Amid the ongoing pandemic, Vianca Favila designs a new business plan for her empire. Here’s how she did it.
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I was recently invited as the keynote speaker for the Society of Interior designers-Singapore (SIDS), in partnership with the Philippine Institute of Interior Design (PIID), and they have asked me to speak about how my firm remained resilient despite this pandemic with a constant stream of projects coming our way.
With the number of questions from the audience, I realized how small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and young designers were really looking for advice on how to navigate around this pandemic. So, for those who missed my talk, I’d love to share these key points with you today.
Pause In Design
During the start of the lockdown, all our projects stopped. Interior design, after all, is not just about drawings and plans, but it also includes client meetings, sourcing for materials, shopping for furniture, and construction site visits. Almost 70% of the work was done not at the office, but outside. So needless to say, the initial reaction was to worry—how can we possibly do our job without being able to go out?
My company, Empire Designs is a medium-sized design firm and we’ve been in the design industry for more than a decade. We were able to establish already our name as well as our systems—from conceptualization to the turnover of each design project—and to have all this change at the snap of a finger was honestly quite frightening.
This is why we gave ourselves a few days to let the initial anxiety (of potentially not being able to do our job in this new normal) subside. In order for us to be able to create our business continuity plan, we first had to pause and assess the situation. Staying calm, breathing, and just accepting the things that we can’t change helped in giving us more clarity.
We started by going back to our roots—on how we first started becoming interior designers. And from there, we began researching best practices and marketing our services once more.
Letting go of anxiety, we started to get excited—it’s as if we were given a fresh start! According to the book Think Again by Adam Grant, confident humility means having faith in one’s ability to achieve your goals—while maintaining the humility to question whether you have the right tools at the moment. Undoubtedly, we knew our industry. We knew our design business, but we had to summon our curiosity gene and see things in a new light. Humility comes with thinking—what used to work before would definitely not work again now.
Think Again And Act Fast
Back then, there were only 3 known COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. And just like everyone else, we all thought that this would last for 2 weeks—a month at most. But one year later and here we still are—back to where we started and with no clear ending at sight. So the best decision I would say was for us was to act fast.
Come April—a month into the lockdown—I already had a feeling that this pandemic would change our lives completely. And all we can do is change with the times and move on. The term #NewNormal is not just a thing we say on social media, but it’s also a reality, so we had to think again and discover new ways of doing things. If we get stuck in our old habits and ways, refuse to change, and if all we can do is complain, hoping that everything turns back the way it was, we too won’t grow as individuals and as designers.
We started then by crunching the numbers—realizing that the first thing we needed to do was to let go of our second office. This was a hard decision we had to make, but one that helped greatly in the long run. Next would be the decision to do a perpetual Work from Home (WFH) set-up but we still kept our first office as our main hub. Through that, I learned that studying our trade, designing, and coordinating work can be done at home. And so, we sent our team their own desktop computers—and even desks and office chairs for those who didn’t have any readily available at home.
My usual allergy to technology was replaced with the acceptance of virtual meetings through the advent of Zoom, Google Meet, MS Teams, and the like. Learning productivity tools such as Click-up and all these different apps was really overwhelming at first, but something that I had to learn to change with the times.
But all in all, coming up with a strategy for sourcing materials and site visits was the hardest to think of. How could we possibly see actual materials and actual mock-ups if we don’t go out? Our industry relies heavily on visuals, and for me personally, pictures and videos don’t quite cut it. I have to see things physically. I have to touch it and feel the emotions a certain color or material evokes on the design I am executing and I have trained my designers to do the same.
Thus, after much deliberation, we decided to invest in two things: our own car service to shuttle our team to job sites and our own motorbike to pick up and deliver swatches and samples from suppliers and contractors straight to our homes.
The Design Of Camaraderie
In a span of three months, our way of doing things has changed completely and in order for us to implement things successfully, teamwork was key.
As part of being in upper management, we created a survey where we asked our team about how we could help them be effective in their jobs, despite the changes that were happening. On the other hand, as designers, we briefed clients on expectations and discussed things through a combination of virtual and on-site meetings. Suppliers and subcontractors helped greatly in sending mock-ups our way, while we, in turn, deposited payments directly to their accounts. That way, they didn’t need to pick up checks or go to banks.
By working together with clients, suppliers, and our team, we can really be the purveyors of change.
The initial reaction in times of crisis is to hold onto your finances and blessings, but let me tell you this—the more you give, the more you get. And this holds true for me and my company.
Since we interior designers have access to suppliers and funding, we decided to use our network and resources to create Tracheo boxes, which we donated to hospitals nationwide. These boxes were designed to keep our healthcare workers safe while intubating on COVID-19 patients. Despite our no work and no pay set-up with projects at a virtual standstill, we focused on what we do best and that is to be of service (even if it was not the usual service we provide).
I am almost always reminded of the famous Apple tagline, which is embodied in how Steve Jobs does business in times of crisis. The core fundamentals of design are to create, transform, and think differently and this pandemic allowed us to do just that. Throughout these days, we gave ourselves all a great pause to allow ourselves to discover new things—may it be about ourselves, others, and maybe even our industries.
And with this, I am very much excited to share with you all my lockdown baby—Gussy—the fruit of our company’s journey of resiliency in this pandemic.
But let me save the details for my next article.