A Virtual Day in the Life: Matt C. Reynolds Provisional RGD
Take us through a brief overview of your remote workday
I’m not bicycling to work anymore, but on the bright side, I have lots of time left over to make an amazing coffee! I’ve started a new routine where I take the time to manually brew using the iconic Chemex. Before turning my computer on, I work from my notebook to schedule the most important tasks I need to accomplish that day.
Our office continues to be very busy, so my actual day-to-day work looks much the same. I work primarily on architectural projects, which means I’m locked in for the long-term and only manage a handful during a yearly cycle. My typical day involves a lot of collaboration with our office architecture team, landscape team and environmental graphics team. External communication emails range from discussions with clients and stakeholders, to city planners and engineers. Generally about three-quarters of my day is devoted to design drawing, design research or computer modelling.
I feel very lucky that I’m able to do so much design work in my current role.
At the end of the day, I always make sure to take 10 minutes to go through what I did that day, review my weekly schedule and then rough out what tomorrow will look like. Although I don’t have an office door, I make sure to turn my computer off and physically leave the room.
What are you currently working on from home?
I’m currently working on the brand and graphic language of a mixed-use development in Downtown Halifax that integrates residential units, commercial and two prominent heritage buildings (Kenny-Dennis Building, 1863 and the Acadian Recorder, 1900). It’s a remarkable project because the site is rich with history; it was very tempting to spend a lot of time in the research phase. I’m currently working to focus the extensive research into themes and pulling out stories that we could tell in specific areas of the interior and exterior of the building.
One of the key areas is an exterior interpretive wall that steps down a steep street, sloping towards the Halifax Harbour. On the wall adjacent, the existing building has this beautiful archaeological aspect where you can literally see the four distinct phases of construction on the exterior masonry. It’s clear to me that the major narrative of this interpretive area should be the many layers of history on the site by prominent architects David Stirling, Henry David Jost and Andrew R. Cobb. As a nod to its cultural associations with the newspaper industry in Nova Scotia, one of the minor narratives of this area explains our approach of uniting the site as the “Press Block”.
Have you found any helpful tactics or strategies for staying focused and productive?
I’ve implemented two major changes over the past weeks.
(1) I’ve started working in my notebook a lot more. With all the extra conference calls and time in front of a screen, I’ve found some relief by scheduling my daily tasks and working things out on paper.
(2) I’ve implemented the Pomodoro Technique: focus work for 40 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break. I repeat four of these 45-minute cycles and then take a longer break to snack or make a coffee. This mimics the ebb and flow of natural breaks at the office.
How do you combat feelings of isolation or disconnect from your team?
We’ve been working hard to create little moments throughout the day and the week. For example, my favourite conference call takes place every Tuesday and Thursday at 1 PM — the Brew Crew — where four of us call in to have a virtual coffee and catch up on life. Our office also has a Monday morning team meeting and we do a one-hour Friday afternoon kitchen party with presentations.
If applicable, how are you approaching working from home while your partner/family/roommates etc. are also home?
My partner has always worked from home, so in that sense, I’m learning a lot from her. We’re fortunate that we have separate rooms to work in, so we’re able to respect each other’s space. Honestly, it’s been amazing once we realized all the upsides of the situation: most people have to wait until they retire before they can have lunch together every day!
Have you discovered any advantages or disadvantages to working from home? If so, what are they?
Advantages: I feel very lucky to be able to eat every meal with my partner, have a coffee break or take our greyhound out in the backyard to run off some energy. Now that I’ve gotten the hang of working from home I’m very productive when I’m focused and I can totally relax during my breaks.
Disadvantages: I’m a huge cycling advocate and I usually commute 10 kilometres a day. I miss the wind on my face in the morning and having the time for my mind to run wild. It’s also important to recognize as creatives we all thrive on collaboration; this is an especially challenging time as we learn to adapt and find new ways to work together.
Do you have a favourite playlist or podcast that you’ve been listening to while working from home?
I like to focus on one task at a time and get in a flow state: house or electronic music helps me get there. I’ve been tuned in to Truly Deep House, Lo-fi Beats and Night Rider on Spotify lately. I reserve podcasts for production drawings or taking a break, but Shane Parrish’s The Knowledge Project is an excellent Canadian podcast that explores deep learning in a range of fields if you’re looking to expand your skill set.
Though seemingly contradictory, social distancing and community are intertwined. Do you have any thoughts or insights you’d like to share with other designers during this time? We’re all in this together.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Forget about filling every moment with productivity. It’s a great time to reflect on what matters and design the life you want to live when this is all over. Now more than ever is the time to support your friends and the community you care about. Vote with your money: the coffee I drink every morning was roasted, bagged and shipped by a client and friend of mine over at Bonavista Coffee and that connection makes it special.
What is the biggest lesson you've learned after leaving school since you started working?
In architecture school you’re taught to explore many concepts and you can always change the problem you’re trying to solve. In the real world, the design challenge is the only variable you can’t change. I consider myself very lucky to be part of an incredible team that is always working to solve interesting problems.
What is the most important skill/lesson that you learned during school that is helping you to succeed in the workplace?
School taught me an invaluable lesson: there is always more work you can do. At the time I bought into the studio culture: I worked very hard, stayed up all night and sacrificed my physical and mental health. Now that I understand the bigger picture, I’ve learned life is about building sustainable habits, reflecting on your patterns and loving the process.