Design is essentially a social process involving problem-solving through study and interactions. Can an intensively collaborative activity such as design adapt to the challenges of a remote working environment, social distancing and isolation necessitated by the pandemic?

Since design responds to the realities of modern living, how are designers adjusting to an environment that’s constantly in flux, and navigating this strange, uncharted territory from their individual homes and home studios? Will the dynamics of design evolve to accommodate the new realities?

Herman Miller posed these questions to some of their favourite design partners, whose answers will be shared in this ongoing series, ‘How designers stay productive while working from home’.

Five WFH Pro Tips with Brian Alexander

Industrial designer Brian Alexander is a thoughtful observer of human behaviour – including his own. He has been working from home since 1998 – the year he founded his studio. His natural inclination to watch, hypothesise, test and reassess has led him to iterate on his own work-from-home patterns and places over the years. His thoughts on how to maintain creative flow and collaborate while working from home hold lessons for anyone struggling to work in isolation.

Start with stillness

Objectively do an internal inventory of your work life up to this moment. The point of this is not to make a to-do list, but to get your bearings and centre yourself. It’s up to each of us to sort our own paths. But we can’t do that if we don’t know our own triggers or have a general portrait of our work lives.

Practice contextual displacement

For many, home is the ‘off’ button for work. You are surrounded by all the objects and cues, which represent downtime or other activities that normally counter work life. A general sense of fatigue and frustration builds because the experiential cues of home haunt you. It’s a little like mixing complementary colours. If you maintain some separation it can be a powerful addition. If you mix too much, everything goes grey.

Designate a workspace

If you already have a home office, you’re good to go. If not, designate one. However minimal or grand, lay claim to a spot in which you feel you can do your best work. Maintain that location for that purpose. When you leave that location, you are no longer at work. Don’t underestimate the power of closing a door or throwing a sheet over your desk to suddenly feel at home again.

Reference existing patterns

Whatever your previous work experience was, try adopting the associated behaviours and routines from being at the office. For many, the start of the day is more critical than the end. Wake up at a consistent time. Follow the same pattern you usually do to prepare for work, but introduce a few new minor variations. Make some coffee, walk around the block, come back, go to your work spot, and proceed with your day. These patterns can function as primers to get you in the frame of mind most beneficial to work.

Mind your relationships

Years ago, you probably had a shot of your family vacation pinned up in your cubicle. Now the same imagery is your wallpaper or desktop background. When you close an app or start a meeting, there’s a little bit of you-ness exposed in that moment. We appreciate that as fellow humans. So stay connected in whatever form you can.