Staying Motivated During a Pandemic – InspireDesign

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In the world of hospitality design, there’s one truth that all designers seem to return to: inspiration can be found anywhere. Places, people, creative works and nature are just some of the inspirations that InspireDesign has sourced from designers, but what happens when leaving your home and exploring are no longer possible? How do designers stay inspired by the same four walls? We asked design leaders about how they stay motivated—and keep their employees motivated—during a time that not only prohibits travel but human interaction. Here’s what they’re doing to keep their minds sharp and their hearts inspired:

David Shove Brown, co-founder/principal, //3877 (pictured above)

  • Get moving more: “Yes, we have been encouraging our staff to use this remote-working time to take those online classes and get their certifications, but we’re also cognizant that remote working doesn’t mean having extra ‘down time.’ For most remote workers, there’s little difference between their work space and living space. The idea of extending that same space into a learning space is tricky. As the firm principals, our biggest priority is that our employees have balance—that they’re staying healthy, mentally and physically. We encourage virtual professional networking events as much as we encourage taking up a virtual yoga class, or a lunchtime walk in the park. Having this balance is in many ways more effective than taking an online masterclass.”
  • Prioritizing flexibility and unlimited PTO: “We’ve just made the decision to switch to unlimited Paid Time Off (PTO). Post-2020, we’ve collectively moved into an age where flexibility is key to employee success and happiness. We need our staff to be motivated to work hard and get the job done, knowing that they are allowed time to recover and rest. We’re also starting to plan out how we’ll be incorporating a more hybrid model for work—allowing employees to balance work-from-home and work-from-office.”
  • Being more transparent: “For my business partner David Tracz and I, it has always been a priority to be transparent, which includes sharing the nitty-gritty numbers—like earnings and losses—with our staff. It was no surprise that our 2020 numbers saw a dip (like the majority of the industry). Even though it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, our staff was appreciative to have the insight and to be trusted with the information. It’s fundamentally important that employees understand that their work has financial value and that they each play a role in creating profit. In 2020, through all the adversity and struggle, it was important to share that their sacrifices—working unusual hours, struggling with a new work setup or having to juggle parenting and working—meant that our business survived.”

John Stein, founder/president, Kirei

  • Take Advantage of Unprecedented Content: “Right now, it’s both easier and harder to stay connected. One upside is the explosion of virtual events, which has provided more opportunities to see industry experts and leaders give expert talks. Pre-pandemic, they might have only spoken at a trade show I didn’t attend. It’s hard to make time for all the great content out there right now.”
  • Regular Routines Rule: “I am lucky enough to go to an office every day—just having to get up, get dressed, and drive into the office has kept me focused. At home, I fear that the potato chips and remote might win.
  • The Big Three: “I use a ‘Big 3’ sheet of the most important three things—for the month, the week and each day—to stay on track, and that’s been a real help in keeping focused on the most important tasks and priorities. Even taking the five or 10 minutes at the start and end of each day or week, to do the exercise of filling it in, helps, it makes me stop answering whatever email came most recently and focus on what will really move us forward, or deal with an important issue.”

Eddie Hall, project architect, MBH Architects

  • Build a shelter while sheltering in place: “While sheltered in place during the pandemic, I was looking for a project that would allow me to explore my architectural practice while killing time at home. I wanted to really further my knowledge of construction methods—not just partake in an online course here or there. My goal was to build a structure/building in my backyard, and do so completely on my own (from the drawings, detailing and permitting, to the actual construction). I learned a lot in the process, and can safely say it was time well spent, as this space is now my architectural studio.”

Erin Ruby, IIDA NY president, co-founder/principal of Erin Ruby Design

  • Schedule ‘having fun’ appointments: “Work-life balance is essential. I need to let my brain breathe in order to have the creative juices to contribute to my work—both as IIDA NY president and my design firm, Erin Ruby Design. So, I set appointments with myself on my calendar for this down-time—it’s the only way I will do it. Then, I do whatever the heck I want. I read, take a walk, exercise, stare into space, dance in my living room. Anything.”
  • Staying engaged in a professional network: “Leading the IIDA NY Chapter as president keeps me on my toes. We have gone above and beyond to be able to provide first-rate virtual programming and maintain a great connection with our community and members. My role as president keeps me engaged with the industry daily—for that, I’m very grateful.”

Marc Teer, FAIA, CEO/founder of Black Spectacles

  • Share your goals with others who can keep you accountable: “I’m a member of the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) so I have a forum of seven other CEOs who I meet with monthly. During our first meeting of 2021, we shared our personal, family and work goals so that we can review our progress every month and hold each other accountable. One of the great benefits of this exercise is that I can see how other CEOs are creating goals for themselves and get ideas around what types of things should I be focusing on, how I can write measurable goals and more. It also requires me to report back and own the status of my goals.”
  • Gather input before creating company goals: “We held a company-wide brainstorming session to elicit the input of our entire team on what they thought we should focus on in 2021. From there, leadership whittled that insight and perspective from all of our team members down and sharpened them into four key goals. I find this process to be incredibly valuable.”
  • Set goals your team can get excited about: “In the early days of my business, our annual goals were only about revenue. When you’re trying to get a business off the ground that makes sense because without revenue you won’t survive. However, we made an interesting transition at the end of 2019 as we changed our strategy for goal setting. Once we had a certain level of financial achievement, my advisor suggested I hold the financial goals for myself and set more engaging company-wide goals for the team, which I agree with. We now look at bigger picture items like how to advance our product or get recognition for our work. We create goals that get people excited and it has been a positive change with positive results.”

Gala Magriñá, founder/principal of Gala Magriñá Design

  • Get Involved with the Design Community: “As a founding director of the interior design association, Interior Collab, I highly recommend staying involved with the design community, especially during these times. In 2019, after the collapse of Homepolish, a few other designers and I created the platform as a way for clients to find their ideal designer without a middle man. One of the member benefits is our monthly meeting, where we discuss everything from prices to what to gift clients and how we network. As president of Interior Collab, I am the host of these meetings and they have quickly become a source of inspiration, collaboration and creativity. We have created a safe and nurturing space for members and this allows us to share in a deep, authentic way that is so fulfilling.”
  • Expand Your Comfort Zone: “There is always a way (or even better, a new program) to explore to further your education—so explore and see what you can find. I am currently in the process of getting my fourth holistic-inspired interior design certification, where I am studying Vaastu, which is an ancient Indian tradition of building energetically balanced spaces. It’s a two-year program, which can be a bit daunting, but in the best way possible. Going back to school as an adult is much harder than as a kid, however, I am getting so much out of it and it is rounding out my knowledge in this field in such a wonderful way.”
  • Find Your Creative Ritual: “In terms of staying creative, it’s truly about how you feel, at least for me. What’s integral for my own thriving creativity, is my twice-daily mediation and getting out to exercise at least three times a week. Both of these things along with a good night’s rest, no alcohol and a great cup of coffee put me in a creative mood. From there, I’m able to begin to research and go down the internet rabbit hole for whatever is inspiring me at the moment. In a normal non-COVID-19 world, travel is a huge source of inspiration. I suggest finding that thing that can further spark your creativity and inspiration—whether it be meditation, a great morning podcast, or a brisk walk—find what works for you to keep things moving.”
  • Shake-Up Your Workspace: “Just this past month, I had the chance to experience working from a different state, which is something I have been wanting to experiment with for a while. My wife and I rented a place in San Diego to be in the sun for the month of January and to change up our work-from-home routine a little. I find that any time I travel and I’m away from home and my typical routine, it inspires new thoughts and ideas. This has been another wonderful way to stay inspired and spark creativity. Even if you can’t travel at the moment, move your current home workspace to a different location within your space and see if that works for you.”

Michel Fiechter, managing executive, TPG Architecture

  • Be Social & Connect with Clients: “I find that the trick is to not let working remotely get in the way of connecting with our clients. I’ve engaged with clients on walks, gone kayaking, fishing, golfed, sailed and eaten outdoors and indoors without anyone…That being said, I have practiced social distancing, worn a mask and I wash and sanitize my hands all the time. I am more cautious about being around anyone in a high-risk group as I never want to be the cause of someone’s concern.”
  • Commute During Off Hours: “I have also been going into the office since September on a regular basis, usually five days a week. Commuting on slightly off-hours makes a huge difference. Also during those hours, the trains are only partially full which allows my commuting time to remain quite productive. Plus no one seems to mind me commuting during a Zoom meeting.”

Dwayne MacEwen, principal/creative director, DMAC Architecture

  • Balancing Your Time: “We are fortunate to have an office space large enough to be socially distanced. In the beginning of the pandemic when everyone was working from home, I was working much longer days, meeting with staff and clients virtually whenever we could just to keep projects moving forward. Most of our staff have young families and are balancing their jobs, homeschooling and daycare with their spouses, leaving even less free time. Because we design many fitness and wellness spaces, we recently built a test gym in our office where we could test products for our clients as well as give staff a safe place to exercise for both physical and mental health.”
  • Virtual Events: “I think one positive outcome of the pandemic has been the widespread sharing of ideas across the design industry through virtual events. Though these don’t have the same impact as in-person experience, they reach a broader and more diverse audience because they are offered free or at minimal cost. More voices with more perspectives lead to inspired conversations. I hope this more accessible platform (or a hybrid model) will become the new norm.”

Lara Funderburk, LEED AP, senior associate, director of furniture management at Ted Moudis Associates

  • Connecting with Vendors: “I am making a more concerted effort to reach out by phone to our vendor contacts to revitalize our relationships. There has been a lot of turnover among our vendor reps, so this is a way to grow relationships in a new way.”
  • Honing Computer Skills: “I am using this time to really hone my computer skills and improve my ability with programs such as InDesign. This is such an important skill to have, and helps me feel that I am continuing to move forward during such an unusual time.”

Sarah Wingo, project architect—interiors, GrizForm Design Architects

  • Check-in: “At GrizForm, we try to always check-in with each other throughout the day, usually just to chat while drinking a coffee or making lunch. These calls almost simulate being in the office, catching up and chatting about our weekends. Inevitably, these calls also turn into brainstorms—we chat through project questions and other design ideas as well. The informal and friendly aspects of office culture are so important for an engaged team. It’s easy to let that go when everything is virtual, but it’s one of the most important aspects to hold on to. We also do weekly check-in calls on Mondays to formally catch up on project statuses and have recently incorporated a ‘recommendations’ portion of the meeting to hear what everyone has been listening to, watching, eating, doing, etc., just fun stuff you miss out on not all being together.”
  • Get Involved: “Involvement with local emerging professional networks has been such a valuable way to remain engaged throughout quarantine. Our local AIA chapter quickly pivoted to all virtual meetings and events last spring, allowing even more people to attend and participate than ever before. We’re still meeting new people, networking, supporting each other in our goals and providing opportunities for impact and education, even in a virtual world. As a firm, we also participated in a virtual AIA Small Firm Showcase over the summer along with some other local design firms. It was great to hear how the other firms are staying engaged and setting goals during this time as well as present some of our local work to the design community.”