“Teamwork is more crucial than ever” during COVID-19, says Miriam Fanning

May 11, 2020
  • Article by Elisa Scarton

Making yourself available to your team members and preparing a set of guidelines to assist with working remotely, isolation and anxiety is the advice from interior designer Miriam Fanning.

In another of our virtual fireside chats with Australian architects and designers about leadership in the time of COVID-19, the founder of Melbourne’s Mim Design Studio is committed to staying positive.

Along with Mim’s other directors, she’s working overtime to stay connected with her team, whether that’s providing advice or some welcome support. She’s also committed to seeing the silver lining, even if it’s just the chance to brush up on her computer skills.

Sussex Street. Photo: Sharyn Cairns

How has your studio adapted to remote work? How prepared were you?

Miriam Fanning: I think it’s safe to say we weren’t initially prepared for such a seismic shift in working style, but I’ve been so impressed with how our team has adapted to this new normal. We had to re-strategize the way our whole office communicates and thinks, restructuring our team and our programming to suit catchups and flow through on projects digitally.

We took our time to organise the restructure to ensure as seamless a transition as possible for our team and I’m really glad we did. When we eventually moved to remote working, everyone left with a level of comfort and reassurance knowing how things would work.

What tools are you using to work remotely? What technology has become especially useful during this period?

MF: Microsoft Teams has been vital in setting up each project with relevant team members to allow them to communicate with each other effectively. Microsoft Teams also allows us to operate almost exactly as we were before, hosting workshops and discussing drawings on video calls. However, it’s obviously not the same as all being in the same room and it’s safe to say we’re missing each other.

Fawkner Residence. Photo: Sean Fennessey

How are you maintaining a studio culture and a sense of team?

MF: Every Monday we have our mandatory programming meeting to discuss the week, month and next three-to-four months.

On Fridays, we have a studio meeting where we discuss the week, have a chat and we have had some Zoom ‘crashers’. The ‘crasher’ is usually someone we know in the industry giving us the lowdown on how they’re going.

On the Friday afternoons, the studio also has Zoom drinks, which is relaxing and entertaining. We all talk about our weekend and what we are not doing! All with a laugh, of course.

How are you addressing mental health and wellness?

MF: The online software we are using ensures a collaborative team effort still exists, which is especially important for our graduates, so they can continue learning from more senior members of the team. Teamwork is more crucial than ever.

We have also prepared and circulated a set of guidelines to assist with working remotely, isolation and anxiety. These guidelines have a number of tools that help. We have also issued links to mental health groups, hotlines and websites, and the three directors are always available via phone or Zoom for help or simply a catchup.

Fawkner Residence. Photo: Sean Fennessey

How are you reassuring clients and suppliers during this period?

MF: We’ve been honest about our capabilities (internet connections at home can be ‘troublesome’ and our server crashed for the first time in eight years!). We’ve altered our deadlines slightly, but we’re still completing our deliverables, as well as supporting our suppliers. Ideally, we want to come out the other end of this stronger without redundancies or stand downs.

Is there one habit you’ve put in place to get through this period?

MF: Making best use of my limited trips out of the house and taking my dog for a walk has provided me with a perfect opportunity not only to reflect on the business, but keep me inspired, as some of my best ideas come on these walks. Also, I’ve been given the opportunity to become more technically efficient, which is something I’ve always wanted to do.

Mim Design Office. Photo: Peter Clarke

What is your number one priority now as a business leader?

MF: To ensure the wellbeing of my team and instil confidence in our clients and suppliers, so they know we’re doing everything in our ability to see these projects through to fruition, but most importantly staying connected with people. Keeping positive through this time is also essential.

How are you staying creative?

MF: Visualising is my creative outlet, so the walks are an important part. I have also been sketching and painting at home, which I rarely get the time to do.

What advice do you have for practices/studios that have had projects cancelled or postponed?

MF: It’s always hard when this happens, and it happens for a reason. It’s not the practice’s fault. These projects will come back. Stay in touch with your clients. They are also in a position they don’t want to be in. Keep positive.

Mim Design Office. Photo: Peter Clarke

Read our other leadership-during-COVID-19 Q&As with interior designer and director Kate Challis and Decus Interiors director Alexandra Donohoe Church, lighting designer Nicci Green, property developer Shannon Peach, architecture studio Greenbox Architects and Paul Conrad Architects principal Paul Conrad.

Stay up-to-date with our coverage of the A&D industry and coronavirus with our dedicated COVID-19 resources page and hear messages of hope and advice from Aussie architects and designers in our Working from Home video series.

Lead photo of Miriam Fanning supplied.

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