Question of the week: Can a Design employee work off site?

This week’s welcomed question comes from none other that Drew Kora:

I mean to ask can a designer work from home AND BE PRODUCTIVE? And how might it affect the rest of the team?

It is quite a difficult question as there are a lot of considerations and here again it is a yes and no answer. With all our technology and the internet today, working off site is a possibility for any profession. The issue here comes when there is some sort of interaction required with other people or departments as well as a few other considerations. They are:
1) Individual Designer or Team Designer
Does this designer need to be managed or does he show initiative? Is this designer a cog in the design process? In other words does he need to work with other people in a constant back and forth interaction? Again this has variables to the equation. Off site work is possible if the designer’s job is only focuses on CAD or Web data files, and not possible the job requires human to human brain storming or concept sketching.
Off site arrangements is also a possibility if the designer is a senior one that does not do much actual hands on design work but instead focuses on more business development and account management work. In this scenario this senior designer would have a team of designers under him that he can manage off site.
2) Scope of work
Similar to point 1, does this designer focus on one aspect of the project and needs constant overseeing by a supervisor, or is this designer capable of running a project from start to end? Designers that can work on their own steam and need little supervision is more likely to be able to work off site.
3) Trust and value
Finally this is the most important. Does this designer have a good working relationship with his/her superior, and can that supervisor trust that the designer’s work and responsibilities be maintained. Also another question is how valued or senior is this designer? One of the big problems of working off-site or part time work, is that it is a huge burden for the people around that designer.
This falls along the same category of why office hours have to be a standard across the board, that is if you need to contact someone, you are likely to reach that person during office hours. Therefore people will have to manage their schedules so that they can only talk to him when he is in or take the extra effort to digitize design work to send it to the designer at home. It is a simple equation, the value of the designer has to our weight the sacrifices made by the organisation.
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At the end of the day, there is no hard and fast rule, and my suggestions are very general at best as I do not know your full situation. It might be best if you consider proposing to go off-site, consider it during certain stages of a project when you have high autonomy and stick around when close interaction is required. Good Luck Drew and please let me know how things pan out for you?

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4 Comments
  • drew kora

    September 6, 2007 at 9:13 am Reply

    Thanks for the feedback DT. I bring this up because I feel like I am constantly bombarded by small requests each day and have a hard time really focusing on my work. Sometimes I feel like my work is becoming more reactive to the needs of the company rather being proactive…seeking new design avenues and concepts.
    So I’d love to ‘escape’ for a day each week to the comforts of my home studio and focus on special projects. I think a key factor here is to make sure my superiors know that I’m not wanting a free day without supervision where I sit in my pajamas and doodle while watching Futurama all day. Rather, I would set up agreed goals for my at home projects with regular progress checks. I’d have specific tasks to complete.
    Hmmm, I think I need to craft a nice, to-the-point proposal for this and make it happen.

  • DT

    September 6, 2007 at 1:44 pm Reply

    Ah I see now…hmm unfortunately such minor interruptions are part and parcel of a corporate design job. The trick is to prioritize and to manage the time for working on it in a small portion of your day.
    For example, I spent most of my week “fire fighting” but reserve 2 days a week to focus on design. You can do something similar, say allocate the morning to attend to such matters and spend the rest of the afternoon on design work. Send a memo indicating to stake holders that this will increase overall efficiency in getting things done.
    However I believe you can do it if you can prove that the day spend away actually improves productivity. That is the key, I think you need some kind of bench marking system going on with past projects.
    Good luck and please let me know if you need any extra advice?

  • Le Anne

    October 3, 2007 at 10:29 pm Reply

    Hmmm…. at this point in time, staying in the office does has its benefits as there need to be some interaction beween the design team with the rest of the departments of the company. Briefing a design job is crucial and miscommunications can arise if designers are not in the office and can create mistakes and cause delays.
    I opologize for the next issue I am going to raise.
    More designers are moonlighting taking up jobs that are sub-contracted out especially due to peak periods. Renumerations for such jobs are very attractive (as high as their one month salary) and this further lure designers to focus on their moonlighting jobs. They are also eager to please the paymasters from their moonlighting job as that will encourage repeat jobs.
    From the issues raised above makes employers more skeptical about allowing working from home for designers.
    Again, I opologize

  • DT

    October 4, 2007 at 9:37 pm Reply

    Hi Le Anne,
    Please don’t feel bad! I enjoy comments from all points of view.
    I do agree with you, I have seen and heard of many designers do freelance work, and I would not be surprised if any of my own design team did any.
    There are a few ways to look at this. For one this discussion at the end of the day has to do with trust being at the center of it all. So this decision ultimately has to do the employer trusts the designer.
    On the other hand its about a balance, I find designers often need variety to grow, controlling them and cropping their “wings” only seeks to stifle them. Therefore instead of freelance, I often encourage designers to enter competitions or perhaps take on other roles at work.
    In design, variety is the spice of life, and at the end of the day I see the bigger picture, as such variety often means a designer can perform his/her job much better and that to me is more important.

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