Where I WFH: Nick Bentley, Creative Director, Uniform
Nick Bentley was one of the co-founders of Liverpool-based Uniform, brand design specialists.
He leads the visualisation team, supporting clients with architectural visualisation and providing businesses with a range of advanced solutions using CGI, film and immersive technology.
Nick told us what he misses about being back in the studio and the benefits working from home has given him.
Where in the house do you work?
I've been working at a fairly makeshift desk in the spare bedroom since the beginning of lockdown. We haven't been here that long, and I hadn't realised quite how cold the house is when you're sitting at a desk all day, not moving around much as I would in the studio - I've had a blanket around my legs up until a few weeks ago and have only just stopped wearing a woolly jumper!
I'm not looking forward to the weather getting colder, but will hopefully be back in the studio more regularly by then!
Paint a picture for us of the view from your window.
It's a great view actually, and I'm lucky enough to look out onto a lovely street full of trees, so it was great to see the seasons change as the months have gone by. There's also a church about 100 metres away and the bell chimes every 15 minutes! It's a great reminder to dial into that next meeting! And by coincidence, since I started working from home I decided to take a photo from the window each day…
If you have one, can you talk us through your home-working daily routine?
I think my routine is probably fairly similar to my day if I was in the studio, but with quite a lot less moving around! Because my commute is normally only 15 minutes, there's not a lot of time saved there. I'll generally get up at 7:30ish and start work around 8:30ish, doing some planning for the day and reviewing my to-do list. Then depending on the day, we'll either do a board catch-up to check we're all up-to-speed with top level company goals and communication, or team meetings to check in on the more project related things.
The rest of the day can be pretty varied - from working on company and team planning, to recruitment with our studio lead or looking at how to improve the creative process. I usually spend quite a lot of the day talking with clients, scoping out new projects, and putting together proposals. These are generally architects or developers who are working on global projects and we're helping them bring their vision to life with CGIs, film, VR and AR.
One of the really positive things about working from home is that it forces me to take a break, and I sit down and have lunch with the family - ideally in the garden if it's nice. In the studio I'm sometimes pretty bad at leaving lunch till about 3pm, then it's a quick sandwich from Greggs if i'm really late, as it's directly below our studio! I've been trying to finish around 6pm since working from home, which is probably better than when I'm in the studio! I then relax with a family bike ride, if possible.
Which tools and technology do you rely on when working from home?
I work on a Mac laptop and rely mainly on cloud-based apps, which means I can pretty much work from anywhere. We started using Asana for our project management about a year ago, and it's fantastic at keeping us all on track. So we'll use this for both client and internal projects, and I use this to help me keep on top of my to-do list. For general communication we're fully Google Suite-based, whether that's emails, chats or hangouts. And of course the phone! I come from a generation where I'm pretty comfortable on it, and I love to have a normal voice call with clients, understand what's going on in their business, and see how we can help them with their challenges.
What do you miss most about working from an office?
I miss the energy in the studio most of all. Our space is great, and there's always such a creative buzz which is difficult to appreciate at home even though we do regular creative presentations to share the great work the teams are doing. I think we're a really close group and I certainly miss those impromptu chats - sitting down at the communal kitchen table at lunchtime (when I do manage to eat on time!). I feel like the beginning of working from home started with meeting overload, and maybe we all overcompensated in terms of keeping communication going - that has reduced a bit (for the better) as people have settled in to focussing on the key aspects of communication, but I do miss the face-to-face meetings, and actually being able to hear and understand what people are saying all of the time, and the nuances of body language without the glitches of video calls!
Finally - physically moving around. As I mentioned before, I probably hadn't appreciated how much I used to go and sit with other people to work through things, and be in and out of meetings and so on, so I do miss that variation.
What tips do you have for increasing productivity while working from home?
For me, it's worked well structuring my day in a similar way as I would if I was in the studio. So blocking in time for specific tasks in my calendar, and using Asana and Google Tasks to set myself time-based goals to aim for, and to keep track of progress. In some ways I think that having more remote video calls ensures we keep meetings succinct, but other tips here would include ensuring that everyone involved is clear on the purpose of the meeting, that the meeting results in clear actions, and things are kept on time.
Also I think we're all guilty sometimes of arranging meetings and inviting way too many people, so keeping things lean in this respect is important. And on punctuality, it's amazing how people wouldn't normally apologise if they were a couple of minutes late to a face to face meeting, but if you're 30 seconds late to an online meeting it feels like really bad etiquette!
Will you look to work from home more in the future?
I'd like to do at least one day a week from home moving forwards. I find it a lot easier to concentrate on some of the heavier thinking tasks, and while I love the energy of the studio, working from home definitely has its benefits.
How do you think the workplace will change in the future?
Nina, an Associate Director in our team has actually been doing a great piece of research around exactly this topic. I think it’s clear that many businesses will be reviewing their requirements for physical office space as the last few months have accelerated a shift towards more flexible and remote working. The pandemic has highlighted that the physical workplace needs to be more adaptable too. We've seen that lots of things can be done remotely using technology, therefore the key role of the office space itself will need to provide that benefit where personal interaction is more important - focussing on those scenarios where creating and cultivating ideas and relationships is key.
Remote working is something we’ve embraced for a few years now, and it has allowed us to retain talented individuals, and also be more flexible in our mindset of how we collaborate, meaning that we’re very open to working with people remotely around the world. It also meant that the shift to remote working at the beginning of lockdown wasn't too painful (I don’t know whether our IT Manager would fully agree though!).
In terms of our physical space, we’ve started with some small cohorts of seven to ten going back in our studio (which usually holds 60) and it feels like this approach will continue and slowly increase for the next few months. From a personal point of view I think that there will be a much greater acceptance to having virtual meetings which will certainly benefit us from a time-saving point of view. Quite a bit of my time is often spent between Liverpool and London, and while I love that variation, I think some of those meetings can be reduced in the future.