Our studio has always been an important part of how we work. We’ve been in our current home, in Greenwich for more than 15 years.
We enjoy sharing the open-plan space, overhearing conversations, exchanging ideas, listening to the same music, eating lunch together, and (of course) making each other cups of teas.
And as Studio Manager I’ve become particularly fond of that workspace. It’s the kind of fondness that comes from doing the practical jobs to keep it running: changing lightbulbs, oiling squeaky doors, and working out how many biscuits we need to buy to keep everyone going.
Studio culture felt integral to our way of working. So when it became clear that we would have to shut the studio to prevent the spread of COVID-19 we had some quick thinking to do.
We had to work out what studio culture looks like in lockdown, and find new ways to collaborate and work as a team.
We at leats knew one thing – we’d be taking lots of photos.
Every working day since 2014 we’ve taken a photo of what we’ve been up to and shared it online. We call this project Everyday Cog. We were determined to keep this project going, despite working from home. I’ve used this wonderful resource to tell the story of our last three months in lockdown.
Before the lockdown
Although we had suspicions it wouldn’t last, in the run up to lockdown, studio life continued as normal.
We commuted to the studio, had meetings with clients, and enjoyed the odd drink together at the end of the week.
But outside of the studio the world was starting to get stranger and stranger. The emptiness was disconcerting. We were getting seats on trains at rush-hour, arriving to half-empty platforms, and it was much harder to buy toilet roll and pasta.
We made plans, moved our servers to the cloud, checked in on everyone’s home working set-up, and rushed to the Apple store to stock up on laptops and cables. Several of the team were already self-isolating with colds.
On Tuesday 17th March we held our last in-person meeting in the studio.
We spent the rest of the day battening down the hatches and unplugging the tea urn. We put some food-blocks in with the fish, closed down the studio, locked up, and went home.
Life in lockdown #WFH
The first day of remote working wasn’t easy. There were the inevitable technical teething problems that comes with making such a big change.
Whilst some of us had desks at home, others had to improvise, making do, Blue Peter style, with things we found around the house.
It was strange but we all found ways to make it work.
And we’ve been checking in with each other via Slack, Zoom, Basecamp, Google, email and even the odd postcard.
And in the strangeness and the uncertainty we’ve found new ways to recreate the camaraderie of the studio team.
We started to send each other mug-shots, showing interesting things around our homes. Michael has kept this up every day since.
Our weekly playlist is a great way to recreate the studio vibe and discover new (and old) music.
And of course we’re still doing a gin-round at 5pm every Friday, even if it is via a video call, and some of us are on the beers instead.
Imagine starting a new role, in lock-down.
The first day of remote working was also Emma’s first day at Cog. Luckily she’d come in a few weeks before to get to know us a bit better before she formally joined the design team: a good idea at the time and a great idea in hindsight.
But Alex hadn’t managed to spend any time with us. Apart from his interview. He joined our digital team as a project manager in mid April.
Starting a new job is stressful at the best of times; starting from home in the middle of a pandemic must have been at least doubly so.
But Emma and Alex overcame these difficulties and have slotted seamlessly into the team. We’ve all been hugely impressed by their flexibility.
Pets at home
We all miss working in the studio (and our goldfish – Dave, Dave and Dave) but for some of us, time at home means more time with our animal housemates. By the way, our fish are fine, we’ve been in to check and change their food-block from time to time.
Michael’s dog Molly has pepped him up on lunch breaks with regular high-fives (although his chickens have been less supportive).
Rabbits Deborah and Jarvis have given Anna some design tips.
Ed’s cat Skimbleshanks has popped in from time to time to check how he’s getting on.
And Claire’s beautiful dog Scout keeps her seat warm for her occasionally.
We’ve moved our bi-weekly breakfast briefings online, and upped the game with more guests (now that we aren’t asking people to travel to us). Highlights have included chatting to the team from Tessitura; Elle from OAE sharing ideas for online culture; Emma hosting a brilliantly appropriated version of Millionaire (sadly I didn’t quite win the full million), and Michael’s talks on Type & typography, and the intricacies of Intellectual Property. I even did one myself, about my favourite cultural lock-down projects. I’ve written about that elsewhere in this journal.
Business as usual
Despite the uncertainties facing our sector we’ve been busier than ever, at least in the first three months of lockdown.
And we’ve helped our clients get the most out of their websites at a time when digital communication is more important than ever.
And of course we’ve been finding occasions to celebrate and share together.
Both Jen and Claire celebrated their one year anniversaries in the Cog team. I celebrated my first lockdown birthday and we all marked our 29th anniversary with a fascinating Zoom-based discussion day.
Looking back at the last three months I’m struck by how quickly the team have adapted to the ‘new-normal’. We’ve settled into new routines and overcome the initial challenges of being away from our normal working environment.
We’re all very aware of how lucky we are to be weathering this storm at a time when our sector is really struggling.
It looks like we’ll all be working from home for the next few weeks but I’m itching to get back into the studio, to talk to people in real life and to see the fish.