Home but certainly not alone
Published in Jul-Aug 2015
I work from home. Yes, it’s full time and no, I am not a stay-at-home mom (or a vampire – though I do burn like one when exposed to the sun!) Why? Well, simply because things played out that way.
For perspective… I have been working for The Brand Crew for four years, of which three have been spent working from home.
I run the entire creative department by remote control. The setup is that I spend three months in Islamabad and then I travel to Karachi for two weeks to a month for meetings, presentations or major pitches.
Let me break down a typical day. You know how you wake up at 8:00 a.m. and make a mad dash through breakfast and to the office? Now imagine you are at work quietly sipping your chai, when all of a sudden the electricity goes off and the resident maasi picks that exact moment to tell your mom (yes, your mom has decided to join you for work today) what the next-door auntie was up to yesterday, and that too in excruciating detail. And just when you are contemplating giving your mom a filthy look, your social media obsessed sister rushes into the room waving her phone exclaiming “OMG! You have to see this adorable video I just shared!” followed by your dad trying to figure out what the fuss is about.
It gets better – this is the precise moment when your inbox starts pinging and you have at least 10 unread emails all marked urgent. That is how every morning starts out for me, minus the traffic and chai, but plus the 45 minutes extra sleep.
"There is not much difference between working from home or from an office apart from the methods you use. So, whereas you may drive to the office, I log on. My morning sounds are made up of constant pings from Skype, Google Talk, email and WhatsApp."
Early mornings are usually more organised because I have figured things out for the department’s day-to-day tasks the night before and which I email to the team by 10:00 pm. I do this ritualistically because knowing my luck, the internet is going to act up or one of my siblings has drained my laptop’s battery and/or it is loadshedding season.
Once online I check emails and chat with people. My team will Google Talk me on a number of topics from cat memes to Buzzfeed quizzes to the requisite “can you check that email I sent?” As a rule I am copied on every email that is sent to the creative department so that I can keep a sanity check on the workflow, but as a result
I am flooded by emails by 10:30 a.m., with requests ranging from simple copy changes to having that pitch, which was due in 10 days time, pushed forward to the coming Thursday and I am left thinking “Are you for real?” And this is when the thing you dread most happens. You know it’s serious when your CEO’s name flashes on your phone – that is my gauge for how urgent a project is. Client service calling means I can buy a few extra days, head of operations means I can talk him into rescheduling the deadlines for a project that was due the next day, but when the CEO calls you know you are in hot water and the pitch is definitely for Thursday. This is when I go into overdrive because I will now be coordinating through every communication platform available, from the landline to WhatsApp to figure out people’s availability for a con-call.
"Con-calls can either be extremely fun or frustrating, because despite working in digital I absolutely hate being at the mercy of technology."
The prerequisites for con-calls from home are firstly, run around the house asking everyone to keep their voices down and not come barging into the room unannounced, secondly change out of my pyjamas (damn you, Facetime!) and thirdly make sure the bandwidth is reasonable for the call.
On a good day I will have the team ready with research ideas that are approved within minutes.
On a bad day the internet will disconnect every two seconds and just when you are Skyping with your bosses and approaching that super intense eureka moment, your naani, who has dementia, walks into the room asking, “Yeh kaun say aadmi say baat kar rahee ho! Abhi tumharee maa ko batati hoon!”
(True story, both my bosses started laughing.)
During these calls, ideas are shot down, concepts married and work divided. Emails are sent with commitments from strategy, design and copy about timelines. Once the commitments are made, this is when the nervous energy builds up and the dreaded wait for the first drafts begins. To distract myself I go to the kitchen to discuss the team’s idea with my mom, just as a rehearsal in case I have to formally present it. Otherwise I will reach for my current book (The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugendes right now) to distract myself.
By lunch time I start receiving the drafts and the team takes a break. Lunch is a one-handed affair, scrolling through emails and chat logs on the phone, while my daadi tries to figure out what the constant ‘tak tak’ is followed by ‘kabhi toh phone ki jaan chor diya karo.’ Lunch can last anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on the mood of the house and its residents.
I breathe a sigh of relief when I see the first drafts and then get to work looking at things from the functionality aspect; I check the fonts, the contrasts, the UI and UX and the overall aesthetics of the design. I email the changes I want and have the designs emailed to Strategy to implement them in their presentations. This is followed by an internal meeting to basically tear down the presentation from limb to limb. These meetings are quite entertaining because voices will be raised and work will be defended until common ground is met.
At about 4:00 p.m. everyone gets back with the revisions and I look at the other deadlines for that day – as we are in digital no project can go ‘on hold’; so half the team handles the pitch, while the other half carries on with the day-to-day work. During this time I go over all the work like a red-pen-happy algebra teacher, marking alignments on jpegs and scribbling comments on the side.
At about 6:00 p.m. the drafts are done – final touches are left and the files are Dropboxed with any last minute revisions requests. The only time I disconnect from work is from 6:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. when I go for a run to avoid becoming a poster child for obesity. Once back, I scroll through my emails for feedback or changes, and even for a ticket to Karachi to present to the client the coming Thursday.
And I smile at the prospect of tomorrow along with the chaos it will inevitably bring.
Sana Naeem is Creative Director, The Brand Crew.
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