Working from home has given editorial director Katelin Butler more time to focus on strategic planning and thinking, and to consider the important takeaways from this critical moment in time.
What is your work-from-home space like?
I live alone in a one-bedroom apartment in South Yarra. I bought this apartment a year ago – its close proximity to the Royal Botanical Gardens and Fawkner Park were big drawcards for me. I also have a convenient, 20-minute walk to work. Due to my (normally) busy schedule, I’ve never spent much time at home. Now, the Royal Botanical Gardens are closed, I no longer need to walk to work and I’m always at home!
I’ve hastily put together my workplace at my (round) dining room table. I’ve chosen this spot as it gets good northern light and is right beside the balcony door that is usually open. I’ve been standing outside on my balcony during my many phone calls. From there I can watch people on their daily exercise outings. This is also my favourite place to check magazine proofs.
What work do you do here?
I’m the editorial director at Architecture Media, so I’m managing a team of editors across a series of print and digital titles including Architecture Australia, Houses, Artichoke, Landscape Architecture Australia, Kitchens and Bathrooms and ArchitectureAU.com. My days are often spent on the phone or on Zoom calls. If I’m not on the phone, I’m emailing, checking layouts, planning future issues, writing articles etc.
Did you work from home pre-COVID-19? If so, how has the experience of remote working changed for you in the last few weeks?
I’ve never worked at home, other than to write articles for our magazines. Writing is something I really enjoy, so I’ve always indulged in that process at home. I usually spend a lot of time travelling for work. So, rather than working at home, it’s usually about squeezing in phone calls and emails in between flights and events.
Have there been benefits to working from home? Can you describe them?
Working from home has allowed me the headspace to focus more on the strategic planning and thinking that is required in my role. When I’m in the office, I’m normally distracted by the day-to-day of making sure everything is going to plan in that moment. I think this is one of the benefits of living alone at this time – nothing to distract me!
What have been the biggest challenges so far?
Working on magazines is a collaborative effort. I really miss the incidental meetings and conversations about content and new ideas. A shared screen on a Zoom meeting just isn’t the same.
Leading a team remotely is particularly challenging, but something I’m getting more comfortable with as isolation goes on. I often get to the end of the day and realise that I’ve spent all my time making sure everyone is on track and has the support they need. It’s only then that I get to my own tasks. It has never been more important to be a good leader or manager than it is right now. So I’m really focused on that. I think that spending more time on team morale is a small sacrifice to make in order for the wheels to keep turning.
There seems to be a lot more decisions to make these days. I normally suffer from decision fatigue, but this is a whole new level of decision fatigue!
What has been surprising? (either positive or negative)
I’m surprised that I’m (almost) used to this situation now – but that comes down to human adaptability.
Have you discovered any tools (technological or otherwise) that have been particularly useful for remote working?
Our team has always used Slack, Trello and Zoom – so this technology is nothing new for us. However, we have been learning the possibilities of programs that we didn’t know existed. This has led to some more efficient ways of doing some tasks, such as final reads within Indesign (rather than on paper).
Do you have any tips for creating successful working relationships remotely? With colleagues, clients and others?
As soon as our team started working from home, I scheduled a daily morning Zoom meeting. This is more often a social affair, but also gives us the opportunity to touch base about what everyone is working on or needs help with. Effective communication is vital for remote working and we are a very well-oiled machine. Since we starting working from home in mid-March, we have sent five magazines to the printers and countless digital ArchitectureAU newsletters. I’m very impressed with how my team has adapted to this situation and I think this is due to the great working relationships that already existed.
How are you managing the work/life juggle, and all the competing demands?
I’m lucky and unlucky at the same time – living alone means I don’t have as many competing responsibilities as others, but it also means that I don’t have anyone in my “bubble”. In some ways, not having serious competing demands such as children or a partner means that I default to working more often, just to keep myself occupied. This definitely isn’t ideal and something I’m currently working on.
How are you staying connected with work, friends and family?
I love communicating – and that’s my forte! (Maybe it’s why I’m in media … ) I spend a lot of time on the phone when life is normal, so it’s natural for me to stay connected. One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m talking to people that I wouldn’t normally talk to on the phone. I think this is allowing deeper connections to form with those I’d normally just have incidental conversations with at an industry event.
I also go for an exercise outing (AKA “a walk”) with one person per day. I am lucky that I have quite a few friends, colleagues and family members who live close by – so I’m relying on that network to keep me sane.
What strategies are you using to switch off from work?
This is probably something I need help with. As my workspace is in my dining/living room, it’s hard to switch off. I do make an effort to leave the house for a walk at 6pm – this is an attempt to mark the end of the working day. Doesn’t always work!
What strategies are you using to lift your spirits and maintain mental wellbeing?
It’s common knowledge that it’s important to maintain some sort of routine during this time. I wake up at 6.30am every morning and start the day with a training session with my sisters (via Zoom). Meeting my sisters in this way keeps me accountable in my aim to maintain physical health. Perhaps more importantly, this is about feeling regularly connected to my family (love seeing my little, nine-month-old nephew in the mornings!). I shower, get dressed and then sit down with a coffee and breakfast for my team meeting at 8.30am.
My dad is working every second week at the moment (in a dental hospital). During his weeks at work, his dog, Claude, comes to stay with me. It’s wonderful to have another living thing in my apartment other than my plants! It also means I’m getting outside for some fresh air daily, no matter how cold it is.
I think maintaining wellbeing is about shifting your mindset – or trying to think about things from a different perspective. Life is normally uncertain and this is just a new extreme of uncertainty. I’m using this time away from industry events, talks and parties as an opportunity to reflect on what’s important to me. How will I come out of this situation in the best-case scenario? What are the important takeaways from this moment in time? This can extend to the industry itself – what are the opportunities in this crisis for architects? What is important in the way we design? What positive changes can we make for practice? How can we come out of this downturn and rebuild in the best way possible?
Katelin Butler is the editorial director at Architecture Media. Prior to her appointment as editorial director, Katelin was the design portfolio manager at Architecture Media, editor of Houses (2010–2018) and assistant editor of Architecture Australia (2005–2009). She has coedited three books, The Forever House: Time-Honoured Australian Homes (2014), The Terrace House: Reimagined for the Australian Way of Life (2015) and The Apartment House: Reframing the Australian Dream (2017), all published by Thames and Hudson. Katelin holds a Bachelor of Environmental Design from the University of Tasmania and a Master of Architecture from the University of Melbourne. She has been a peer juror, exhibition curator, guest university critic and speaker at various industry events and conferences.