One year ago, our team left behind our studio to give remote working a trial run. We haven’t been back together in person since. At first we found ourselves at sea with no shore in sight. And now, we reflect on how we’ve weathered the storm. The following are a few things we’ve learned over a year’s worth of blursdays.
- There’s power in the pivot. In the early days projects that were going full steam ground to a halt and then dropped as some of our clients needed to cancel projects or bring work in house to keep whatever staff employed they could. It was tough, and fear and empathy came hand-in-hand.
It took a couple of weeks to regroup, but our diverse book of clients turned out to be most pivotal. For example, the stalled restaurant industry dried up our food and beverage work. But our non-profit education partners shifted gears and turned to us for digital solutions to support parents and teachers during at-home learning to minimize learning-loss. We saw firsthand how clients thrived when they shifted their focus and embraced big challenges and opportunities they hadn’t envisioned taking on under pandemic conditions: Vitruvian, EA, Pasture & Plenty, and EdNavigator. We were inspired!
- Community is key. Many people dream of working from home...until they work from home. While our team works remotely on occasion, we worried that the collaborative culture built in our sunlit and colorful office space was at risk. Without pop-ins, a conference room, whiteboards, and quick coffee break chats, what would become of our creative community?
Surprisingly, it actually worked out just fine once we got used to the technology. In fact, our weekly Midweek Critiques, where we gather to provide feedback on one other’s designs for client projects, improved through digital meetings versus the tricky logistics of huddling around each other’s computer fighting to see the view.
We also grew closer to our clients. With the playing field leveled by tools like Slack, Monday, Google Suite, MS Office, and Adobe Cloud, our work process became more transparent. To be honest it was just a little bit scary to release some of the control of who sees what and when, but as we leaned into the process our clients became teammates allied around the purpose of our work together. For some of us, that bond came at a critical moment. An added bonus: Our process was definitely more efficient, and the work got better, too!
Sure we miss each other (a lot), and digital gatherings will never replace human interaction, but we learned a strong company culture, a sense of community, and physical location aren’t mutually exclusive. We say good morning on Slack, share inspiration throughout the day, and sometimes (not often enough) have a happy hour to kick back and laugh together.
- Life is better with balance—and boundaries. Our team is small and each of us wears at least one hat every day. At first we were saying yes to every opportunity that came our way. After all, the more client work we had the more likely we’d be able to keep our team busy and employed. But we quickly realized there’s a limit.
Even the most gratifying work can create exhaustion and burnout. A healthy work-life balance seems an ongoing challenge—and the addition of a pandemic didn’t help. It was so easy to be uber-productive with no commute and nothing keeping us from taking a dinner break and getting right back to it. With no social plans it was easy to just hunker down and work evenings and weekends, too. And that’s just not sustainable. Sure it’s great to pop a loaf of sourdough in the oven mid-workday or fold laundry during a conference call, but it’s also great to shut the laptop down and honor a schedule.
Birdie, our office dog, came to the rescue reminding us all that double (even triple) walks a day were sometimes a necessity and that movement is both a stress-reliever and creative boon.
- Speaking of Creativity… Stress and creativity didn’t always mix. Not everyone dealt with the pandemic in the same way. Shortly after, we had a partial furlough of working half weeks for two weeks as we hustled to get new clients. That threw some of us way off our game and into a land of fear and stress.
Empirically speaking, stress blocks creativity, which is all the more frightening when creativity is the bedrock of your business and a cornerstone of one’s identity. When creative blocks would arise in the past, we could congregate in the conference room to make some headway. In the virtual world, it was tough to figure out at first how to ask for help, but we quickly adapted to screen-sharing jam sessions, which made it easy to get an “over-the-shoulder working critique” and feel the missing camaraderie of an extra set of eyes.
But constraints required us to be creative.
While much of the work we do happens digitally, pre-pandemic times allowed the luxury of in-person photos and styled photoshoots, that wasn’t often an option over the past year. Instead of relying solely on stock photos, we did more illustration and worked with low-res imagery sometimes provided by clients to create more interesting results. New constraints forced us to adopt a new kind of creative.
5. The future is flexible. With our team intact and busier than before, we’re grateful to come out on the other side of this relatively unscathed. Not gonna lie—it’s been a bumpy and exciting ride with very few moments of calm. But we’ve learned that embodiment of ease is possible even when it’s not easy.
The disruption of 2020 challenged our comfort zones and our “old” ways of doing things, and we’re working smarter as a result. When the world gets the green light, we’ll be ready to head back to the studio, meet in person when it’s productive, and also work from wherever it makes the best sense using all the communication skills and productivity hacks we’ve learned. For those that supported us this year, we’re grateful, and we look forward to the road ahead.