You put in a lot of hard work to make a design system available, but it’s all for nothing if there’s no adoption. A design system without the people behind it or those who use it is pointless. Building a component library, writing documentation, or managing your governance is just as important as engaging a design system community within your organization. Having office hours can be crucial in helping you build your company culture, increase user engagement, and avoid confusion.
What are office hours?
Office hours are often associated with academic settings. Professors usually prearrange a time when they are available to answer students' questions.
Like professors, design system leads should schedule open office hours to stay in touch with their teams and provide the support they need. As a result, it can be a regular meeting where direct reports can ask questions, share concerns, or just chat and connect. It is possible to invite people in and out of these hours, like a hop-in / hop-out event, or to ask them to indicate their interest in advance. The open office hours can also be held remotely without a physical office.
During these design system office hours, cross-functional team members can discuss design system components and variations, ask questions about the design system, and share their experiences using it. It's a place where your end users can share their feedback and engage in dialogue.
There are many benefits to hosting office hours for your design system, as it will allow your teams to get better engagement, communication, and support and thus trust and adoption of your design system.
By holding office hours, you're allowing your team members to share their ideas and feel involved in your design system. Your team can connect personally during these sessions, enabling you to strengthen company relationships. Ultimately, the goal is to develop meaningful connections with anyone (e.g. product managers, engineers, experience designers, etc.) who are using or interested in adopting the design system. Remember engaging people is essential, otherwise, your design system is useless if nobody uses it and it will inevitably fail.
Additionally, you can discuss any issues related to workflow, processes, and ways of working with the design system during office hours. Encourage them to share feedback, provide solutions and listen to what they say while keeping the conversation casual. Allow participants to ask clarifying questions about the design system and be prepared to receive constructive feedback regarding accessibility, component implementation, or any other improvement for your design system.
You can also use these office hours as an opportunity to give people informal updates on what was being worked on before it was officially released. You might achieve more adoption by sharing exclusive information during these meetings (#FOMO).
You can provide more in-depth support than what is possible via Slack, Teams, or other communication channels. Continually improve your design system by actively listening to people who interact with it daily; hearing issues directly is like getting usability feedback. They can help immediately, but also take action to improve things. This is a chance for your teams to have a more casual and personal experience with your design system. As a result, they can ask for support and have specific questions answered easily and will feel more comfortable using your design system.
Do you need office hours for your design system?
It makes sense to hold office hours if more than 10 people will use it. It could be lower than 10 people, but you probably won’t have enough questions to make office hours worthwhile. It might be helpful for these small groups to ask questions in existing weekly team meetings. This way, questions can be answered without taking up a lot of time.
Ask direct reports to participate in open office hours if they have questions or concerns that can be handled in ten minutes or less, and save the more tough conversations for more private meetings like a one-to-one. Once you have found the right balance, customize how you run open office hours to fit your culture and communication style.
Identify what frequency and group size make sense for your organization. Consider hosting separate office hours for each department. If your department has 100+ members, host regular open office hours to handle a high volume of questions, and have teams submit questions ahead of time to maximize the time.
How to conduct office hours
Make office hours available when you feel your team needs extra support, but make sure you meet regularly. Team members can write down their low-priority questions when you schedule regular office hours (such as monthly or weekly office hours), knowing they'll have an opportunity to ask them later. By scheduling regular meetings, you also cut down on interruptions and get the chance to address frequently asked questions simultaneously as multiple team members are present.
Ultimately, it's up to you how much time you feel your team needs. However, keeping this meeting short is always the right way to keep everyone's time efficient. The most appropriate meeting length is probably 30 minutes to an hour. Any shorter, and you will be rushing. Any longer, and you’ll probably lose steam by the end of the meeting, and boredom will creep in.
Who should host?
Office hours are an excellent way to show there are humans behind your design system; that’s why it’s your design system team’s responsibility to host and conduct this meeting. You should also consider rotating or having multiple hosts. Having different faces demonstrates that it's not seen as one person's thing and that it still exists even when that person isn't available.
You can also see these office hours as a way to improve your skills. For instance, if someone is looking to grow their leadership skills, leading this meeting or organizing it could be a great opportunity for them.
Who should you invite?
Everyone involved with your design system should be invited to these office hours: designers, developers, product managers, product owners, marketing, brand, communication, etc. Office hours are probably the most open meeting session you’d have and regardless of discipline, these meetings can be for anyone curious as a totally open touch-point for design systems related conversations.
As a general rule, make it clear that attendance isn't mandatory. You don't even have to ask a question; you can just listen in and observe; you can always learn something new!
Where should this happen?
Whether it is a meeting room, conference room, cafeteria, or in your break room, choose the location that fits everyone’s needs. You'll probably want a live-stream option if you work remotely and/or have offices in multiple locations. A complete virtual meeting room is also a great alternative if it makes more sense in your organization.
What if no one shows up?
You should prepare for this very likely scenario. Especially at the beginning of your office hours launch, you may not get the success you hope for right away; it takes time to build engagement and adoption.
However, you may also have participation variations from one meeting to the next, and that’s totally fine. People won’t always have questions or feedback to share. Besides, the participation level at your office hours meetings will probably be synced with last updates and news of your design system. But above all, even if people don't show up, it’s important for people to know these office hours are there for them whenever they might need it and there are low expectations of them and low friction in joining as there is no preparation needed. Also, if there are design system adoption problems and no one is attending, it might help to get other managers bought into this and have them encourage their directs to attend.
Alternatively, turn this into a more social time if a few people show up, but no one really has questions. As it is an informal meeting, you could take this opportunity to discuss other stuff - work and non-work related. It’s always a good thing for building relationships.
Tips and best practices
Remember this is a session for your design system users to informally ask questions and share feedback. You shouldn’t avoid turning it into a formal presentation and monopolize this time. Instead, ask people to share a topic and turn them into your own design system advocates.
How to measure success?
Measurement of design systems is one of the biggest challenges everyone faces. But one way to measure the effectiveness of your design system is by tracking how your office hours help your teams, and data can be used as a powerful storytelling tool. In this case, you are trying to tell a story about how office hours effectively support the community.
Here are some KPIs you can monitor to measure your office hours’ success and keep improving them.
Make sure you ask participants for feedback during office hours. As these meetings are like a support session for them, if you want to improve your office hours, ask them to complete a quick survey (through Google Forms, Typeform etc.) to rate the quality of support they received. As a matter of fact, a score of at least 80% is considered a reliable indicator of success in the industry.
Further, a five-star rating scale and commentaries supporting the rating can also be used to judge the quality of support provided during these office hours.
Rate of Resolution
Use the survey to ask if you successfully solved their problem. You can determine their effectiveness by measuring how frequently questions are resolved during these office hours. According to Karissa Woodward who based her metrics on the industry-standard benchmark, you should strive for a resolution rate of 65 to 75%. In the case of unresolved issues, you can still request more information, schedule a meeting, or direct them to other channels and people for additional help.
Try to record your office hours meetings and give people access to these recordings so they can watch them later. You can use solutions like Loom to help you edit async video meetings.
You can also have follow-up emails or Slack/Teams messages to summarize what has been discussed during these office hours. This work can even be automated to increase efficiency and standardize the process. You can learn more about automation in Karissa Woodward’s article to level up office hours with Airtable. Don’t forget your new hires and if you can, also try to document these meetings on a shared note taking space such as a Confluence, Notion or even a zeroheight ;)
By committing to transparency and sharing, you build a spirit of trust around your design system and create a culture of access.
Office hours eliminates the guesswork about when (or how) to get in touch, and team members never feel left out but it’s especially about actively welcoming people into your design system. Remember that design systems are made by humans, for humans. You can have the best design system in the world, but if you fail with your adoption and engagement, your design system is doomed. Office hours aren’t just helpful for getting feedback or better communication; they are an excellent way to scale up your design system and get the success it deserves.