How to keep a distributed workforce engaged with your data

Jill Hardy, Content Strategist, Customer Marketing at Looker

May 1, 2020

In a distributed workforce model, there are zero communication shortcuts.

Every method you’re now using to communicate digitally requires a carefully curated approach to engage with the faces on the other side of your screen. In the past two months, nearly every company with the capability has pivoted to an almost entirely distributed workforce. That means the next step is figuring out which engagement strategies will stick.

Rest assured, Looker has been experimenting and asking ourselves a few timely questions:

  • As a data leader in your company, how will you navigate this new landscape as you help and manage the people who interact with your data?
  • How can you best keep teams up to date with the state of your data?
  • What if they need help with something data-related, but they can no longer stop by your desk to ask you a question?

Keep reading to find answers to these questions and to grab ideas for how you can adapt to this new distributed workforce model.

Create casual opportunities to interact

Just because no one can pop by your desk right now doesn’t mean you have to disappear—there are ways to foster that sense of casual connectedness online. Here are a few:

  • If you don’t already have one, set up a chat group or slack channel that people can pop into to ask questions. At Looker, we have a channel like this called “analysts” we go to for modeling questions.

  • Use this channel to post fun data questions for people to answer, or post weekly data challenges for people. Then, highlight the winners!

  • Share a weekly tip for using Looker. Here are a few to get you started:
    • Did you know that you can have your favorite reports sent to your email as often as you like? Check out your data delivery options to learn more.
    • Experiment with ad-hoc reporting without altering any of the reports you’re familiar with. You can use your favorite chart as a starting point using the “Explore from Here” option in the menu.
  • Schedule coworking sessions. These are especially great to do with people you’re used to talking with frequently. Here’s the idea: set up an hour for a video call with a colleague or two. After you say your hellos, talk about what you want to accomplish over that hour (build this dashboard, answer this question, resolve 3 tickets, model this thing, etc.). Work “together” until 5 minutes before the end, and then share what you accomplished with each other. You can mute your lines but keep your audio on so that anyone with a question can unmute and fire away.

But what about people who need to get trained?

Take your training online&hrefand make it charming

You can host an engaging, interactive training session online. I promise, just bear with me. Here’s how you can keep your attendees’ eyes on the presentation:

  • Open up with an interaction from each person.
    • At the beginning of the session, have people introduce themselves and give a fun fact to the group. If everyone knows each other already, ask for a fact no one could ever guess. Make sure to share yours, too! Not only will this warm up the group, it also subtly sets the expectation that you’ll be asking them to participate throughout the session. If your group is too large for everyone to take a turn, start off with a poll instead.
  • Use polls.
    • This is an easy way to get folks participating: ask them a question they can answer by clicking a button. Your poll could be topical (“Can you find all the information you need in Looker?”) or more lighthearted (“What’s your morning drink of choice, coffee or tea?” or “Would you rather have the power to stop time or to fast forward it?”) It’s great to host a poll close to the beginning of the training, so that people will know to expect them as the session goes on.
  • Pose “sense-check” questions.
    • Sense-check questions are a way to check that everyone on the call understands the training. Let’s say, for instance, you’re teaching a group new to Looker how to use dashboards. You might present a sense-quick question like: “If you wanted to look at the data on this dashboard for a previous month, how would you do that? Type your answer into the chat box.”
  • Pause to let people think.
    • When you’re presenting to a remote audience, you can’t watch for nodding heads or looks of confusion. Thus, it can be tempting to rush through your presentation without pausing. Overwhelming people with information will cause them to tune out. Instead of jumping from slide to slide to slide, work in well-timed pauses. I recommend writing pauses into your speaker notes so you don’t forget.
  • Call on people by name.
    • This is a powerful way to keep your audience’s attention. But this isn’t high school—you don’t have to quiz anyone. Instead, work their name into examples you’re using to illustrate your point. If you were hosting a session and I attended, you could say something like, “For example, if I know Jill is writing a blog about keeping in touch with remote workers, I might want to check in with her to see if she has access to the analytics she needs to see how well her content does.”
  • Call people’s attention to particular parts of the screen.
    • I love this trick because it’s subtle and it works almost always. As you’re speaking, direct people’s eyes to part of the screen. Bonus points if you ask them to make an assessment of what they’re looking at. It might sound like this: “Now, check out the chart at the bottom of the screen—it’s blue. Do you see the five bars there? Which one is the tallest?” A presenter once pulled my attention back from wandering through other tabs by doing this.
  • Be yourself. Give them a human to connect to.
    • The more human you act, the more people will enjoy hearing you. Don’t worry if you misspeak because you’ve been talking for 30 minutes already; acknowledge it with a laugh and continue on. If you pose fun questions with polls, make sure you weigh in with your own answer too.
  • Switch between different things on screen.
    • The spice of life—variety—is also the spice of video conferencing. You can rotate between slides, screen share, and the video feed of you to keep things moving.

Host a regular “Office Hours” session to answer questions

Set up a regular video chat time where you’ll be available for people to virtually pop in and ask questions. An hour once a week should be plenty of time.

Invite users to attend if they have questions. And if you’re looking to make it more fun, wear something funny or put up an interesting background for each session. (Or do both! Put on a trenchcoat, set your background to be a fun picture of somewhere in the world, and have people who join play “where in the world is Carmen Sandiego”!)

With everything that’s going on in the world, everyone needs an unexpected little escape every now and then.

Make your Looker more communicative

Looker has some prominent options for getting data in front of people in an automated fashion. Here are a few you can take advantage of:

Alerts and scheduling

Creating alerts and setting up schedules for data deliveries are two ways to keep your people in touch with their data automatically. Alerts will send data to people based on a particular condition (say, an account’s month-over-month activity drops by 25% or more); schedules send data on a regular cadence, no matter what the data shows.

Slack integration

You can even ask Looker to deliver data to Slack on a regular basis. Pipe it right into the team channel people use every day and they’ll stay up to date on the latest numbers.


As an admin, you can determine what people logging into your Looker see first with homepages. You can set this at the organization, group, or user level. Use this to guide people to the content most relevant to them.

Collect feedback remotely

Soliciting feedback and incorporating what you hear into your work is key to making Looker a seamless experience for your users.


Consider sending a survey out to your users to assess how useful they’re finding Looker. One easy way to do it is with a short survey about people’s day-to-day experience using Looker.

Here’s a suggested list of questions:

  • Do you know how to find the reports that you need?
  • Do you reference the data when making decisions in your job?
  • Do you know where to go for help?
  • How do you feel about choosing which data visualizations to use?
  • Can you find metrics that you want to track to measure your current project?

When you make changes based on their needs and suggestions, make sure to follow up with each person individually and let them know about the changes (in addition to posting it in your chat channel, and including an update in the appropriate team homepage).

User interviews

If you’d like a deeper dive into people’s experiences, invite them to do a user interview with you.

For people who use Looker a lot, you can ask them:

  • How do you currently use Looker?
  • In what ways does Looker help you?
  • Are there ways in which using Looker annoys you?
  • If you could wave a magic wand and change something about Looker, what would it be?

For people who have accounts but rarely log in, you can ask them why they don’t use Looker. Was their training sufficient to get them going? Does the data they need exist in Looker? Are they facing other challenges adopting the tool?

Follow up with the people you talked to any time you make changes based on what they said. They’ll appreciate it!


There are lots of ways to engage your users, keep them informed of the latest updates, and recreate those “Hey, do you have a second to help me with this?” moments in a virtual setting. I encourage you to try one of these tips in the next week.

Stay well,
Jill Hardy
Content Strategist, Customer Marketing at Looker

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