Is it possible to have a work-life balance and work remotely? Three studios share how they do it
When the pandemic hit, and WFH became the default, it posed a challenge to the question of work-life balance. Makeshift desks appeared in bedrooms; kitchens quickly converted into offices; and it became a lot harder to mentally disconnect from work. Fast-forward to today, and we’re glad to hear that most studios, including our three interviewees – Alright Studio, B&B Studio and Happening Studio – embrace flexibility and choice within their day-to-day practices. After discussing workspaces and communication, we wrap up our remote working trifecta by focusing on the topic of work-life balance, and how it’s navigated in the post-COVID workplace.
“In general if someone wants to travel or work remotely we’re very amenable,” Alright Studio tell us, “so long as the work gets done!” Having recently relocated to a new space in Brooklyn, the creative agency are lucky to have the entire team – bar one of the three partners in Nashville, TN – in Brooklyn, New York. Working on similar time zones this doesn’t prove an issue, allowing the team to observe 10-6pm working hours (EST). “We also shut down the studio at 2pm on Fridays and build in two company-wide two-week breaks at the end of every summer and again during the holidays, at the end of the year,” they add. “It’s our conviction that being out and about in the world – travelling, friend time, walking around – leads to a clearer head and thus better, more informed work. So we place a lot of emphasis on logging off, and getting out there.”
I enjoy seeing collaboration go on around me.
Remote working suits some teams better than others, depending on how collaborative or dependent on communication they are. In B&B Studio’s case, they encourage their team of approximately 30 people to have a say on how and where they work. “However,” Founder & Creative Partner Shaun Bowen reflects, “part of this is understanding that you are part of a team and have a responsibility to other people’s needs as well as your own.”
For flexibility to work, consideration should be given both ways – such as when meeting ‘in person’ might be required by others. “Flexibility works best when it’s considered from the perspective of the team as well as what benefits you,” he adds.
From a managerial point of view, remote work can also be tricky to navigate when your team is behind a screen. “For example, being able to gauge when people need some specific empathy or motivation. Catching someone when they’re worried or stressed and being able to reassure them is hard.”
Being in person, and within a lively studio space, is hugely beneficial for the development and experience of new designers. It’s something Bowen can attest to, having mentored many employees from juniors through to design directors. “Over the years I’ve watched as younger members of the team have blossomed in a studio environment,” he says. “I enjoy seeing collaboration go on around me. When the team connects and creates, I feel a great sense of pride.”
When your team is on a much smaller scale, such as a partnership, there is a lot more room to play with. Having said that, Happening Studio’s Karen and Masato Nakada have found themselves working around a variety of factors. “The real strength of running a two-person studio practice is having full control over your time allocation,” they tell us. “It’s like cutting your ‘time pie’ into slices, and you have the say in how big each slice is and how many slices are dedicated to daily tasks. This allows us to give more time to things that need the most attention and make up time for anything crucial.”
As the pair faced a challenging period in their lives, having a flexible approach to work ensured that they could put their family’s wellbeing first. “Going through the pandemic in Tokyo, welcoming a baby (who is now two years old), and treating breast cancer all at once was a testament to this idea of controlling our time allocation. We prioritised our work-life balance and our health, wanting to be present for our child’s early development and soak up parenthood as much as possible.”
So what did this look like on a daily basis? “We worked more during nights after the baby went to sleep. During the day, it was a visceral, humanitarian juggling act of design, healthcare and childcare. We were constantly tag-teaming on all fronts of our lives.”
Whilst they agree that they don’t necessarily want more than 24 hours in a day – they certainly would have liked to have more sleep – “a newborn still wakes us up every three hours even if we had more time in a day!” Despite the busy time, the Nakada’s feel that they produced more interesting work in that time than in previous years. “That's because we allocated our time wisely – our focused creative hours were shorter, but the time spent was efficient and practical,” they conclude.