How COVID made creating new products even harder

February 16, 2021, 7:30 PM UTC

Creating hit products during normal times is difficult enough. Doing it amid a pandemic, when product designers are unable to work in the same room and consumer needs are vastly different from the pre-COVID era, makes the job exponentially harder.

“For the first two months of the pandemic we were scratching our heads about how we were going to do what we needed to do,” Iain Roberts, chief operating officer of design firm IDEO, said last week during an online panel hosted by Fortune.

But with time, many companies are getting some clarity about the new reality. Product teams have revamped how they work to account for people spending more time at home. They’ve learned that customer leisure time and work time are blurring together, and they’ve taken into account the acceleration of online shopping.

Mike Maresca, global chief technology officer of Walgreens Boots Alliance, the parent of drugstore chain Walgreens, described the scrambling involved. Early in the pandemic, his company quickly noticed the decline in foot traffic in stores because of COVID. His team immediately had to create a system that allowed customers to place online orders and then pick them up in stores 30 minutes later, reducing the amount of time customers had to spend indoors. The key was understanding what the public wanted.

“It’s been a challenging time,” he said.

The team behind Microsoft’s video game console, Xbox, has also been pushed by COVID and how it forced employees to work remotely. In normal times, creating new games required teams to hash out a lot of the details in person, a process that isn’t easily replicated by video conference, email, and instant messaging. During the first half of last year, the team focused on trying to fix the problem, said Haiyan Zhang, chief of staff of Xbox. She feels that it has improved, though advantages remain to working together in person.

“That creative process is more difficult,” Zhang said.

Xbox users have also changed their habits, she added. Early in the pandemic, in particular, people’s leisure time and work time started to blend. That meant more game playing during what were normally work hours.

“People would spend half an hour playing and half an hour on a Zoom call,” Zhang said. “People really need these breaks.”

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.

Read More

Artificial IntelligenceCryptocurrencyMetaverseCybersecurityTech Forward