Staying Together but apart: Heidi Lightfoot
In this Gabriele Talks, we're speaking to Heidi Lightfoot, Founder and Creative Director of Together Design an award-winning East London based agency. As their name implies, Together Design has collaboration at its core, so how did they cope with staying connected but socially distanced? Read Heidi’s thoughts:
- What has lockdown been like for you as a team leader?
It has been very hard, a rollercoaster of emotions, ups and downs. After a quiet period at the beginning of the pandemic – when several of our jobs were cancelled – we have become incredibly busy working on a rebrand with a client in the US. This means my calendar is perpetually full and time differences must be factored in.
Since I can no longer just pop upstairs to chat to a team member, everything has to be planned to precision – a quick last minute chat is no longer an option.
Meetings must be scheduled, timings figured out. It’s great to be busy but keeping the plates spinning, from afar, definitely takes more time.
- Have you noticed any changes to your team culture?
We’re a close-knit team at Together; Our newest member started over 2 years ago, so we know each other really well and know how to work together successfully.
We’ve always had a short form of communication in place so there hasn’t really been any negative changes to our team culture. Though of course, we miss the studio banter!
However, I have noticed positive changes: An increase in confidence and work ownership amongst the team.
Working remotely put an end to quick unscheduled check-in’s and made every team member responsible for their own work input and time management. Some would struggle but our team rose to the occasion and it really helped their confidence to excel – its lovely to see everyone so proud of their autonomy and accomplishments.
- How have you and your team stayed connected over the past months?
We’re called Together and have always worked hard to keep collaboration strong.
We have 2 team Zoom calls a week. One for planning and less formal one - on Wednesday - which varies in topic- sometimes it’s a show and tell or a brainstorm session or a game. Quite often we’ll solve a problem together or talk about a new way of working. A variety of get-togethers help keep us working efficiently as a team.
It’s easy to drop your team get-togethers when you’re busy, but they really are vital. Collaboration is like a muscle, you must keep working on it.
We’ve always had team bonding days called ‘Together Tuesdays’ every 8 weeks or so, and that hasn’t changed now we’re working remotely. In the past we’d all get together to learn a new skill or craft, so over lockdown we sent everyone packs of tie dye and sat dying t-shirts together over Zoom!
Smaller catch ups are encouraged too as there as things which can’t be said over a Zoom conference with 15 other people.
- Has it been manageable overseeing creative work whilst at home?
We share screens and jump on calls as often as we need to– so communication levels have been the same but the process of creating is perhaps less fluid now.
On Zoom there’s less time to sit, discuss and create the idea together. We’ve found it more productive to come to the meeting with some ideas already formed.
There is no changing your mind halfway through the day and excitedly running upstairs to share or printing ideas and pinning them to the wall then sitting back and letting the idea form.
Structure is good but can hamper serendipity.
- Have you worked longer hours as a result of working from home?
The blur between home and work life has gotten even fuzzier. Whilst we try to limit long work days it’s very hard to ignore the laptop when it’s in the corner of your room all the time. We’re happy to have work but mustn’t let the work ‘creep’ become a habit.
It’s so easy to say “I’ll do another half an hour”, especially if you enjoy your job and find great gratitude in being able to work full time, which is still the case for our whole team.
- If you knew you had to work from home for another year, would you be happy?
No. We could absolutely do it, this year has proved that – but no, thank you!
- What do you miss about not being in the studio?
We all miss the energy that comes from the collective creative endeavour. Being in the studio is like having a creative energy force field wrapped around you and so you can’t help but feel a little disconnected from everyone else’s creative process when you’re working from home.
I miss those times when you’re trying to solve something and someone in the corner randomly shouts out a brilliant solution. The shared energy and buzz is sorely missed.
- What is one positive that has arisen from the past few months?
It’s been amazing to see the camaraderie kick in and how dedicated everyone is. - The support from the team and the wider industry has been very heart-warming.
Its awe-inspiring and moving, to see how everyone’s rolled their sleeves up and thought “right we’re all in it together-lets go!”. Looking back at this year I’m beyond proud that we’ve been able to keep going, stay focussed, produce great work and keep our spirits high.
We’ve done some excellent work this year, entirely remotely and despite a backdrop of immense uncertainty.
- Will you be changing the manner in which you work in the future? I.e. split between home and existing studio, finding smaller space for part-time working, or short term lets even?
Even when we do “return to normal” everyone wants a part of this experience to come with us. More responsibility and hopefully a better balance between work and home life. We’ll experiment with different splits to see what works.
This experience has crystallized some of the things we knew already – we love being in the studio, with its great atmosphere and inspiring surroundings - and most of all we love working together.
Learn more about Heidi, Together Design and their fantastic work here: