So, we’re doing this. We’re working from home. For some of us it’s enforced, for others it’s by choice. Question is, are we working from home forever?
We’ve spent the last couple of weeks researching and canvassing a range of experiences. Here’s what we’ve found:
If we are working from home forever, best think about this …
Home may be moving from a temporary to a longer-term or even permanent workspace. Permanent means we need to replicate aspects of a studio you may have previously taken for granted. Things like:
Confidentiality: Confidentiality agreements previously signed are still valid. That means being mindful of others looking over your shoulder (coffee anyone?); of a computer monitor left unattended (ooooh, when is that going to be launched); or the possibility someone is eavesdropping on your zoom calls (she said what?).
Productivity: Projects taking longer due to inefficiency isn’t good for anyone. It’s not good for designers (because who wants to work longer hours?), and it’s not good for design managers/studio owners trying to juggle schedules and deadlines. So, replicate your studio workspace using large monitor(s), good lighting, sufficient internet speed and easy access to shared virtual space. And did I mention ergonomic chairs?
Processes: WIPs, backups and documentation are not optional. They can be overlooked in the short-term but processes become even more important when people are physically distanced. (More about that later.)
Communication. Much of our communication is now reduced to words in an email, or head and shoulder zoom calls. Both require much more work than a face-to-face meeting. Psychologist Professor Mehrabian has pioneered research into communication since the 1960’s. He published research in the 1970’s about the three facets of communication: voice (such as tone, intonation and volume), body language and spoken words. He found voice contributed 38 percent, body language 55 percent and the words being spoken, just 7 percent of total communication. (His 7, 38, 55 model is valued and deemed relevant.) Consider what this means for designs presented via email or zoom.
Are you a studio owner with designers wanting to work from home forever? Think about this…
Everyone’s job has changed. Your team now working from home are the same people who were interviewed and employed based on skills required to work together, from a studio. Be empathetic; while some designers might be ecstatic with the new arrangements, others not so much. There will be compromises and you will need to make concessions. Leadership now looks different.
- Regular one-on-ones with each team member to address challenges or just talk observations. Some designers are missing the connection/mentoring/collaboration of their immediate senior and feel their design skills are suffering. Others are loving the autonomy and may have trouble readjusting. We all cope differently. Just acknowledgement of the changing demands will be appreciated.
- Funding/supplying a workspace for each employee. Yep, it’s an additional cost but the initial outlay will be quickly returned in peace-of-mind and productivity. And there’s the safety aspect. No-one wants to see a computer cable leading to the extension cord plugged into the powerbox with the double adapter trip hazard in the background of a zoom call.
- Insurance — contents of your studio may be covered while in your studio but are they still covered offsite? Traditionally employee-owned equipment and furniture used by an employee working remotely is not insured by their employer. It’s less clear cut when the equipment they are using is owned by a studio. Either way, it needs to be insured — whose responsibility it is should be discussed and decided.
- Setting up a common, shared workspace. Now might be the time to audit all software used throughout a studio. Having conversations spread across Trello, Slack, Basecamp and Google Docs can be divisive. It’s similar to having separate conversations in the one meeting. You need to find a task manager convenient for everyone. Documenting tasks should be simple and transparent.
- Everyone’s time is important. The more flexible the workday, the more important it is to designate ‘meeting times’. If an event is not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist. Have clarity about tasks and deadlines so employees can plan their work days. Remote employees need to be trusted much more than the team sitting together in a studio.
- Employee contracts may need revising to cover our new world. For example, working ‘hours’ may be replaced with nominated set times you’d like your team to be available for meetings or training. It’s all about managing expectations. Do employees expect an allowance to cover home heating/cooling and do you expect a zoom-worthy workspace?
Designers working from home forever, think about this…
We’re all past the initial excitement of being able to walk the dog before work. The flexibility is great but longer term, you should consider:
You are for all intents and purposes, invisible. Think about it, your boss can no longer ‘see you’ for most of the day. They can’t wander past your computer to see a great design in progress, and you can’t offer to get them a coffee to start a conversation. So, don’t assume they know what you are doing, make it easy for them to ‘see you’ by proactively giving updates. It’s a good habit to get into: leaving a work trail just makes good business sense. Documenting what’s working and what’s not makes it easier to post-mortem a project, makes it easier to invoice existing projects and it makes it easier to estimate the next. Better still, having a virtual paper-trail and evidence of your practice means you can demonstrate why you should get that pay increase when you ask, or write a reference when you decide to move on.
Your work/life is blurred. Really, really blurred. Everyone can now see your home, your children, your dog and if you’re not careful, your washing. Sharing is caring but it can impinge on personal boundaries. Be proactive in setting boundaries; for work (times you’re available for zoom) and for home (when you can expect a quiet work environment). Consider setting yourself a routine that includes a starting and stopping time and scheduled breaks.
Want more information?
Here’s two valuable sites:
- Information on workers’ entitlements, including breaks, standard hours and flexible work arrangements, is available on the Fair Work Ombudsman website.
- Specific information about setting up a COVID-19 workplace can be found at safeworkaustralia.gov.au
As always, happy to discuss, just email.
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After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, I pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry. Now with the Design Business Council I use my experience, and research, as a design mentor and coach. I help designers build robust, sustainable businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design.
The core of the DBC is the building a design community – over 85% of designers work in businesses with less than 5 employees, many less than 3. That means designers don’t have the same support network of other professionals. The DBC’s solution is supplement paid gigs with mentoring breakfast meet-ups, informative UNseminars and practical workshops in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.