Working From Home? Designers Share Their Best Tips For Keeping Sane Now That We're All Cooped Up
by Bill McCool on 03/19/2020 | 9 Minute Read
The world is a very different place than the one we recognized from last week. Even if you were ahead of (flattening) the curve before everyone else and started building up your pantry and toilet paper reserves, everything is very much topsy-turvy as we adapt to an entirely new way of living.
Unless, of course, you’re freelance, and the only living thing you ever talk to is your cat, and you avoid the hellscape that is Twitter. In which case, you’ve been building to this moment for a good chunk of your design career. But for some folks, maybe those that work in-house or at an agency, in the wake of COVID-19, they’re no longer commuting to the office, and they’re setting up shop at the kitchen table. And for a gig that thrives off collaboration, that can feel a little jarring.
It’s also worth pointing out that working from home is a luxury or benefit lots of other folks don’t have. There are tons of people in the service industry that can't do what others can. Or, maybe you’re working at home, but you're doing so with your children present. Children. Which...yeah. Good luck with that.
But don’t take our word for it. Most of our advice revolves around how many times a day you can conceivably get away with screening Frozen II for your locked down young ones, (the correct answer is five, by the way).
Listen, it’s OK. You’re doing the best you can. So here’s what we did—we talked to a few designers and agencies and got their tips and advice on working from home, and now they’re all collected here in this one place. Take a gander.
Fred Hart, Creative Director and Partner at Interact
People in our office have been slack-ing hardcore since moving remote. It’s been a great platform that keeps us orderly and aligned. We’ve set up new channels for jokes, weird stock image finds, and designer memes to keep the culture intact. There’s even a CoronaShow channel with what people are watching at home. The only drawback of Slack is the constant urge to check it every time there’s a new message—so we’ve instituted quiet times for people to focus and shut out the distractions.
Video conferences are critical to helping our internal team stay accountable and connected in this remote world. But, to spice it up, we’re entertaining fashion shows, pet show-and-tells, and CoronaCribTours—all voluntary, of course.
80% of our clients are outside of Colorado, so we’re pretty well versed in remote connection. We try to avoid over emailing and instead show client love by picking up the phone as much as possible. SouljaBoy was onto something when he sang "Kiss Me Thru the Phone."
The biggest challenge will be replicating critiques. What was once a very fluid in-person conversation with tons of musings is now a more rigid interaction. To combat this, we’re having our design team create more fully formed thoughts/boards/designs and then having folks write down their impressions and POVs in Google Docs to avoid the dreaded conference call collisions where everyone speaks on top of one another. By being forced to write down your thoughts, everyone’s feedback becomes more meaningful.
Zipeng Zhu, Founder of Dazzle Studio
Kim Dunphy, New York Creative Director at BrandOpus
Working as a cross-functional global office, we are big advocates for using video calls to check-in and catch-up. It’s not the same as in-person, but it creates a better connection than phone calls alone. But don’t forget to not just talk shop, make sure to ask what’s going on in each other’s lives. Also, don’t be afraid to get physical; I’ll draw and share my sketches on the screen, or move my laptop around to show people what’s going on around me, anything to make it feel more human.
I know everyone says it, but getting up to stretch your legs and clear your mind is paramount. I start my day with some radio taiso, a calisthenic warm-up exercise that moves to the beat of the radio. The first time I went to Japan, I watched construction workers do it every morning, and I fell for it. It’s like a slow version of choreographed dance that uplifts the mind and gets you moving for the day.
Lastly, social media can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. Try to avoid it as much as possible.
Sarah Williams, Creative Director at Beardwood&Co.
Routines and structure can be helpful tools when the world is feeling upside down. Keep your team meetings, and do design reviews by video chat. Stay connected to people, and don’t just rely on chat or email. Keep a regular schedule for starting work in the morning.
Move your body—stretch or do a little yoga video. It’s important to your creativity as well as your health.
Kindness is key. Remember, your team and clients are all going through a lot. We’re all people, and sharing kindness and humanity helps everyone stay positive.
Craig Robertson, New Business Director at Thirst
Eat lunch. Chat sh*t.
This was the first recurring meeting that went into the calendar, a Google hangout during lunch for people to drop in and out of while slurping soup on the sofa. Eating lunch together in the office is big for us, so this was the natural digital alternative. It gives the team time to catch up, talk nonsense, and share recommendations beyond Netflix. We’re also encouraging talking rather than typing, and transferring other cultural elements online, such as morning meditations, lunchtime yoga, and the monthly book club.
Keep the commute.
Okay, not literally. But a lot of us are going out before our 9 am kick-off call for a walk or run. This replaces our daily commute with some daylight and exercise and is a great way of establishing a break between waking up and work. It breaks the cycle of just moving from bed to desk and helps you get into a healthy, proactive mindset.
Get comfy, but not too comfy.
We’re in this for the foreseeable, so it’s good to establish boundaries. Get comfy by putting effort into your workplace: natural light, good seating, as much space as possible, or an air-purifying peace lily. Whatever works. Try and establish boundaries between work and home spaces. Keep your workspace away from your living areas, particularly your bedroom.
But don’t get too comfy. Find different ways of marking work and home. Start the day with the right mindset by getting up and dressed like you’re going to work, just with the permissible addition of slippers. When the day’s over, tidy up your workspace so it imposes on your living areas as little as possible. Make new rituals to mark the end of the day, even if that’s just a change of clothes.
Ben Lewin, Partner and Co-Founder at Otherway
We’ve recently decided to move the whole of Otherway to work from home. As a culture that’s built on face to face collaboration, its been a big change for us. Here are a few lessons we’ve learned in the past week, and are still learning.
The little things matter.
Sitting around in your pants isn’t going to help you focus. Take a shower, get dressed, and make an effort.
It’s been proven to help mental health. 30 mins of getting your heart rate up through exercise will help you focus and reduce anxiety.
Show your face.
We’re social creatures. Switch on the video camera (or pick up the phone). Calls are generally quicker than ten emails back and forth, and showing your face or hearing people's voices will bring out a greater connection with your team and clients.
Standard office hours don’t always work when you’re at home. Small people (children) disturb and home life can interrupt. Plan your work when it works, even if that’s early morning or late evening. Enjoy the flexibility, rather than fight against it.
Make team time
Lack of social interaction will get harder. Make time on Google Hangouts for office banter with others. Find digital solutions to the water cooler moments, the team lunches, and the social chat. Keep the bond of one team going.
I read this today on Instagram, thought it was important to remember before we all start complaining; "Be mindful that our ability to work from home is a privilege millions around the world don’t have.”
Charlie Smith, Founder and Creative Director at Charlie Smith Design
In theory, all you need to work from home is an internet connection and studio server access. But without human interaction and the team dynamic, it’s easy to lose focus and our sanity. Creativity and problem solving are all about collaboration. As a team, we work best when we brainstorm ideas together and have work-in-progress catch-ups.
So with the shift to working from home, the key to staying focussed and keeping projects running smoothly is staying connected, having a to-do list, and keeping regular interactions with my team and clients. We are all now using Slack and scheduling interaction throughout the day. Each catch up is a mini deadline that helps to keep things moving and break the feeling of isolation.
Mike Foster, Founder and Creative Director of Straight Forward Design
Putting people first and making sure our team is enabled to have a happy, stable, and supported working environment-whatever the circumstances-will always be our priority. We have made sure that everyone is fully equipped to work from home and at the studio, offering fluidity during these testing times.
Open conversations have been held with every team member to understand what the best working day looks like for them against their circumstances and a rapidly evolving landscape.
As for working parents, this is a logistical challenge. Someone must be present to look after the children. What compromises can get made on the work front? Because compromises do emphatically need to get made, and which ones can we make on the personal front to help?
To keep the wheels spinning, we need support and, in turn, have assistance to give. Support is the new money, or rather the new work, to keep actual work and money coming in.
We working parents are guilty of shirking huge swathes of parental responsibility elsewhere: the school, the after-school clubs, Granny and Granddad. This now falls squarely on our laps. It’s early days, so it’s hard to know what support might be available from the schools – online learning? And this is different depending upon the age and needs of your dependents. Every family has unique circumstances, challenges, and needs.
Mark Davis, Co-Founder and Creative Director of me&dave
Don’t get WFH envy.
Their video’s pin-sharp, they’re surrounded by manicured house plants and cool posters, and it’s all lit perfectly by well-positioned spotlights. Meanwhile, you've crouched awkwardly over a mug-ringed coffee table in the half-light.
It’s hard, but try your best to simulate a normal working environment. It’s what your mind needs to do its thing, so help it out (and stave off the WFH envy).
Bring the outside in.
If you can’t go outside, get as close as you can. Set up next to a window, give yourself a view of the world, and ask Alexa to pump up the sounds of the rainforest. If you’re lucky enough to have a pet, show them some love over lunch. A little biophilia can go a long way.
Trust your team
There are going to be some teething problems.
Fact. Someone will leave the radio on during a video call. Someone will have forgotten the password and need a reminder. The server may well crash. Just don’t stress. We’re all finding our feet right now, so let your guys learn how to WFH in a way that suits each of them. If that means being online at 7 am and running a bath at 1 pm then let them get on with it.
And remember, this isn’t forever. Shit happens, and there are a lot of people out there who are a lot worse off. All you can do is try and keep things business as usual (well, kinda).