In early Spring of 2020, I took a hard look at the changes that were facing our clients, our clients’ customers, our team and ourselves as business owners. The truth is that the pandemic was changing the way we were all doing business. But how would we, as an agency, realign? For a company that draws a major portion of its revenue stream by assessing how other organizations deliver on their brand, we found ourselves backed into a corner, and evaluating how we would deliver on our own brand.
In June 2020, we gave up our lease, moved out of the Caxton Building in downtown Cleveland and became a fully virtual agency. I’d been thinking about going virtual for a while even before the pandemic. This was just the push we needed. We ripped the band-aid off and ditched the cool studio digs – our last physical home to dR, where we’d been for more than 16 years. Moving sucked, but it was absolutely the right thing to do. We couldn’t keep paying a lease on a space we weren’t using, and we had several months of proof that working remotely actually worked. The hardest part was getting rid of what we couldn’t take. Among the things we purged – thirty years of samples, office furniture that we sold on Facebook and dozens of binders.
“Working virtually does offer a unique level of transparency when it comes to client interactions. Our work has to speak for itself. I find the changes challenging and refreshing, and some of the new tools have actually improved some of our processes.”
Our processes are essentially the same, but the way we use the platforms has changed. While we’ve always been a lean, unconventional and forward-thinking agency, necessity had become the reason for us to rethink, reimagine and realign all the ways we do business.
Communication is key, whether it is connecting with clients or collaborating with each other. At first, we had team meetings daily while we figured out our workflow. Staying connected felt important. As we got our feet under us, we cut back to a few times a week. And, during the pandemic especially, we wanted to be clear when setting expectations with clients.
We made technology work for us. The learning curve was steep, but today we run entirely online. Before we went virtual, some of us had been hesitant to embrace new tools and apps. The pandemic gave us no choice. We had to jump in and embrace the discomfort while we learned. Software applications are no replacement for creative genius. They’ve simply helped us be more productive and organized – so we can invest our time and energy where it matters most.
We found ways to replace valuable face time. From regular check-ins with the team to participation in virtual trade shows to our own Zoom holiday party, video conferencing has been a lifesaver. Safe, sporadic and socially distanced offsite meetups with our staff have also been great for planning and morale. And our offsite meetings usually include a couple of our dogs!
We insist on a healthy work/life balance. Working from home can be tough because it erodes the division between home life and work life. You can literally work day and night. But we know the best creative thinking comes from a team that has a chance to destress, unwind and leave work behind – especially during times of radical change. That’s why we encourage each other to take time off and speak up when we’re overwhelmed. I don’t know what the future will hold, but a good balance will be key to keeping us creative, productive and most importantly, mentally healthy.
“Minus the ability to just walk into someone’s office for a discussion, we are finding new and creative tricks, within our technology platforms, to replace those spur-of-the-moment interactions.”
While we’ve always used the following tools, the way we used them changed during the pandemic. Today, we’re smarter, more efficient and tactical about the way we use them.
Accelo – This Service Operations Automation software, along with its integration to our QuickBooks, allows us to connect all parts of our business in one cloud-based platform.
Dropbox – The biggest pandemic-inspired change – we ditched our dedicated, physical data server and moved everything to a shared Dropbox server. We also use Dropbox for file sharing and collaboration with clients, and to traffic creative assets to our digital marketing vendors.
Google Tools – From email to scheduling meetings to running analytics and search to editing documents among the team and more, we use Google Tools all day, every day.
Zoom – We used Zoom for years, since many of our clients are spread around the country. Now, video conferencing has become a way of life. And sometimes a clever virtual background can add some levity.
WeTransfer – We use it for quick and easy sharing of large files – it’s great for video files.
These tools, we found to fill gaps in our virtual workflow.
Fireflies – Recording and transcribing Zoom audio files with Fireflies has been a real game-changer.
Airtable – When it comes to managing content or Action Item lists, Airtable has become an invaluable tool.
Miro – Brainstorming from remote is a much easier process with Miro, an online collaborative whiteboard platform.
“I find work can be done more efficiently when I’m at my most productive. The concept of office hours has expanded to fit each of us individually. I have substituted commute time in the morning with working, instead of listening to honking horns in traffic jams.”
While technology has done so much to keep us effectively connected, there’s a lot that can be lost in translation. Those lost coffee meetups and “water cooler moments” provided an opportunity for great insight and feedback. That’s why it has become crucial to schedule regular relationship-building check-ins. With clients, it has meant weekly project coaching and debriefing. And with the team, it has meant planning meetings as a group and individually.
“Our move to a virtual work environment has made it even more clear that communication is key to everything we do. Whether we’re talking to clients or with each other, going virtual has been a chance to improve how we connect and create, and I’ve really enjoyed that aspect.”
“I guess you could say I’ve been an early adopter. I have a certain comfort level with some of the tools we’ve been using. That’s because I’ve been working virtually for eons, but the pandemic has made what was once a luxury for me, mandatory. But the way I see it, the advantages definitely outweigh the challenges.”
Whether creating a new behavioral healthcare brand or refreshing an old one, the magic is building a healthy relationship between the client and the branding firm. At designRoom, we believe in keeping things down to earth and down to business. We are designers, writers, and project leaders building healthy brands for healthcare organizations that help people. As an award-winning national branding and design firm, you can feel confident that our team can work alongside you to tell your story and promote your brand. Let’s talk about your brand and how we can make it healthy! Call us directly at 216-241-2020.