A Virtual Day in the Life: Design de Plume

Meggan Van Harten RGD and Mélissa Deschênes RGD, Principal Designers at Design de Plume share what their in-studio and remote workdays look like! 


Meggan Van Harten RGD

Working remotely


The Basics
Name: Meggan Van Harten RGD
Job Title: Principal Designer
Take us through a brief overview of your remote workday.
It feels very similar to my usual day in the office. I usually start off the day making a tea, reviewing my emails and then checking my task list for the day. It feels like I’m glued to my desk all day between tasks or meetings so the day tends to fly by for me.
What are you currently working on from home?
I’m working on a lot of accessibility focused projects, websites and managing a lot more of our long-term projects. I love working on inclusive projects so I’m thrilled with the work I’ve been doing lately.
I’ve also started to work on some additional certifications from home. COVID-19 has provided such an opportunity to grow and learn since there’s not as much opportunity to get out and see people.
Have you found any helpful tactics or strategies for staying focused and productive?
Having a separate workspace from my home life has helped considerably. I felt really miserable at the beginning of COVID when I didn’t have my own workspace and was just getting by in my living room.
Now that I have a home office, I feel mentally much better spending time at home. That separation is so helpful for staying positive during this time.
How do you combat feelings of isolation or disconnect from your team?
I’m definitely a huge extrovert so having time with people is very important to me whether that’s digitally or within a social distance environment.
I feel connected even though I’m totally remote since I do so many meetings every day. I feel like I’m always meeting someone new, learning something or explaining a concept to a client so I get a lot of exposure to various people digitally.
I miss not being in the same office as my work buddy (Melissa) and my other colleagues. But technologies like Slack and Google Meet have helped to make the transition less strenuous.
If applicable, how are you approaching working from home while your partner/family/roommates etc. are also home?
My partner works in long-term care so I’m largely alone during the day. Since he works in an environment with so many vulnerable people, we have to be extra vigilant about exposure and what activities we do.
My only work at home buddy is my cat Fibi. She is a quiet companion but it’s nice having her around, for sure.
Have you discovered any advantages or disadvantages to working from home? If so, what are they?
- PJ pants and conference calls
- Excellent lunches/snacks all the time
- Ability to focus without being disturbed
- Access to work environment any time of day
- Petting my cat
- Access to work environment any time of day (sometimes disruptive to home life)
- Loneliness
- Waiting on text responses from staff
Do you have a favourite playlist or podcast that you’ve been listening to while working from home?
I usually just ask Google to play pop music for me or listen to the Cults podcast.
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.
It’s so important to stay connected! Designers who are working from home, my biggest advice to you is you need to show off your work and get feedback from others. If you’re a freelancer try to setup conference calls a couple times a week to just check in on other freelancer friends and see what they are working on. Exposure is huge. Normally in an agency environment you have a ton of exposure to new ideas and conversations that may spark an idea. Doing that digitally it can be recreated but not without some effort.
Also this is the best time to do that thing that you’re always saying you have no time for. If it’s important to you, start working on it now!

Melissa Deschênes RGD

Working in-studio

The Basics
Name: Melissa Deschênes RGD
Job Title: Principal Designer
What’s the first thing you do when you get to work?
I'm usually the first one in the building. I open the office, get settled and start the coffee for the team.
Offices are no longer bustling with people, activity and conversations. Do you have any strategies to keep up you productive/inspired over the course of the day?
Most of our team is back in the office so we still get to have conversations, brainstorming and bouncing around of ideas that come from working in an environment together. Client meetings are exclusively digital to limit the foot traffic in the space. Staff still use tools like Slack to communicate and say hello to the two team members still working from home.
How do you combat feelings of isolation or disconnect from your team?
During the few months our office was closed, I really struggled with balancing work/life while working from home. Having been back at the office with most of the team has been so rewarding. It really emphasizes how much being in a space together is good for communication, team spirit and overall morale. It's just so much easier to talk to someone near you as opposed to scheduling a meeting for a question or having things getting lost in translation in written format. Our team has such a great attitude and positive energy which you really get to experience best when working together. 
Are there any tasks that you like to do at the end of the day? That you feel you must do before you leave?
Nothing I wouldn't typically do! However, it's nice to say goodbye to the team both in person and on Slack for those at home.
How has your job changed over the last year?
As most businesses affected by COVID-19, we really have changed the way we interact with team members and clients in order to keep the virus at bay. These include new cleaning measures, keeping our distance and self-wellness evaluations before coming into work to make sure you are symptom-free. Going from in-office to home and back to the office has been a bit of a challenge but I think all of us in the studio at least have really gotten the hang of things while occupying the same space. We have really seen a shift of the type of work clients have approached us for with a greater push for web work as opposed to print.
Have you discovered any advantages or disadvantages to working from home? If so, what are they?
Advantages: Not worrying about appearances and being able to sleep in or throw a load of laundry on while on break. Wearing pants? Optional!
Cons: Lack of team management, meaning having a difficult time managing a team when we can't see if they are at their desk or not. Also balancing life and work, you never really feel like you can get away from work when you work from home. Communication was a big issue. There's a big difference in communicating verbally versus a written format, which can be more time consuming or take longer to 'book' in when you need to talk to someone. Finally, some of us are social butterflies and thrive on being able to be in a space with others. 
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.
We are lucky enough to have a large space. Desks are over 2 metres apart and we have strict cleaning measures when using common areas in order to protect our team. With a team of 9, 7 being in the space at the moment, we have lots of room to stay apart while still being able to work together as a team. We really value everyone's health and want to keep the team COVID-free. Luckily in our Northern Ontario town, the cases have not been too high keeping in-office work a possibility for those that feel comfortable. Being given the option to work remotely or together during these times is the most ideal situation that will help people make the best decision for themselves regarding their workspace and health.
Can you also provide an image of a project you are currently working on?
I am so proud of the diverse and inclusive design work we create.
Here's a sample of some new illustrations, hot off the press, I did with Special Olympics Canada for fact sheets we are creating as a part of their Diversity and Inclusion series. These ones in particular are about 2SLGBTQI+ inclusion.
Another project I would like to share is for Tungasuvvingat Inuit, which are building entrance COVID-19 signs which includes Inutitut text as well, fitting for the topic at hand. 

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