Case Study: Making Telecommuters' Workplaces Better with Harvest for Amazon Alexa

Kasia Ryniak

Tue, May 15, 2018

Almost every company requires their employees to track time. Maintaining time sheets can be a pain, but fortunately there are tools like Harvest.

Harvest is an amazing tool, used by over 50,000 businesses worldwide, that allows you to track time as you work. It's way more efficient than filling time sheets later.

What’s worth noticing is that there are over 4M employees in the US, who work from home to save time spent on commute and have more time for their

Remote Workplace

While it's great to save time, working from home also brings a lot of distractions. You know, all these moments when your dog wants to go out for a walk, your child needs attention or a FedEx courier rings at your door.

With such distractions, it's hard to keep accurate time entries, even in Harvest. A lot of people forgot to stop their running timers and realize that while away from their computer. To be fair with their employers and clients, they have to correct their time entries later.
Was I off for half an hour or more?

Wouldn't it be great if you could control time tracking from anywhere in your house?

"Alexa, tell time tracker to stop billing"
"Alexa, tell time tracker to start tracking project management for Upside"

Just tell it what you're doing and it will be reflected in your time sheets.

Designing Voice User Interface for Harvest

Designing user interfaces that are operated solely by voice is one of the biggest challenges when building Alexa skills. Lack of screen limits the amount of information that can be presented to the user. It also changes the way we gather information from the user.

Just like with any other project, we started by focusing on the needs of the user. We built personas to help us better understand what’s important for the user and how they may interact with voice interfaces.

Building personas for Amazon Alexa skill

Our main persona was called Jane.

Jane works in marketing in a mid-sized agency. She lives in Midwest and regularly works from home.
Each morning, she makes herself a cup of coffee, sits on her couch and starts work.

Sometimes she works without a computer, especially when writing articles. Using pen and paper helps her avoid distractions such as Facebook.
She often switches between projects for her company's clients.

She likes to do a bit of housework during her "working hours", to clean her mind before diving into creative work. She also has a dog that sometimes comes to her with its leash, waiting to go for a walk.

This gave us a sense of what features we should focus on and how they may be used. While Harvest offers a lot of advanced reporting features, the most important ones for people working from home are:

  • Starting a timer
  • Pausing previously started timer
  • (Optionally) getting a summary of today’s work

Based on our previous experiences with VUIs, we knew that in order to avoid confusion, we needed to focus on those. We also needed to avoid complex dialogues and make interactions with our skill as simple as possible.

What Happened Next

There’s no better way to show how it works than with video:

Do people like it? Three hours after we published Harvest skill in Amazon’s store, we received this email:

“I’ve been waiting so long for a harvest timer trigger in Alexa! The only problem is I live and work in Germany and I can’t find it in the Germany skills store! Please add it - even if the commands are in English!!”

That’s the greatest thing to hear after releasing a new product to the market!

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