• Sights on Your “You Space”

  • See One Task at a Time

  • Touch on Respectful Scheduling

  • Open Ears to Your Team

  • Taste Success Through Preparation

As the Pandemic surged across the globe, we watched as the entire world suddenly, almost instantaneously, became a “work from home society.” When “Shelter in Place” was mandated, I am certain that the shock waves flooded every household across the globe. For some it would be easy and might be a nice change for a while. For others, it would be a challenge but do-able. Yet for others, panic set in and brains were whirling trying to figure out how this would work when the same “Shelter in Place” mandate that put people in their homes to work also put their school-aged children there with them. These were uncharted waters for most people, and when work life changes, it almost always affects home life. A new routine might be in order!

As a sensory scientist, I have spent my career with people, introducing them to new products, watching them, and recording their direct and indirect reactions to foods. Their opinions make such a profound difference and influence decisions of product developers and innovation teams in food and beverage. How can my colleagues and I continue without people around? Talk about a new routine being in order! I am fortunate to have very creative colleagues who have developed protocols for drive-up CLTs, remote descriptive analysis, and remote focus groups. I was awed by their ability to pivot so quickly and keep in mind all of the best practices in sensory. To honor them and to recognize people’s struggles with working from home, I would like to present a new set of best practices.

Dedicated Space, Dedicated Mind

When we have consumer panels in our sensory lab, we have private tasting booths where the panelists sit and receive their samples. This space is very plain, done in neutral colors, and provides a space devoid of outside stimuli where the panelist can relax and concentrate. Recommendations for these spaces are even published by ASTM. We all deserve the same in our WFH environments.  But what are the recommendations for WFH space? If you can, have a dedicated space that isn’t your bedroom or a dining room that you can shut the door to at the end of the day.  Our booths also have controlled lighting and positive air pressure — who doesn’t like having good light to work by? Working from home with kids? They deserve their own spaces too and are intuitive enough to create those spaces on the fly… pillow forts and under the bed spaces all serve as private retreats, often lit by flashlights.

Sequential Monadic & Why Multitasking Kills Productivity

In sensory science, presenting samples to panelists in a sequential monadic way means presenting one sample, removing the sample when the panelist is done, and then giving the next sample.  This keeps the panelist focused on one thing at a time and does not allow them to go back and compare samples one versus the other. This is a standard in the majority of sensory tests. Aligned with that concept is the idea that multitasking kills productivity. Too many things going on create the need for us to stop and start tasks and question our own direction. Serve yourself tasks in a sequential monadic fashion and cruise into the land of productivity.

Control What You Can: Respect the Daypart

One of the benefits of working from home can be the realization of more autonomy and time in your day if you are avoiding a usually long commute. Being creative with your time and working on quiet activities outside of the business day afford many remote employees a flexible schedule, but it still works best with a schedule. In sensory testing, we try to respect schedules as well. Whether it is holding our descriptive analysis panel at the same time each day or scheduling a central location test to match the correct time of day (waffles in the AM, wine in the PM), an expected schedule makes all stakeholders comfortable and able to best work together. Although we are working from home, we are all still part of greater teams that depend on us.

Employee Morale and Engagement

In our descriptive panels, we work, but we also chat, share, and break bread. We form our own sensory family. Often trained panelists may work together for years and know one another as well as you may know your own counterparts on the job. As much as they enjoy the evaluation of flavor and texture of new products they also enjoy the camaraderie and togetherness they feel from the group. This is the case in any office, village, tribe, or group of friends. It is this communal energy that so many of us are missing as new remote workers. The vibe of the office, the watercooler chats. So how do we make up for this? Do it remotely! If we can conduct focus groups remotely, we can certainly host an office lunch-and-learn or happy hour. Engaged employees are open, creative, and productive.

Wear Pants, aka Be Prepared

It is all a joke on Zoom until someone stands up. For our descriptive panelists working remotely, we asked them to find a quiet place to taste samples and to observe the usual panel rules:  no eating 30 minutes before a panel, no perfume, no smoking, and proper use of pallet cleansers. We also provide them with the cleansers and all of the reference samples they may need. We want them as prepared as they can be for their task so they generate accurate data. Bring your A-game by being prepared for each day; and well-clothed.

To discuss more create solutions to consumer insights during COVID-19, check out our current services here or reach out to one of our sensory experts — let their creativity take you out of your COVID-19 restrictions.


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