How do you sustain a creative culture remotely?
Michael Heins, co-founder at Edinburgh design and technology studio MoreYum, talks about how to keep the serendipity and creative collaboration from the physical office alive and well in a remote creative team.
MoreYum is an ambitious, nimble and forward-thinking design and technology studio tapped into the thriving Scottish startup scene. Founded in 2017 by partners Michael and Egle Heins, their now remote, five-person outfit creates digital experiences, brands, and products for some of the region’s most exciting new ventures, as well as a host of respected international organizations. Recent project work includes a full rebrand for Dayshape, an AI-powered resource management platform, design and development of a digital wellbeing tool for the Scottish Youth Parliament and a brand refresh for The Rocky Mountain International Audio Festival in Colorado.
Michael and Egle met whilst completing their master’s degree at Edinburgh College of Art. Prior to MoreYum, Michael spent time building his skill set in digital design agencies whereas Egle honed her craft as an in-house designer and front-end developer. MoreYum was founded on the principle of combining the best of these two different worlds.
With the onset of the pandemic in the UK during early 2020, MoreYum was forced to swiftly pivot the team to remote work along with the rest of the country. And Heins, like millions of others around the world this past year, quickly came to feel that unexplainable sense of exhaustion we’ve come to know as Zoom fatigue. When Stanford researchers examined the psychological consequences of spending hours per day on video conferencing platforms, they identified the key drivers of this fatigue, which include too much eye contact, seeing yourself constantly in real-time, the inability to move your body, and the overall heightened “cognitive load” that occurs during video calls.
“It’s replaced almost every single internal meeting…”
An alternative to Zoom fatigue
Riff is an audio workplace that recreates presence within teams, allowing them to instantly speak to anyone with just one click. With no need to schedule a call, be on camera, or type a message, Riff has given MoreYum an alternative to all-day video calls and the resulting fatigue. “It’s replaced almost every single internal meeting, which is fantastic — from quick check-ins to formal meetings”, says Heins. “Our morning stand-ups feel really cosy because we turn on Riff, and I usually make a cup of coffee while I speak to other people, it’s really nice.”
Restoring creative happenstance
In a creative agency, a simple stroll behind the rows of glossy monitors provides a snapshot of work-in-progress, inspiring collaboration throughout the day. Heins explains how Riff helps to recreate some of that valuable energy that can otherwise be missing in a remote creative team. “In the office, when someone is walking past, they see something on the screen or in the sketchbook and just react to it…[with Riff] you can very quickly check-in and get a sense if somebody wants to speak about something. It enables much closer collaboration creatively.”
All the best parts of a physical space with none of the worst
Far from a constant stream of chatter all day long, for Heins, Riff’s spaces feel akin to the different areas of an office — with quiet spaces for concentration, meeting rooms for collaboration, and casual areas for social time. “It gives you visibility…it’s very similar to when somebody will put on headphones in an office, or spend an hour working from a cafe. It feels very natural and very human, which is a huge, huge driver for me.”
Building a culture beyond GIFs
In the early days of workplace instant messaging platforms like Slack, there was a great deal of novelty in being able to share an emoji-laden spreadsheet link or celebrate a win with a carefully chosen GIF. But with the great shift to remote, WFH, and hybrid models, we need tools that not only replicate a pre-existing office dynamic but have the power to build one from scratch.
“…it’s definitely been very positive for our culture, our wellbeing and how we feel as a team”
Riff has allowed the team to rely on instant messaging apps less, with all project and social chat happening in Riff. “[With instant messaging apps] the tool itself becomes work, while Riff does exactly the opposite. It just lets me do what I want with the people I want to do it with. It doesn’t stand in the way of that…I don’t need a giraffe GIF to get my job done.”
Riff allows for informal chats, and culture that wouldn’t exist otherwise, as Heins points out, “if you need to ask somebody to quickly jump on a video call to discuss a football game or a new album that came out, it’s just really, really awkward…for me, Riff feels like a space that we can use however we need to at that moment….it’s definitely been very positive for our culture, our well being and how we feel as a team”.
The future of work for MoreYum
Like so many creative businesses, MoreYum is embracing how the freedom of flexible working models creates happier employees and ultimately leads to better work.
Heins tells us “the more you push people to adhere to a rigid system, the more you drain out the inspiration, the creativity, the joy, the fun”. Post-pandemic, MoreYum will pursue a hybrid model, with the team coming together for collaborative sessions and working from home as needed, with Riff enabling communication between the two modes. “Whatever sessions we have in person, we’re going to be able to take that same energy, and spring it straight back into the moments when we’re not together but we’re still talking to each other. It feels like a tool that is going to work very well for this hybrid approach, as well as working from home… I think it’s quite remarkable.”