Teamwork from home: How to get teams to thrive in remote working
These days, “business as usual” has changed. Since the government-mandated quarantine, most have shifted to a work from home setup, forcing the workforce to adjust their work routine to fit an all-digital space. For centuries, work has favored face-to-face interactions for good reason: collaboration and communication are done best in person.
Design studios, in particular, thrive in a shared work environment, a setup that allows a more tangible exchange of ideas and creative energy. Their line of work also requires more collaboration than the traditional company, from constant brainstorming for brands to hands-on production for projects, which makes working closely with teams the norm.
But given the current situation, working from home is the best, and seemingly the only, way to go about our jobs. So what does this mean for collaboration?
We asked Ada Laud, a project manager for branding and design studio And A Half, about the nuances of team coordination in this new reality. She also talked about the studio’s initiatives – the COVID-19 information hub Help from Home and talks series Design Dialogues – and which questions should the creative industry ask during this pandemic.
What was life in And A Half like before the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), and how much of it changed after?
Life before the quarantine for the team was pretty stable. We just finished our planning sessions, and have gotten a kickstart with some initiatives in the studio. We’d spend most of our days in the office, where we work and have fun at the same time – we've gotten used to seeing our team members every day, and we sort of feed off each other's creative energy and presence that way. Since the lockdown, it has definitely been a challenge, but we’re all eager learners, so we do our best to make working from home as seamless as possible for everyone in the studio.
How has the lockdown been for everyone in the team? How did the team adjust to the setup?
It's definitely been difficult, and [the quarantine] affected us in different ways. We all managed differently, so empathy is key in being able to work together.
Sometimes your team members may need more space, and that's ok. Others will prefer constant conversations and checkups. We do our best to understand how each person deals with the quarantine and how we can support each other through these times.
How is And A Half collaborating these days? Are there any particular tools you use daily?
For our internal process, we've really been challenged in recreating the collaborative atmosphere online. Some useful tools we use are MIRO, which is a digital board where we can create anything from flowcharts, post-it boards, collaborative mood boards. It's been useful for group brainstorming online.
Slack has been useful ever since, but now we're making sure we give each other end of day updates or utilizing the Status feature, so we know if people are available, or if they are zoning in on another project. Another fun thing we did was having a breathing exercise together before we started our meetings!
In terms of utilizing tech for the future, it's definitely being incorporated more in our upcoming projects. They're still in the works, but a lot of it has to do with user experience with information and another project on using tech to build empathy online.
Speaking of users, as a design agency, I'm sure you've been keeping tabs with changes in online behavior during the pandemic. Are there any new insights?
Definitely, there is a surge of content on everyone's feeds these days, and a lot of people are spending more time online. What we noticed now, more than ever, is the openness of people to share content that resonates with you – the articles, videos, memes, now more than ever, have become a reflection of our values as individuals.
Since people aren't able to connect with friends and family in real life, the pandemic has forced us into this "tech-celeration" and utilizing the digital space in ways we haven't before. People are using their digital spaces even more to express their thoughts, feelings, interests. Even from resharing content to your Instagram stories, or subscribing to a Reddit community for a specific interest, finding a community to talk to, and connect to has become more integral in this new normal.
What do you think will be the 'new normal' for And A Half and your industry?
For us, it’s working on projects that are relevant during this time. We're definitely moving away from being an agency and putting our client work in the forefront, and trying something new with our self-initiated projects, such as Help from Home and Design Dialogues.
With the world changing at such a rapid pace, we are being pushed and forced to go with what we've been wanting to do all along. There's a metaphor we like to use within the team, that "our nest is burning" (since we can't be in our office) and we have to "rise from the ashes like a phoenix." That's sort of how we're approaching this new normal.
As for the industry, it forces us to ask the relevance of design during this time. How can we use design as a tool to help? How can we make use of our competencies to make a better world with our new realities? How can we push for designs that help and not just "aesthetic"?
Can you tell us more about Help from Home and Design Dialogues?
Help from Home is an initiative led by my teammates Corinne Serrano and Petra Gana.
A few days after the lockdown, we were inspired by different citizen-led fundraisers being shared online, encouraging people to donate and to do their part even from home. We wanted to consolidate all the existing information and present it in a way that it's easier for both organizations seeking help and people who want to donate. We partnered with the COVID-19 Volunteer Group – they’re in charge of coordinating with these organizations. We also partnered with Sakay.ph to provide a heatmap that informs where the demand for help is in different hospitals in the Philippines.
In creating Help From Home, we collaborated with software development and design firm By Implication to create a needs tracker to lay out which hospitals and barangays have a more urgent need. With tech, we always look for people to partner with, work together towards a shared vision, and bring the projects to life.
Design Dialogues is another initiative by the studio, where we wanted to explore learning and knowledge-sharing even during a pandemic. It's a series of talks where we invite different creative professionals to share a personal project, their work, and talk about their role in Contemporary Filipino Design.
Our first season (all available on And A Half's IGTV) has episodes on Designing Type, or even setting up your workspace for Zoom meetings. We wanted to foster a sense of community during this time, through learning.
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Design Dialogues at home: Ready, Set, Zoom: Making Virtual meeting ready spaces Martina Bautista (@martinabautista ) is an interior designer, prop and event stylist. In addition to various homes she has styled, she has also been contributing to magazines as well as styling several events. In this episode, Martina shares some tips on styling your personal space for a work from home setup. Join the creative exercise and show us how you fix your space! Tag us @andahalfph. Got questions for Martina? Comment them down below and we'll share answers later this week!
So I see you're not just leveraging on technology for collaboration at work but also 1) to respond to COVID-19 and 2) skills sharing.
All that teamwork, while working from home, can sound a bit daunting. Do you have tips you can share with us? How should we be approaching work at a time like this?
Always check on your teammates! We're all doing our best in making things work, but understanding their situation will lead to a more harmonious work relationship.
Be concise, but also leave room to explore and enjoy your work. Prepare for your meetings in advance, but also have a space where you and your team can just ramble, similar to those chill conversations over lunch.
Set mutual working hours so you know when best to set meetings with your teammates, and when they may have to work on chores and errands. It's important to at least try to separate your work life from home life.
Don't be afraid to ask questions. You may encounter miscommunication within the team, but setting expectations and being proactive helps!
Understand that work may not be the most important thing right now. Don't forget to look out for yourself too.
Gian served as the last art director of Young STAR, the youth section of The Philippine STAR, before its online platform ceased operations. Outside publishing, he works in design and digital strategy, particularly for local and international theater productions.