By Amanda Richards
Before we get into the details of exactly how the Universal Standard team is working from home (and more importantly, how we feel about it), one thing should be made clear: despite our differing opinions on the experience, we’re all immensely grateful that we have jobs that allow us the privilege to stay safely indoors. Not everyone does — in fact, we learned through our Foundation initiative that many in our community are medical workers, essential to the efforts of fighting COVID-19 on the front lines. We’re all grateful for them, and for everyone who puts themselves at risk to keep things running.
That said, though, working from home has certainly garnered some mixed reactions. Some of us are perfectly content sitting on our beds or our sofas or at our kitchen tables, replacing coworkers with roommates and pets that seem thrilled about the situation. Others can’t wait to get back into the office — and for some of us, such as Director of Technical Design Fatima Ahmed, actually being in an office (and in front of fit models) is crucial.
We’ve all adapted to the circumstances, but it hasn’t been easy. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that every single person on the team has found some aspect of how they do their job far more difficult than it was when we were in-office. That applies to me, too; despite the fact that I’m a writer who is very much used to being alone in a dark corner hunched over a laptop, it’s been hard for me to organize who needs what from me at any given time. After all, in the office, all I had to do was whip my chair around and ask.
It’s not just the way we work individually, either. Everything about how we work as a team has had to change. Instead of congregating in meeting rooms and making small talk before tackling a project, we gather in Zoom rooms, usually get right down to business, and spend a lot of time reminding each other that our microphones are on mute. Desk time is no longer broken up by the odd brainstorm or check-in — for the most part, we all stay in one place, all day. Somehow, even though we’re all at home, many of us have struggled to strike a solid work-life balance. After all, you might get to work in your pajamas from the comfort of your sofa, but that makes it hard to close your laptop and walk away. And, one particularly depressing thing has been the absence of hellos and goodbyes. It’s always nice to greet people as they come in the morning, and wish them well when they leave for the night. Now, the only indication one has that their coworkers are around is the presence of a little green dot next to their name.
All of that said, we’ve tried as a team to combat the woes of WFH life. From the first week of mandated social distancing, we instituted a rule that all of us should turn our cameras on during meetings, so as to give each other the sense that we’re each still present, attentive, and connected. Of course, if someone’s having a bad hair day, exceptions can be made. The executive team regularly encourages staff to focus on maintaining their mental health, directs us to resources on how to effectively balance work and home when you’re working at home, and tries to be as transparent as possible during our weekly staff-wide meetings. The marketing team has daily check-ins; it helps us stay on top of what the others are working on, but on a very basic level (at least from my perspective), it’s also just knowing there’s one guaranteed time per day that you can see everyone and say hey. We’ve started group chats and texts, had virtual happy hours, and stayed on work calls for a bit longer to give each other personal updates. Most importantly, though, we routinely make sure to ask each other a question you don’t always have to ask when your co-workers are sitting a foot away from you:
“Are you okay?”
We’ll be working like this for the foreseeable future, and I’m sure in that time, we’ll find more ways to adapt the way we conduct our individual and collective workflows to meet the demands of the business which, of course, haven’t really changed much at all. From a distance, we’ve had to figure out ways to operate more efficiently as a team than ever before; just 25 green dots, online for work, but also for one another.