Remote Possibilities: O+A Staffers Weigh In on WFH
One of the happy consequences of the long work-from-home period was the discovery that good design was in fact possible working from home. That meant O+A could hire designers wherever they lived. Now that we’re back to the office in San Francisco (at least part of the time), how are our remote staffers finding the experience of a wholly digital workday in a company that’s gone hybrid? We set up a Zoom meeting with Communications Manager Christie Wang, Project Designer Minji Kim, Senior Designer Annmarie Gasperini Andrade, and Project Designer Leah Lin to find out.
Pictured: Christie, Minji, Annmarie, Leah
Pictured: Minji’s desktop
Pictured: Minji’s home in Marina Del Rey, CA
O+A: Let’s start by describing where you are. Where geographically and where in your home?
Christie: I’m in the San Gabriel Valley—that’s east of Pasadena. Right now, I’m actually living at my parents’ place while the house my partner and I just bought is getting renovated. Just working in my childhood room, which is a little bit strange… (Laughs).
Minji: I’m in Marina del Rey. It’s really close to the beach. I don’t go that much, but it’s very nice.
O+A: You look like you have a whiteboard behind you. Is that work-related?
Minji: Actually, my husband used this room as his office. And then after he went back to the office, I got this room. And we didn’t clean it yet. (Laughs)
Annmarie: I’m in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. So that’s like fifteen minutes—well, in Rhode Island, everything is fifteen minutes to get to. (Laughs) But it’s close to Providence. And if I need to go to Boston, it’s probably about 45 to an hour away. I have a separate bedroom that’s our laundry, slash, storage, slash, everything room. That’s where I am now.
Leah: I’m in Brooklyn. When my boyfriend’s not at home, I work in his office, and when he’s at home, I work in my office upstairs or sometimes in the living room. I keep changing locations to make sure I don’t feel so stuck. Also, I renovated one of my bathrooms for a fish room. I see it as a meditation room. So right now, it’s a toilet and a 20-gallon fish tank.
O+A: Christie and Minji, you’re in California, so presumably your workday is similar to ours at the office, but Annmarie and Leah are on the East Coast… Tell me about the time zone issue.
Annmarie: Yeah, I’m three hours ahead of you guys, so I start a little later. I still get up very early, because I have twins who are going to be 4 in a couple of weeks. So, I get up around 5:00 or 6:00 am.
Annmarie: Get their breakfast, get them dressed…
Leah: I thought I was early!
Annmarie: I try to take them outside before I log in at 11 am. Before I start my meetings, which will be 8 am for you. We get outside for a little bit to make sure they can get some fresh air and burn some energy. My mother-in-law lives on the first floor, so that’s our daycare system. Pretty convenient. The kids can go downstairs right before I need to start. I try to make sure I have lunch with them, depending on project deadlines. That’s around 9 am for you guys. And then around, let’s say, 4, 4:30 pm your time, 7:00, 7:30 pm my time, I’ll kind of log off and do bedtime with them, get them to sleep and then it’s quiet so I can really focus.
Pictured: Leah’s desktop
O+A: That’s a long day. Leah, what about you?
Leah: Same as Annmarie—the difference is three hours. I start my day at probably 8 or 7:30 am. I try to have two or three hours before I log on at 11:00 am to give myself some exercise and feed my cat. He always needs attention while I’m working, so I try to play with him in the morning before anything else. He’s actually behind me right now.
O+A: You have fish and a cat?
Leah: Yeah, my cat is good friends with my fish. I don’t think he understands that cats eat fish. He doesn’t eat the fish. He only drinks the water. (Laughs) I start my workday at 11:00 or sometimes 10:00 am. It’s kind of difficult for me to have dinner with my partner at the end of the day, which is like 9:30 pm New York time. That’s kind of late. So sometimes I start a little bit earlier than everybody else and get off at 8:30 pm so I can have dinner with him. I am typically a person who likes to meet with people, likes going out, so it’s kind of difficult always staying home.
O+A: Is remote work working for you all? In terms of hours worked and time for yourself—is it working?
Annmarie: Sometimes you feel like you’re always on. Looking at emails. You’re always checking in or making sure that you’re available. Just trying to find that right balance of personal and work time. But then, looking back at pre-pandemic, my commute was an hour and a half into Boston. By the time I came home, it was super late having dinner. I think the balance of utilizing your time efficiently and then also having those boundaries of, okay this is my schedule and I’m flexible, but I’m going to take a lunch break and make sure that’s communicated. I think communication is a big factor when working remotely.
Leah: At first, I found remote work much more efficient, but after a time, I really missed traveling to work and being with my colleagues. In general, I feel like that’s more efficient. The question is how to work from home and be efficient every day, how to keep this interaction with the outside world. I feel like that’s kind of the challenging part. So far, I think I’ve got the balance. Get the work done in the scheduled time and not stress too much. That’s how I feel right now. With two years practice! (Laughs)
Minji: For me, I don’t have the time difference, so I don’t have that challenge, but then, same as Leah, I’ve been working two years at home now. It’s been really interesting because time-wise it didn’t change that much for me. But one difference is I can focus really, really well at home. And at the same time, I can be distracted really well too. (Laughter) Especially right after a deadline. It’s like “Oh I just finished some really hard work, so should I just eat something right now?” I love my flexible time. I am not really that social of a person, so I loved it when I started to work at home. But then even me, I feel like I want to go to the office now. Periodically.
Pictured: Leah’s aquarium and cat
Pictured: Christie’s desktop
Pictured: Christie’s dog, Lucky
Christie: So much of what I do is in support of or in collaboration with others that it is difficult to not get feedback in real-time. You know, you can’t just pop around the corner and say, “Hey, what do you think about this?” The response time gets dragged out when you’re doing everything virtually. And I agree with Minji. Having worked in open offices, I always thought, “Ugh, I just want heads-down time!” But there’s kind of a soft hum to people talking in an office. You’re picking up on stuff, what people are working on, what they did over the weekend, without having to GChat them. There’s more soft learning that I do really miss… And I feel like there’s an inherent pressure to working in the office, so you work at 1.25 or 1.5x speed. Whereas at home, it’s more like, the couch looks really comfy, or look at my dog! He looks so cute! (Laughs).
O+A: So the people you’re living with—how is that working out? Christie, I remember, in some meetings, we could hear your partner who was also having a meeting nearby.
Christie: We used to live in a studio, which was absolutely the worst decision ever. Ten out of ten would NOT do that again. We were both on Zoom so often, and he has a booming voice. He works in Hollywood, so the types of conversations we’re having aren’t the same. (Laughs) I would always be texting him, “Shh! You’re being really loud.” Giving him daggers. Now that we’re at my parents’ place, we have separate rooms, and it’s been a saving grace.
Leah: I’m trying my best to avoid people seeing my boyfriend. (Laughs) Like walking around the house naked. Sometimes during a meeting I’m so scared he will walk by—we have a big mirror at home. I’m scared the mirror will project him everywhere. If I have a group meeting, I will be very conscious of him. Don’t show up! Don’t come out!
O+A: Let’s talk about meetings. How do you think they’re working now that some people are remote and some are in the office?
Annmarie: When we’re in a hybrid situation, sometimes the technology is not great. There’s a delay, or you can’t hear everything that’s happening. I think, at present, being in the room is not an equal experience.
O+A: How about when you’re in a meeting and you’re presenting?
Leah: For me it’s actually easier to present something remotely. I feel it’s a very sustainable way of presenting. We don’t waste paper; everyone can see very clearly. It’s right in front of you. But there are difficult things too. When I’m sharing on the screen, I can’t really see other people’s faces. I can’t capture the reactions, the opinions through their facial expressions. I kind of like to have those moments to get feedback.
Christie: Yeah, I agree. I really feed off of body language, so it’s hard not to be able to sense that. It always feel like things are falling flat. Oh, that’s an awkward silence… I’m just going to keep talking. (Laughs) I think it works better when everyone is virtual. It’s the most awkward when you’re virtual, or a group of you is virtual, and everyone else is in person. Especially—and it’s no one’s fault—because those people are going to have conversations, organic conversations. I don’t feel like we’re having organic conversations on Zoom. You want to talk and your face is put on blast. People just want to get off Zoom. No one’s trying to spend more time on Zoom.
Pictured: Annmarie’s desktop
Minji: Sometimes we have a meeting with a little bit of hassle because of the technology issues. We are experiencing those kinds of things a lot. But I really appreciate that people are trying to include us.
Christie: Absolutely! They’re really trying. I appreciate that.
Minji: When people are talking and near the microphone and trying to be aware, it’s all working well, but when people start having casual conversations, I’m like—oh, okay. I don’t hear anything. But then it’s weird to ask people to talk on the microphone all of the time. I can’t ask them to do that either. I don’t know the solution.
Annmarie: I almost wish we could try those robots or the dog robots where it’s your face on the laptop so you can kind of get close and see someone’s reaction while you’re having that conversation versus kind of being tucked on the side wall.
O+A: Robots! A new inventory line for Office Depot. But let’s end with this: One of the benefits of coming into the office is that you have to go outside. Even if it’s only on the way to your car, you have to get out into fresh air. Do you get outside during the workday?
Leah: New York’s still kind of cold right now. I do feel myself staying at home for a very long time. Not going out of the apartment even though I travel around the apartment itself. As soon as the weather gets better, we should go outside every day.
Minji: Yeah, I sometimes find, not always, but sometimes, I find myself I didn’t go out for a week. But trying—trying to go walking or something.
O+A: Annmarie, you said you’re out every day with your kids.
Annmarie: Yeah, where I am is a little suburban, so there’s not too much going on outside. Except for two active toddlers. I try to make a point to get outside as often as possible. Even when it’s snowy, I want to get out and enjoy the snow.
O+A: So tell us about your two active toddlers. Do they ever join you at your desk? I don’t recall seeing them yet.
Annmarie: Yeah, they do. They want to go to work. They’ll come and sit at my desk and say that they’re working. They think whenever I leave the house, I’m going to San Francisco. They hear everything, and they want to do everything that we’re doing. And yeah, they haven’t made an appearance yet. They’re not that tall.
Pictured: Annmarie’s twins