Never did we think that the year of 2020 would lead to over a year of working from home, along with all of the aches and pains that come with our “work-from-home chairs”. Even though these times were “unprecedented,” we still found ourselves learning valuable skills to not only make us better consultants, but also ways to maintain a company culture in a remote world.
As cities like Chicago began transitioning to a semblance of normalcy, we reflected on what we could bring from our time during the work from home phase as we make plans for what the future holds.
Donuts and Mentorship
1:1 meetings, or what we like to call “Donuts”, are a great way to stay connected to co-workers we aren’t collaborating on projects with. While it feels weird to schedule meetings to catch up on our lives, it helps us to stay connected while working remotely.
Hopefully once we are back in the office, there will be a less frequent need for these but with flexible hybrid models becoming more of the norm of the work environment, these will still be applicable for those who will continue to work more remotely. Plus, staying connected helps to maintain the Fuzzy Math culture.
I like that it has attempted to fill the gap of the “watering hole” discussions we’d normally have in passing in person at the office!
Personally, I really dislike having to schedule time to check in with my coworkers, but having reminders and consistent time on the calendar to have those “water cooler chats” and not talk about work or projects for 15 minutes has really helped me stay connected with everyone (or at least feel like I’ve stayed connected). Hopefully there’s a little bit less need to really bake in unstructured chat time as we get back in the office, but having the reminder to check-in is something that I hope sticks around!
A highlight of office life, IMO, is running into someone you aren’t actively on a project with to what’s going on with them. Having structured check-ins is just not the same.
Having said that, I think the donuts/1:1s are a critical piece to keeping the FM vibe alive while we’re out of the office.
Maintaining a work life balance is more important now than it has ever been. Especially on some mornings, when it’s easy to turn on the coffee pot and sit at your dining table *ahem* desk. The remote balance has allowed for us to take more time to focus on our mental health, have a chance to run errands (is there anything better than taking a midday stroll through a nearly empty grocery store?), and get outside even more.
While we miss the commute into the office to have our “me time”, it has been nice that this past year opened up the ability to take care of life responsibilities and gave us the ability to break up the 9 to 5.
I’ve never worked full time in an office but it has been nice to be able to post in Slack that “I’m running an errand” or that “I need to go on a walk” whenever I need a mental break.
+1 to what you said Abbie. It’s been really nice to have the flexibility to step away from my desk either to take a break from the screen or to run an errand. Just knowing that I’m not tied to my desk from 9-5 and can come back to finish up work later has been a huge relief.
Flexible hours for me have been super helpful as I have 2 senior pitbulls and they are requiring more and more vet visits. It is so nice to have the ability to do what I need to do for their care and not have to take off as much time to get from the office to home, then to the vet and back. Although, I do miss biking into the office and having that ‘me time’ as a portal of separation of time and space from work and home that I think is important for decompressing (at least for me).
Less structured/rigid hours are the best!
Even with “Zoom Doom,” it has been nice to be able to connect with our clients individually rather than crowding around a table with one microphone. It has been easier to have unique relationships with clients and also makes us all feel a little more human and also relates back to our work.
Empathy is a vital part of our process – understanding the environment our user is trying to work in is so important. Are they constantly being interrupted by a child asking for dinner, are they working somewhere loud or sunny like a construction type? These types of environmental influences have an impact on the design decisions we make. Whether or not our client is taking a Zoom call from their car also affects how we share our work, the types of conversations we have, and it just brings the same types of considerations into our everyday work as well. A little empathy and understanding goes a long way both when you’re thinking about your end users and when you’re thinking about your clients (and/or co-workers!).
Client meetings over Zoom feel a lot less intimidating than being in person because I can be super prepared and have everything I need right in front of me. If there’s something I need to present, I can have my notes over to the side of the screen while presenting on the other. Even if I don’t end up referencing my notes, it’s nice to know that I can have it all there without it being distracting to everyone else in the meeting.
It seems crazy now, but back in the old days, we rarely (if ever) had our video on during client Zoom calls. Partly because we were all calling in from one room/one phone. I think everyone being remote puts us all on a level playing field. Plus, being able to see your client and see their reactions is so valuable, I hope we never go back to videos off 100% of the time!
On our old Cisco conference phones, I routinely would hang up when trying to put the phone on mute. So glad that doesn’t happen (as much) anymore 😂
Ha! we’ve all been there Rachel! +1 to all of the things said above. We’ve also used Zoom to orchestrate activities as well (mainly the chat) for clients who aren’t tech-savvy/down to use a tool like Miro.
There is less to interpret on a video Zoom call vs. just dialing into a polycom. I would also say that we had a collective bad habit of talking to one another in the conference room with the phone muted during client calls. I reallllllly didn’t like that, it was low key very stressful – and obviously being remote has nipped that in the bud. It’s nice to use the project slack channel during a meeting to communicate internally if we need to, while also being sort of out of the way if you’re in the middle of presenting/talking.
I feel like we’ve become a little more transparent on client calls because of all of this – asking more questions, politely cutting in with commentary, which feels much better/more organic, IMO. I guess weirdly enough it’s started to feel more like an in-person meeting with the client, which we’d rarely do on a weekly review call pre-COVID.
I agree with Raven. For presenting to clients it’s really nice to have my own little focus space, with my two monitors and four walls. I also like to present standing up now with my standing desk, it helps me feel more alert and being able to sway back and forth and move around a bit while presenting is comforting (lol, like a baby!). I feel like Tom Cruise in Minority Report. The one downside to Zoom presenting vs. in-person presenting is that I feel like it leaves more room for people to be distracted and it also makes it harder to read people’s body language and other visual indications of understanding or perception, that I feel are important cues for reading rooms.
I think the addition of everyone on video (and very likely working from where you live) has brought more of our lives to work – there’s way less of a difference between personal vs. professional. I would be shocked if there weren’t strong feelings on both sides of that, but for me, it’s one of the things I have really enjoyed since working from home. Dog barking? Kid crying? Messy room? Yeah, I totally get it and go take care of it. We’re all human. I think that was realllllllly deprecated or just straight up ignored pre-COVID. Now, it feels much more normal and accepted and I hope we don’t lose it.
Tools and Software Impacts
Fuzzy Math has utilized multitudes of tools in order to collaborate while remote. From moving to Figma as our primary design tool to utilizing Miro for collaboration sessions. These tools coupled with communication software like Zoom makes the experience more accessible for all.
Our goal while using these tools with clients is to ensure that everyone’s voices are heard. During these remote collaboration sessions, we utilize smaller breakout rooms and then rejoin in one large session to share findings and ideas. This allows for meetings to be more democratized, meaning everyone holds the same weight in the room. We want to create a safe space for all people to collaborate and voice their opinions even if they are not the loudest or highest ranked person.
Utilizing these remote tools also has given us more practice in conducting remote research, which we have done for the past 11 years as a vital phase of our discovery research. Not only do we have more flexibility with scheduling but we are able to talk to a more diverse range of people within the US and even outside of it!
Going remote (or hybrid), though, has kind of forced us into discovering some new tools for working… Things like miro, Figma (and Figjam) for whiteboarding and mapping out ideas, relying more on video hangouts like Zoom, Slack, and around (and definitely using the slack integrations for all of those!), even some project management tools to keep projects going while everyone’s in a different location. I think back to even activities that we do with clients, trying to figure out ways to do collaborative sketching remotely. It takes a few more steps, but we figured out ways to do it! And having those skills in our back pockets will only make us better designers and better consultants in the long
For internal ideating I really miss being in a physical location with others and being able to move around and “breathe the same air” so to speak as others. There is something you can’t replicate energy wise through a computer that being in the same physical space as someone provides for engagement and motivation.
What will the future look like at Fuzzy Math?
While the number of cases are starting to decline in the United States, a lot of questions have been popping up. What’s next? Will I have to work in the office full time again? Can I bring my pet to work? This is not a Fuzzy Math specific conundrum, but a national one. With headlines of corporations like Twitter moving to fully remote permanently, it is looking like the typical 9 to 5 in office may no longer exist.
We are still figuring out what a hybrid work model looks like for our team but, in the meantime, we will be continuing to implement the “new norm” that has come with COVID-19 restrictions. As long as we are still able to confidently do our work, meet up in person for intermittent team outings, and see each other for Zoom Happy Hours – we’ll be just fine.
Learn more about the Fuzzy Math team’s work and let us help you get started on your next design project.