You cannot slide in beside a co-designer, and share ideas and work-in-progress, or even ask a spontaneous question out loud to the whole studio. And we don’t have Dany our studio dog, resting her head on your knee as you eat your lunch.
We have always prided ourselves on our studio model. We work side-by-side. Egos get left at the door. We rely on each other’s opinion, and we feed off each other’s creativity. We have always assigned projects to teams, so we can mine as many ideas as possible. But now, screens have created barriers – both actual and visceral. So how have we figured out how to keep the ideas flowing, designers engaged, and our clients confident in our process?
Despite the devastating effects of COVID on small businesses, we have been (thankfully) really busy. Over the last 7 months, there have been endless Zoom calls, status meetings, iCal invitations, Go-to-Meetings and presentations to enormous groups (like York). And, every email seems to be copied to everyone – just as a form of redundant back-up. We have to spend a lot more time sifting, organizing and communicating even the most mundane tidbit of information. There has been a lot to do to keep projects on track and ensure the level of design and client service remain high, but it is working.
First of all, we ensured that everyone had a Web Cam and a good chair, so they weren’t going to need serious physiotherapy at the end of this pandemic. And there has been a bit of levity. We created virtual wine and cheese gatherings at the end of long, hard weeks. Gord has kept vigil at the office and been the connective tissue to the server, and a voice on the end of the H&W office line. Lizzy has kept the administration side of things ticking. At times we have each headed in (in off-hours) to retrieve a file or grab a favourite sweater that had been left on the back of a chair in March. And, recently, Dom put together packages of Thanksgiving treats and hand-delivered them to our staff’s homes… call them outside, pulling them out of their buildings, to get eyes on them, and share a few laughs.
Nonetheless, we aren’t in one place together. But we have all checked in individually with our colleagues, through texts, actual phone calls, FaceTime and Instagram. We have reached out, multiple times a day, to offer support, check in on progress, share an idea or hear what they are watching on Netflix. There is a ton of autonomy, but a whole lot of accountability. We ARE operating as though we are in the same space together. We review and critique the work together to ensure it still is of the very best quality. Slack has nothing on us. We have found success by remaining in each other’s lives – both professionally and personally.