Lorena Pinon, oDesk’s Art Director, knows all about the importance of setting up your workspace to maximize creativity and productivity — whether you’re at home or at the office. We sat down with her to hear more about her workspaces, how she collaborates with others remotely, and why she wouldn’t want to work any other way.
You’re oDesk’s Art Director. What does that role entail?
My role is a bit hard to define; essentially I’m a design resource for the entire company. So I work on anything from print collateral and office space design to lots of interactive.
Do you always work in the oDesk office? Or do you work at home too?
I work at home two days a week, and at the oDesk office three days a week.
Do you work differently at home than you do in the office?
Yes. When I’m in the office, I use that time to meet with people, ask questions and be accessible to others. When I’m at home, I put my head down and just power through on design projects. I do a lot of execution at home, because it’s usually uninterrupted time.
What does your workspace at home look like? Why did you set it up like that?
I basically have an allocated office space in my house, and I make sure that it’s colorful and creative, so I’m able to be inspired. I do sometimes work in the living room as well, for a change of scenery.
It’s important for me to be in an environment that’s highly creative. Having my own space — my own cave — that I can decorate with whatever inspires me keeps the creativity and productivity going.
What does your workspace in the office look like?
My desk is out in the open, surrounded by all my wonderful, fabulous work buddies. [Editor’s note: She really did say that, through no coercion on my part!] I have my Wacom tablet, which is easier for me to design with. (It also helps me avoid carpal tunnel syndrome.) I have an extra monitor, and I definitely have some visual elements around that inspire me. I love having my Pantone swatch book handy (because color is a big source of inspiration for me), and I have pictures of my family in my line of vision. I also have my T-square and Schaedler ruler on hand, because you never know when you need to measure something!
Do you collaborate with other people remotely on design projects?
Yes, both with coworkers and freelancers.
I work with freelancers mostly for web development, but I also occasionally hire freelance illustrators and photographers. And when I’m working from home, I collaborate remotely with all my coworkers, especially the other half of our creative team (our Creative Director, Laura). It’s really important to have access to her, because when I have a question or something I want to pitch to her, I need to have access to her. If I don’t talk to her about 10 times a day, I feel like I haven’t had enough time to talk to her. We Skype a lot.
How do you do collaborate remotely?
I use Skype, Evernote and InVision to help me show visuals. Skype allows me to make video calls and share my screen, and Evernote and InVision are really helpful because other people can mock up designs directly. Google Docs is also really great because you can see all the changes as they’re made. When you’re working together in a collaborative way, it’s great to see those instantaneous edits.
What do you think are the three most important things to do or consider when collaborating with people remotely, especially on design projects?
1. Find a quiet space, where the people on the other side can hear you clearly. In the past I’ve done remote meetings and the person decides to go to a coffee shop, and then you hear all the ambient noise. Sometimes a headset is not enough. Similarly, make sure you have your mute button handy, because some sounds can be out of your control (like an ambulance driving by).
2. Make sure you have a good Internet connection, so when you’re sending files back and forth or sharing your screen, there are no lag times or dropped calls.
3. Be prepared. You never know when you’ll have to turn on your camera [for video calls], so be in a space that you would be okay with others seeing. You just never know when you need to have that face time. More than anything, you want to project that you’re organized and put-together. If you’re presenting designs via Skype, for example, make sure they’re all ready in a pdf document or a gallery of images, so you don’t have to search around your computer during the call.
Why do you like working remotely?
It gives me freedom. Especially with creative stuff — it’s hard to be creative only from 9 to 5. Sometimes your best ideas or best designs will pop up at night, or early in the morning. For example, if you’re having a design roadblock, it can take some time to get yourself out of that haze. So you can answer emails, go get a coffee, do whatever you need to do. And then all of a sudden you have an amazing idea, so you prop up your computer and burn the midnight oil. Being creative, there is no 9 to 5. So for days that I work in the office, a lot of the times during the day I use that time to do administrative types of things, like emails, answering people’s questions, collaborating on upcoming projects, etc. And once I get home and settle in, I’m inspired to get back on the computer, and that’s when I start doing some design that I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.
What has been your biggest challenge collaborating with people remotely?
When you’re in a meeting that has four or five people together at the office and you’re remote. It becomes a little chaotic and it can sometimes make you feel a little left out for not being physically there. Those tools I just mentioned are great, but a lot of voices at once kind of muffles the sound.
Do you have any last advice for other designers who work remotely?
1. Make sure to surround yourself with things that inspire you, whether they’re visual things or particular music playlists. If you’ve hit a roadblock, it’s always great to pause, put the computer down, take a walk, etc., and when you least expect it, the answer will come to you. Especially when you’re working remotely, a lot of the times it’s just you there by yourself. In the office there are more natural breaks and distractions, but when you’re at home, you’re in a bubble. So avoid working in a vacuum; try to go get a coffee, do something to activate your creativity.
2. Cloud technology is your friend. A tool like Dropbox is great, because you’re able to upload and save files into your Dropbox folder, and you can access them anywhere. For example, I have an art assets folder that I can’t live without; it has a lot of my essentials that I need (all my color palettes, branding stuff, etc.). So with Dropbox I can access my source files there, regardless of whether I’m at the office or at home, or if I’m on my iPad or work laptop.
3. Try to go to events that get you connected with other creative people. Remote work can be isolating, so find ways to get out and talk to other people — whether it’s a membership to a museum, or something like the monthly art walks we have in Oakland. Be moved, create!
Do you work differently in the office than at home? How have you set up your workspace? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!