How are you coping with social distancing?

By Elspeth Pridham
April 8, 2020

We talked to BIID president Harriet Forde and other members of the Institute to find out how they are coping with social distancing and what measures they have put in place to keep their businesses functioning during these difficult times

Harriet Forde, BIID president and founder of Harriet Forde Design
“At this challenging time the BIID is focused on supporting our members. We are encouraging designers to utilise technology to keep in touch with their teams, clients and suppliers by arranging remote meetings (I personally like WhatsApp video for a 1 to 4 person meeting, and Zoom for more people), so we can still run our businesses, collaborate effectively and share designs. I feel video communication keeps up a sense of camaraderie and helps me power up a bit into a more positive stance!
“As we can’t get out to trade shows or events, designers could attend webinars so they can still learn and stay connected to the latest industry news. The BIID is working with our CPD providers and supporting them to bring their CPD’s online, for example BIID CPD provider Porada will be hosting their accredited CPD as a webinar on the 23rd April, so I will be making the most of opportunities like this to stay in touch with key suppliers. The BIID is hosting a new webinar series too. Feeling isolated can be a real issue for people working at home so we hope that our new series of BIID digital meet-ups will help. These online sessions are designed for small groups to have a virtual chat and share ideas, experiences and offer support to their peers.”

Michael Schienke, director, Vorbild Architecture
“We have worked remotely for a while now (around three years), it started when we won projects in the South of France. I had to travel there regularly and as a result was not in the office so much, so we have already learned as a team to collaborate, discuss and manage projects online. Luckily, we have quite a few projects that we can focus on in the interim. Client communication is, if anything, improved as I am at my desk – which believe me wasn’t the norm before – and we talk to each other more often.
“We try and stay positive and the message to everybody out there is to hang on and take every day as it comes. To clients the message is – use this opportunity to plan and create with your interior designer and architect, as a lot can be achieved during this seemingly ‘quiet’ period, to then be ready to go when things go back to normal. I’m feeling very positive about this situation, it should be seen as an opportunity for greater awareness, prioritising and planning ahead.”

Chloe Bullock, Materialise Interiors
“I am feeling more optimistic this week. There is lots of advice and support out there from the BIID and we need all the support we can get. Most of us designers fall through the net of government help on offer at the moment, being directors of limited companies – which is pretty scary.
“Some of my work has halted but I’m lucky to be well established offering virtual/online consultations and support for my clients. I’ve also been working from home for nearly 15 years so that is set up well for me too. It is a steep learning curve for fellow designers who have offices and employees and I have huge empathy for them. I hope I can prove the technology is there and it is possible to move online. My tools for this have been Zoom and interior design software Mydoma Studio. Now all we need is for our clients (existing and future) to have confidence to start spending money on their spaces again and ask us all for our help doing that.
“I’m so conscious of all the people I keep in business. I might not directly employ but I have lots of suppliers and tradespeople I want to keep going.”

Henry Prideaux, Henry Prideaux Interior Design
“Visiting clients is only a small part of what we do as designers and it’s amazing how a little bit of lateral thinking can keep things ticking over. Given we are all in the same boat there is an element of flexibility and leeway but even so we all want to maintain a level of professionalism despite the crisis. The pandemic is causing anxiety, but with a clear head and some structure when working from home it is possible to provide a relatively seamless offering. If necessary I can still access my design library but so much is done online these days that most of the design element can be done remotely. If you have been to a site and know it well, video calls are proving to be more time effective than traipsing through traffic across town and back when a meeting can be carried out virtually with everyone present. This is something we will try and use more moving forward. One difficulty is when it comes to new clients, or sites you have not visited before, where face to face contact or seeing the size and volume of a house up close is vital yet can’t happen. In this instance some patience is needed from all parties.
“When not designing this is a great chance to tick off some of the never ending ‘to do’ lists we all have, to get some processes in place particularly on things like contracts or insurance but, more importantly, this can be a time to reconnect with family at home and relatives via FaceTime etc. Another plus has been the lack of a commute has freed up time in the morning and evening which has been replaced with some much-needed exercise. Finally, it’s also a chance to give your own home a mini makeover as we’re having a declutter and spending more time in the garden, enjoying the lack of plane noise and former hustle and bustle of daily life.”

Simone Suss, founder of Studio Suss
“Fortunately, for the moment, most of our sites are still open which is great. Suddenly everyone is in a rush to place all orders and get things on site in case deliveries stop. It feels like we are working on borrowed time; the situation could change at any moment.
“We have closed the office and are all working remotely. Between Zoom, MS Teams and WhatsApp, decisions are being made far more quickly. It makes me realise that these technologies really could make us far more efficient. Last night we had clients on a Zoom call whilst taking photographs of different fabric samples and emailing them across.
Home-schooling three children in the background has been challenging; I hope that the schools sort themselves out by next term.
“I miss my team and although we check in every day remotely together, I miss the human interaction in our office. Sadly this virus is affecting many people I know. We all realise that good health is the most important thing and our NHS are amazing.”

Emma Hooton, Studio Hooton
“As a really close and creative team, we’ve thrived on designing new ways for us to work remotely whilst maintaining the bond that we share when we are all in the design studio. Online group video has maintained our Monday morning brain storms and catch ups and we’ve organised a virtual afternoon birthday tea online for one of our designers on Friday!
“We are in the middle of several installations and there is so much that can be done remotely together with our clients online and they’re so happy to see that progress is still continuing towards completion. They’re really embracing the technology that’s available to us all so that we can stay home and protect the NHS.
“Shortly before lockdown we had planted up the studio garden with summer blooms which will be flourishing on our return, as well as setting up our summer garden furniture so the whole team have that to enjoy when we meet again.
“We continue to support our makers as things go on pause and are all working together which is really strengthening our bonds collaboratively. As for the wider design community we have sourced some fabulous art for both the studio and our clients from the #artistsupportpledge initiative that was set up on Instagram.”

Nicola Holden, Nicola Holden Designs
“During times of lockdown, we are all having to change the way that we work. I usually work from home, so that is no different for me. But I am finding alternative ways to share my design ideas with my clients. I have one client who lives nearby but is self-isolating as the virus runs its course through her family, and so I plan my daily walk to take a route past her house and drop off samples outside her front door. Face to face meetings are being substituted with Zoom and for inspiration, instead of visiting museums, hotels and trade shows, I’m turning to magazines, Instagram and YouTube.”