Tales of a car designer working remotely

Ananda Arasu
Ananda Arasu July 22, 2021 6 min read

by Peter Spriggs


The pandemic introduced millions around the world to remote working, no longer being able to stay within proximity to colleagues necessitated the change to working from home… and for many, it uncovered a surprising truth, working from home does not have to negatively impact productivity.  

 I’m no stranger to remote work, in fact, I have been working remotely since the start of 2019 and throughout the past 2 years I’ve learned first-hand what it’s like to work from home for the long term. You notice the freedom immediately… there is no one expecting to see you at your desk at 8:00am, while this may sound like I am advocating for laziness bear with me. This doesn’t mean that there is no requirement to work just as diligently as you would in the studio, but it removes the first work-related stress experienced by many every day. You know that you’ll start work as you would have in a studio, but you also know that there is no one that would judge you for arriving 15 minutes or half an hour late. This reduction in stress at the start of the day is amplified if your usual working day started with a long or busy commute and it immediately sets a relaxed tone to the day, every day. 

Staying connected with your designer becomes a high priority when working remotely. Because you don’t physically interact with each other during the day, it is important in most cases to ensure you have seamless communication with each other should you need any further input. Since I began remote working I’ve used Slack as the software of choice for this task, it is simply a straightforward common space that you and the rest of your project team can use to talk with each other about changes, issues, and requirements. Occasionally we would need to view other members of the team’s work directly which is where the now all too familiar zoom calls come in. And to be perfectly truthful, being able to share your screen with the designer without them physically looking over your shoulder removes another anxiety issue a lot of us experience during our day in the studio.

Roboracer image courtesy of Peter Spriggs

Of course, remote working is not without its pitfalls, it can become a difficult juggling act for some of us when we start to become unable to separate work life from home life. This is especially true for those with a family that now find themselves trying to balance looking after the kids and getting the latest center console iteration ready for tomorrow’s design review. I cannot speak for the latter but in general, I found that setting myself the same time structure I adhered to subconsciously in the studio helps to keep me from accidentally looking out the window in June and seeing the streetlamps on. This includes the same time for lunch, the same amount (on average) of coffee/tea breaks I had before, and the same starting and end times each day. Of course just as I would in a studio, I can’t always stick to these times every day, so I just roll with the punches and use this as my guideline, I have faced a unique situation in this regard that I have no doubt will become increasingly common in our discipline in the future. My current client is based in California, however altering my above system to account for this was relatively straightforward but it does require some initiative, improvisation, and design input on my part occasionally should I have questions about a specific area. In fact, I believe this experience is improving my ability to both interpret design changes and implement design solutions at a faster pace than before. 

 The second and sometimes the more impactful disadvantage of working from home, for single people especially is the lack of colleagues that previously surrounded you, I found quite quickly that the general knowledge that other people are not in the vicinity as they would be in a studio did not have any measurable impact. However, the absence of work friends to chat and discuss with during breaks, or the general banter while sitting at a desk does start to weigh on you. A good idea to ensure human contact during the day is to go for a walk into town or arrange to meet up with friends during lunch, make the most of that time to offset the time you are essentially isolated when working. 

Roboracer image courtesy of Peter Spriggs

 
 After March 2020 and the lockdown started to force more and more people to work from home, I found that my working day was no longer just me and my work, people that I never would have spoken with previously during work hours were now available to fill that void. Across the country, or in other countries, friends from outside of work were now my new office friends, chatting with each other during the day over the internet was for me one of the very few pluses during the pandemic. The banter that was missing previously, returned and I believe that this has had the biggest positive impact since working remotely.  
  
This neatly brings me to the potential for the future when it comes to working from home, what could the future look like if most of our work was done wherever people chose to work from, how would that affect us as an industry? Not just professionally but socially and mentally as well. There will inevitably be situations where working in a studio would be needed for some of us, for example, it is impossible for clay modelers to work without their clay model, clearly, and the same can be said for many other aspects of the design process. For a lot of us, the advent of VR has been a blessing and with the increasing global acceptance of the work from home philosophy, the technology will only advance further. Unless you want to physically feel the shape of the surfaces, a visit to the clay property may no longer require a trip to the studio. Currently, I do not feel that VR is quite at the level to replace that just yet, but that day is not far away.

So, working from home is very situational and most of us would still have the need to visit the studio from time to time.  My own experience however has shown that even with a time zone difference of 8 hours and therefore no time in the studio to speak of the productivity has seen no drop at all, which gives comfort and confidence to those who may one day wish to relocate for personal reasons, to be closer to family or just to try someplace new, without leaving their chosen career or a job that they love.  

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Peter Spriggs is an Alias modeler specializing in concept design with over 10 years of experience in the design industry, with clients ranging from Jaguar Land Rover and Geely to GAC and Radford.  He graduated from Coventry University’s Transport Design course in 2010 and has since provided Alias and design skills to various companies, both OEMs and small studios alike.

As well as the extensive array of past and present clients, Peter enjoys working on his own projects from time to time, including the creation of the Aurora concept car in 2017 as an Autodesk dataset and most recently, the Spectre autonomous race car seen here.

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