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Making Remote Work for Interior Design

Making Remote Work for Interior Design

Working remotely, whether from home, a collaborative workspace or on travel, has been an option for some workers for a quarter of a century. During the pandemic, however, when people were mandated to stay home, many more employees discovered the advantages of not having to go into the office to do their work. Consequently, many have been reluctant to go back—with mixed results for businesses, including interior design firms. Can an interior design firm be successful with remote employees, or does this field require in-person interaction?

Remote work pros and cons

Four years after the “great quit,” the verdict is still out on whether and how remote work benefits businesses. One of the main reasons is that the data is as yet spotty. Another is that the studies that have been done show different results in different industries. It’s it different answer for different types of job, businesses, management styles, and work environments. In short: it depends.

On the positive side, remote work can benefit many employees by reducing or eliminating commuting time and expenses, and, in some cases, child care as well. Studies also have shown some employees report better work/life balance, which in turn reduces stress and improves overall physical and mental health. In those cases, it often also improves employee performance and productivity as a result. With fewer employees in the office at any one time, employers can save on overhead, such as office space and equipment, if they choose to let these assets go.

Other studies have found working remotely may lead some employees to put in longer work weeks and to experience loneliness, social isolation, and greater levels of job stress. These individuals often underperform and are less productive. They also suffer higher levels of job burnout. In addition, employers may find it more difficult to supervise remote workers. Some feel hybrid work schedules are too disruptive to workflows and firm culture.

As you can see, different employees work better remotely or in the office. And often the key to making everyone happy is to offer a choice between the two options. Management must also base their opinions on performance rather than their own personal preferences.

Should you or shouldn’t you?

Some interior design firms are doing just fine with a partial or total remote work team. Others not so much. If you’re uncertain about introducing hybrid work schedules but have employees who are asking to work remotely, or if you are having difficulty hiring staff because candidates prefer to work remotely, here are some things to consider.

  • Position. A look at current job listings for interior design remote workers shows that nearly all of them are for designers who are experienced but at more junior levels. It is assumed that these employees have demonstrated needed skills, often tend to work alone, and do not require high levels of supervision.
  • Collaboration. Do employees tend to work independently most of the time or in groups or teams? To what extent does an employee need to collaborate regularly with other members of the team? What is the nature of that collaboration? For example, is it a matter of providing input or feedback, or do they need to be involved in group decision-making?
  • Supervision. Does the employee have responsibility for leading, supervising or managing other employees? What portion of their time is devoted to those responsibilities? Do they normally interact with their charges face-to-face or by other means?
  • Communication. How will the remote worker communicate with their team leader or supervisor and other employees, and how often? Requiring remote workers to constantly stay in touch and/or participate in multiple online meetings daily is one of the chief causes of remote worker burnout.
  • Policies and procedures. Whatever solution you decide is best for your firm, you need to establish clear and equitable policies and procedures regarding remote work options. Those need to be communicated to all staff. You do not need to have the same policy for all positions. But it needs to be clear why certain policies apply to some positions and not to others.

Flexibility is key

One of the attractions of remote work for many employees is having more flexibility to manage their work and other responsibilities. This means they may not follow a traditional 9-to-5 work schedule. It does not mean they will look for opportunities to work less. They simply will allocate their time differently, and perhaps non-traditionally. Employers who understand this and support it are likely to have a better experience with remote workers.

Here at Pearl Collective, we have been full-remote since our inception. We have a team with multiple mothers who have to drop their kids off and pick them back up from school during normal work hours. We see this as a strength of our company, and never as employees taking advantage of the flexibility we offer.

The bottom line on remote work, at least as of now, is that every firm is different and needs to establish policies and procedures that work best for that firm. Talk with your employees. Discuss the pros and cons of remote work or a hybrid schedule. Try to arrive at a consensus that will satisfy everyone. Focus on outcomes—what’s needed to achieve the firm’s goals and project deliverables—not on issues of individuals’ behaviors. At Pearl Collective, we’ve normalized working over Zoom and Slack, and most of our work is done on a computer. Working together in an office might be nice for social reasons, but is not essential for our productivity.

Most workforce experts believe the hybrid workplace is here to stay, at least in some industries. That will place more pressure on employers to accommodate those employees who want to work remotely, whether full- or part-time. If you do decide to implement a hybrid option, be sure you have the systems in place to support remote workers so they can continue to succeed at their jobs and do their best for the firm.

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