Checking in with Verda

As we all adjust to our radically new normal, O+A will be checking in periodically with staff to see how they’re doing, what they’re learning and what measures they’re taking to make this period of physical confinement a liberation from old habits. Today we’re talking to O+A’s co-founder Verda Alexander about her first week of working from home.

O+A: How did your first day “sheltering in place” go?

Verda: The Friday before I was running to the grocery store, realizing I’m not a very good hoarder and too late anyway and then waiting for word that high school would be closed. It set the tone for an eerie low level anxiety that is still with me a week into WFH. The first day went well with several video conference meetings. I like videoconferencing more than I thought I would. I do wish it worked a bit better though. 

O+A: Do you have a good home office space or are you improvising?

Verda: I’m lucky to have my home art studio with a big picture window looking out to beautiful oaks, and lots of green. I’m already set up here to WFH 

O+A: What are your distractions? How are you resisting them?

Verda: The distraction is that I’m home! Snacks in the kitchen upstairs and loads of housework calling my name. And of course the biggest distraction of all, email and text and Internet. I try to tell myself to only check email once per hour at the most, and I start my day blocking out my time with what I want to get done and what’s most important. I keep a small handwritten list of to-do items next to my keyboard as I think of them. Mail that bill or check in with so and so, and I try to save those items to bust out during the last hour of the day.

O+A: What do you like about working from home?

Verda: I like that I can get outside, stretch my legs, take a break and walk the dog. I eat healthier as long as I don’t snack mindlessly. 

O+A: What don’t you like?

Verda: I don’t like all the distractions l just mentioned. I don’t like that there’s not clear separation from work and home. It’s on me to keep that line distinct and it’s very hard to do. 

O+A: How is this experience affecting your views on workplace design?

Verda: I think workplace design is going to change significantly from this experience we are all having. Once they see that it works (people can be productive, they can get work done, they can collaborate remotely) WFH may be seen as a more viable alternative to many firms. I think we are also realizing that we don’t need to meet in person as much as we think we do, and that often an email/call or Zoom meeting will suffice. I hope it gets people to think about that one-hour meeting they are all flying to New York for and the impact it has on the environment and maybe choose to Skype instead. Just look at how it’s alleviated traffic around the Bay!

I’m really excited about two award ceremonies going virtual in the next month:  the IIDA Northern California Honors Awards usually held at the Fox Theater in Oakland in March and the NYC X Design Awards that Interior Design Magazine hosts in May are both going to be live streamed, no live audience. I think it will be interesting to see how they work out, and if this might be the future of some of these types of events and conferences that require so many resources and so many people to travel great distances to attend. (Things have changed since writing this. Now that establishments have closed, IIDA NC does not have a venue to livestream their awards. It will still happen, unfortunately with just an announcement of the winners – no streaming event to participate in remotely. Crossing fingers that doesn’t happen to the New York event. These live stream, webinars, etc have been a breath of fresh air!) 

O+A: Any good exchanges with clients? 

Verda: I had a happy hour toast with a client via Facetime. It wasn’t at all awkward (I did put on makeup and got out of my sweatshirt beforehand!) and it seemed to do the job of social interaction. We only need to ‘dress  up’ for work from the waist up!  Another perk to WFH!

O+A: What do you miss about being in the office?

Verda: Of course being around everyone and the casual conversations or passing comment. Seeing people I wouldn’t otherwise run into. 

O+A: What do you most look forward to when the crisis has passed?

Verda: I do look forward to getting back to work and going out with friends and out to dinner, and back to the gym! But also to incorporating the lessons learned from staying home, and finding a way to continue at a slower pace and in a more present way. I really hope we take something away from and learn from this experience. The idea of slowing down has become so foreign to us. We’re so used to instant gratification. After I made my somewhat failed grocery run the Friday before the shut in, I thought oh no, I forgot apples. But I made a pact that I would wait as long as possible to go back to the grocery store, and one week later I’m still in good shape. I used a big old yam and butternut squash that had been sitting on my counter for months that probably would have gone in the compost before this. I made a big Mexican stir fry with just one chicken breast and extra veggies to make it go farther. I’m pleasantly surprising myself at my resourcefulness. It also seems like everything tastes better!  I’m using everything to the last drop, the things I think I need I don’t really need at all, I’m throwing less away, I’m finding creative ways to spend my time. I’m reconnecting with my son and the things that are important to me.