By Ryan MacDonald
We’ve all been there.
You’re running late to photo day because your hair’s not right. Then you spill coffee down the front of your shirt so you borrow one from a co-worker. But you never feel comfortable when you sit down and say “cheese” for the photographer who’s annoyed that you’re making everyone wait.
The result? A company photo that doesn’t even look like you that goes on to your company’s web site, maybe the Facebook page and, if you’re an employee of Comcast, sometimes even displayed in the main lobby.
That may all change, however, thanks to a thoughtful team of employees of the Comcast Technology Solutions (CTS) team who are developing a user-friendly application called Wall-E that will give employees ownership of their company profile and, most importantly, the accompanying photograph.
“The whole premise of Wall-E,” said Erik Peña, a Senior Program Manager at CTS, “was to basically bring the photo wall into the 21st century.”
“Sometimes the company picture is not very flattering, we know. So we wanted to make it easier to kind of personalize it a little more.”
Conceptualized by Shelly Robertson, an office manager for CTS who’s worked in various roles at the company for seven years, Wall-E was conceived while Robertson was changing the company profile photos that splashed across the monitors in the main lobby, which she was doing manually. All 240 of them.
“It was so hard to keep it up to date,” Robertson joked about the task, which seemed outdated.
Beyond that, she noticed how much people liked to hang out and see themselves (and others) displayed on the screens, so this project seemed like a no brainer: create an app that would allow Comcast employees to control their company image and possibly add other personal details.
“I thought it should be more convenient and more fun for people to use as a tool or just be able to put up any kind of picture that they wanted to,” she said.
Robertson pitched the idea to much success back in March during Seattle’s inaugural Lab Week, a weeklong event where everyone within Comcast family is encouraged to develop and innovate new ideas and then present at the Science Fair, the culminating event that takes place on Friday.
Together with Nora Teodorescu, Mike Grace, Avi Finkel, and Peña, Robertson formed the team and began to lay the framework for the project. They met everyday to tackle different tasks, from front-end design to project management of time and resources, and by the end of their first week, they had developed a product that was well received.
“We know that humans like to see their face so that’s one of the reasons it’s, you know, people centered,” said Teodorescu, who works as a software test engineer.
Favored by many employees of CTS, Lab Week is an exciting time where anyone, in any position, is encouraged and allowed to pitch and present an idea, and then work on that project to completion, allowing everyone to bring forth their own technical skill set.
“There was just a lot of teamwork that went into making this happen,” Robertson said. “You could never have an experience like that unless it was this kind of Lab Week where you’re able to work on anything that you want to.”
Many times employees work in roles that would not normally be assigned to them, like project manager, and with people whom they’ve never even met.
“Every person that was on that the team does not interact with the other person on their day to day,” said Peña who has been with Comcast for nearly eleven years. “We came from different walks of this company, and kind of came together and really collaborated very nicely.”
The team even met with Mike Horwitz, Vice President of Engineering for CTS, who had a few questions of his own and offered some encouraging feedback.
“He met with us and said, ‘Is it working? Do you feel like you accomplished what you wanted to?’ And we said, ‘Yes!’” Robertson said.
Horwitz also told the team he hopes the final project appears like artwork (not just four large screens mounted on the wall), so now the team wants to include certain design elements as they progress.
In coming months, the team is confident that Wall-E will eventually become an active part of the company culture where employees upload details about their lives like if they’re taking a personal vacation, their whereabouts in the office or even being able to search others by name.
“It’s hard sometimes because we are spread on three floors, and we move around,” said Teodorescu about the challenges of learning where everyone sits. “So the search feature is a big thing that we are going to do for the next Lab Week.”
Even though some people may simply use Wall-E as a tool to show off their latest selfie, like from a company outing to Mariners game or a bowling night, Peña believes that people will begin to see beyond that and recognize how this tool can help unite such a large company.
“It kind of brings us to the whole picture of, and it’s not just a picture, but the whole reality of us being part of the company as a team.”
So what’s next?
“We’ve thought if people really like this, it’s really unlimited,” Robertson said, who believes that Wall-E could be adopted by other companies, not just Comcast. “Any office space could use this, you know, in any location, to display their employees or different fun things.”
So get ready, folks, Wall-E may be coming to an office near you. Just say, “cheese!”