Returning to the office: How business owners and design leads are navigating in-person work
Are offices a thing of the past? In this Business Perspectives article, we asked business owners and design leaders to share how their companies are approaching a return to in-person work.


How is your company approaching the back-to-work situation?


Hans Thiessen RGD, Partner and Creative Director at Rethink: Above all, we're approaching the situation with the safety of all Rethinkers as our highest priority. We're being very transparent with our team to ensure that everyone is aware of how we are progressing towards our return to office plan. Returning to the office will feel overwhelming for some, so we're taking a flexible, hybrid approach.


Elana Rudick RGD, Founder and Creative Director at Design Is Yummy: We've decided as a team to have a gradual return to work when it feels comfortable to do so unmasked.


Will Hum RGD, Principal and Creative Director at Clear Space Design: We were very fortunate that our existing office lease was expiring when COVID hit. In fact, just days before the whole world decided that going to “work” was a bad idea, we backed out of signing a 10-year agreement on a much larger space. In a week, we had our entire office packed up in storage and had everyone working remotely without missing a step. Lucky for us, we were already digital-first and cloud-based. At this point, it’s business as usual with no plan on going “back to work” in the traditional sense.


Sandy Fleischer, Managing Partner at Pound & Grain: We are taking it day by day. We recognize that it's a very fluid situation right now and are constantly doing our best to understand how our employees want to work, and what makes for optimal working environments. Given the nature of our business being so grounded in collaboration and creativity, we do understand the craving for real life meetings, jam sessions, and time to work together. We also realize that people are responsible enough to get their work done from wherever without missing a beat. Given this, Pound & Grainers are free to work from home or at one of our offices.


Will your staff be returning to the office and/or have you already?


Nick Richards, Founder and Executive Creative Director at Will: As soon as the guidance permitted us to return to the studio, we did just that, but balanced it with a proportion of remote working. The number of people in the studio has fluctuated based on the real-time COVID situation, but for the most part, there is a strong desire to get back closer together.


Julie Mitchell, Partner at Parcel: We will be continuing with a hybrid model, based on where people are most comfortable working. Initially we thought we would require staff to be in 2-3 days per week but we realized we don't have to do that.  We find some staff love the office environment and need separation between home and work and others are quite happy with their at home set up. One thing that is clear, we are never going to back to a Monday - Friday 9-5 in-office routine again. We're happy about that.


Sandy Fleischer: Right now both of our offices are open, but only double-vaccinated Pound & Grainers can return to the office. There have definitely been times, where, based on the local situation, one office has been open while the other has not.


Elana Rudick RGD: As restrictions ease and employees feel comfortable, our studio will move to a hybrid model with scheduled overlap for collabs, meetings and team building. So yes, we will be returning to the office, but with a more flexible structure than we had pre-pandemic.


Have you established policies for in-office vs work-from-home?


Hans Thiessen RGD: We're transitioning towards a flexible, hybrid model, with everyone working in the office approximately 60% of the time and the freedom to work wherever they need to for the rest of their time.


Elana Rudick RGD: So long as there is open communication between team members, quality work is being created, and deadlines are met, we haven't felt the need to implement any formal policies.


Nick Richards: At the start of remote working, we contributed to the home set-up of each team member, encouraging the financial investment to go towards an ergonomic workspace and an upgraded IT set-up. Now, in today’s hybrid world, we encourage a minimum of 2-days-a-week in the studio, allowing each person to manage their time and location to be their happiest and most creative. We are keen to maintain many of the good habits formed over the last 2 years; daily team huddles, better utilization of collaborative work tools (Google Suite for us) and more frequent creative check-ins, but the magic of our culture is still best enjoyed in real-life, in the studio, together.


Julie Mitchell: For meetings and creative presentations that are 90 minutes or longer, we  require the team to be in person. Office hours (remote or virtual) are generally Monday to Friday 9–5pm. We connect by text, trello, messenger, email, phone: whatever makes sense.


Will you consider hiring remote workers as part of employee searches in the future?


Hans Thiessen RGD: Yes. Hiring remotely will provide us with a broader pool of potential job candidates. Remote flexibility is on the rise and probably one of the biggest business trends we will see continue to grow in the coming years.


Sandy Fleischer: Most definitely. Right now the bulk of our new hires have been in markets in or around where we have offices (Toronto and Vancouver), but we have made exceptions and have employees as far away as the UK.


Elana Rudick RGD: Yes! We hired our first remote employee during the pandemic, and it has definitely changed the way we think about hiring.


Nick Richards: For sure we will. We have worked hard to cultivate the Will culture and at first, we feared we may lose some of it working remotely, but we already have a handful of team members that are no longer local and have proven that it can work well. Given that knowledge, we can now take advantage of the deeper pool of talent that this new world presents and work with more of the best, no matter where they call home.


Julie Mitchell: Yes, based on our the success of work-from-home in the last two years, we would hire remotely. We recognize that on-boarding may be challenging, so we would need to think through that and would probably need some face-to-face time in the early days of a new hire.


Will Hum RGD: Yes, we already do. Over the last two years, we’ve worked with designers and developers from Belarus and California. Additionally, some of our existing team members have taken the opportunity to invest in homes outside of Toronto, from Woodbridge to Whitby, and even Hamilton. If you have a computer and the internet, you can work from anywhere. We now have the world as our talent pool.



With over 4,000 Members across Canada, the RGD is a place where professional designers share information, support and adhere to ethical best practices and advocate for a greater understanding of the value of design and effective processes for selecting and working with professional designers.


Looking for more business perspectives? Read this instalment on who owns rejected designs, whether international firms should be considered for high-profile Canadian branding projects or how employers can support women at work.