Not a day passes that I don’t hear phrases like “the New-Norm” and “Life under Lockdown”. TV, Radio, Internet – every medium is crammed full with so-called “experts” spewing advice on how to cope, how to adapt and even how to bake your own bread. But what about the humble creative? The little designer or copywriter so used to his or her corner of the studio – how should these creatures of habit adapt to the prospect of working from home?
What follows is my experienced, day-to-day dos and don’ts of 70+ days of quarantine.
Maximise your daily intake of fibre. In the immortal words of Maria from the Sound of Music “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.” Without fibre – a strong, stable, high-speed internet connection you are not going to be able to do anything. Without this link to the outside world you are cut off and isolated. If this Lockdown has proved anything, it’s that internet connectivity for every household isn’t a luxury anymore, but an essential.
No traffic. No trauma. A few years ago, I was in the unfortunate position of having to sacrifice between 3 to 4 hours a day to my daily commute. I was trapped in a recurring nightmare where the traffic gods could decide my fate. Morning traffic could transform into the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. By the time I eventually reached the office, war stories needed to be shared with colleagues over shaky-handed coffee cups. The main casualty would always be productivity. Fast forward to the present where a virus has trumped the traffic gods – life is a joy. A leisurely stroll down the hallway to my home office is all I need to get up and running. The math is simple: I have gained up to 4 hours per day. Wasted transit time can now be spent working. No stress. I have honestly never been more productive than now – working from home.
Self discipline is key. This is non-negotiable. A strong work ethic combined with tight time management have always been integral parts of our industry. We sell our time and time is money. This has never been more true than now. For many clients Lockdown has meant crisis management. This has meant lightning-fast turnaround times and tighter deadlines for us. Working from home can be a slippery slope. Let’s take lunchtime as an example. It is up to the professional creative to ensure it is limited to an hour or less and does not descend into 30 minutes of eating and 3 hours of binging Tiger King. Lockdown is not the time for complacency. Clients will remember those who stood with them during difficult times – and those who where M.I.A. It all comes down to your integrity and reputation: If you claim to be a hard worker, loyal and dependable – prove it.
There is no “quarantine” in “team”. It is important to remember that ideas, designs and campaigns are like ping pong balls in trick-shot viral videos made by teenage boys with no girlfriends: the more surfaces they are bounced off of, the cooler they become. For that to happen you need to be in contact with your team. Make sure to still brainstorm. Make sure to have daily reviews. Make a point of still having your weekly status meeting. Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp or Carrier Pigeon – keep those communication channels open.
Good fences make good neighbours. Under Lockdown, separating work from home-life can be a monumental problem. Clear boundaries need to be drawn. During work hours, family members (and this goes for pets too) need to be firmly told “Not now, I’m at work.” Difficult as it may be, it has to be done. But the opposite also applies. Quality family time is crucial. Take the time to relax. Being “offline” has to be enforced and respected.
Improve and up-skill yourself. As a by-product of it’s economic-crippling nature, the Lockdown has gifted us all more free time. Normally, downtime is a scary thing. Using this extra time to our benefit is paramount. Identify your own shortcomings. List the areas you can improve your game and roll up your sleeves. As creatives we have all lamented “not having enough time”. Well, time to put up or shut up. By up-skilling yourself, you are transforming yourself into a bigger asset for your own company and in turn, making yourself indispensable to your clients. Personally, I have dived headlong into the realm of web design. User experience, e-commerce and social media integration now aren’t Greek anymore. I have even dipped a toe into animation. I might not be an expert yet, but at least it’s one more arrow in my quiver of skills. When the Lockdown lifts (and be sure it will), those who haven’t acquired a new skill, rediscovered a hobby, started a business or side hustle will be left in the dust and never again be able to claim that “I didn’t have enough time”.
Video calls are for more than meetings. Now is the time to embrace technology to find new avenues for the things we have been denied. Before shutting down your machine for the day, sit down with a drink and call up a friend. Friendship has always been the panacea for troubling times. Reconnect with your support structure – these unpaid psychiatrists are there to lighten the load of a difficult work week.
In summary, ignore the repetitive rhetoric of politicians. Tune out the endless drone of the doomsday Mass Media. Unfriend the social media fearmongers. Instead take to heart the words of Samwise Gamgee (from The Lord of the Rings):
Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened. But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding on to, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.