2 years
I was given on a FitBit on my first day, which immediately left the impression that AnswerLab invests in my personal health and work/life balance. The challenges are designed so that we're all working towards the same goal and pulling each other up instead of pushing each other down to win the raffle prize of an additional Tech benefit. This allows the winner to further immerse themselves in the latest technology, which in turn allows them to take their work to the next level. At the end of the month, I may not win the prize, but I'm a lot better off in the long run for just trying

Beth Lingard, Sr. UX Researcher, 1.5 years
AnswerLab has created a culture of feedback. It’s healthy and normal to receive regular feedback on all of your deliverables to clients, as well as your personal and professional growth. This constant feedback helps each person continuously learn, grow, and improve at an exponential rate. AnswerLab also provides opportunities for each employee to improve and better their personal brand by providing a safe and constructive place, as well as a platform to lead and convey our UX knowledge, points of view, and experience. A team of marketing, peers, and mentors collaborate on finding these opportunities, providing support to each researcher, and promoting the message.

Megan Sauter, UX Researcher, 1.5 years
The thought leadership program has given me amazing opportunities not only to learn more about UX trends, but lead original research and contribute directly to the field. This makes me feel like a valuable member of the AnswerLab team and the greater UX community. I don't know of many other companies that are so supportive of an employee's growth in the field.