Mental Health Awareness Week: At Home in the Office With… Deepak Parmar, Design Director at MCM.

How would you best describe your job? 

Just saying I’m ‘a designer’ is probably underselling it. As designers, we have a huge responsibility to ensure the spaces we design are delivering on more than just aesthetics. I’ve always been interested in curating experiences for people and at MCM we have a very human-centric approach to design. As a Design Director, my role is to take clients on a journey to discovering not only what kind of workplace could get the best from their employees, but what kind of space best represents their brand and culture. I help them strategically explore the potential of their work environments.


Has your work changed much over the last year due to the pandemic?

We haven’t had a disruptor to the way people work like the pandemic for a very long time - it’s really changed everything. Not just people’s working patterns and behaviours but also their expectations around what work means to them and I think, for many, the intangible aspects of why they do what they do. What’s clear is that the role of the office is now more important than ever - to help people connect to the company they work for, it’s culture and their colleagues. The next year will be a pilot for many as they start to test what their version of a hybrid/blended working model looks like. We’re seeing many of our clients experimenting more than ever, which is exciting.


What does your physical home working space set up look like?

I alternate between a small desk in our bedroom and our dining table. Both myself and my fiancee Lauren have a lot of calls so it’s important we’re in separate rooms when we need to be – particularly as I’m a loud talker and she’s a furious typer! Both rooms have their quirks: the bedroom is a great spot as it’s south facing so gets tons of natural light and the dining room is adjacent to the kitchen so the ten cups of Yorkshire tea I drink every day are more easily accessible. Either way, I’m surrounded by plants and books – two of my favourite things - and it’s rare that Frank, our 16 month old Black Pomeranian Cross isn’t snoozing away next to me. I try not to spend the whole day sitting down so will get up and walk around as much as possible. My favourite pieces in our flat are the vintage Eames dining chairs I sit on, the Menu JWDA concrete lamp and the various Hay planters, vases and candles which add some colour. But if I had to pick one piece it would be the Carl Hansen CH25 chair we own, which, coincidentally, Frank has also claimed as his favourite!


What does an average day look like for you?

I’m not sure there is such a thing, but usually I’m up at around 7:00am and we take the dog out to our local park where he runs around with the rest of the lockdown pups. I love this time of day as it’s a chance for me to get out of the house before starting work and to grab a coffee from my local coffee shop. From there onwards, unless I’m heading into the office or going to see a client, my day can be broken up into several activities; from pitch work, to designing workshops to design reviews. I’m lucky that my role is full of variety and no two days are ever the same. If time allows, I’ll try to squeeze in 45 minutes of piano practise (a new hobby I’ve taken up this year). I’ll also make sure I bookend the day with another dog walk before coming back and spending time on my other passion, cooking.


What’s the one piece of equipment you couldn’t work without? 

Apart from my laptop, probably my iPad. I haven’t printed a single piece of paper for the last year - everything I do is virtual. It’s a great tool for sketching, taking notes and marking up presentation decks. Pre-pandemic, my locker was full of various notebooks, meaning I’d struggle to find that one important piece of information, so having everything stored in a single place on the cloud and being able to search through it has definitely saved me time. Also, coming in a close second would have to be the Google Nest speakers we have around the house…I just can’t go without having BBC 6Music playing in the background.


How do you curate your workspace for maximum concentration and creativity? 

By keeping some form of order and removing distractions. Because I work across multiple projects, I find compartmentalising my day into productive chunks helps. Also, being able to clear away my working tools at the end of the day helps to create a boundary between my work and personal life. I don’t actually have much equipment so it’s fairly easy to do. Also, Lauren is a clean freak, so she won’t let me keep anything out! I find that often it’s not just the space that sets me up to be creative or be able to focus, it’s also being able to switch off notifications so that I’m not constantly being bombarded with questions and queries. Sometimes just going for a walk and being outside of your usual workspace helps give you the clarity you need for a challenging problem.


Are there any rituals/self-care practices that have really helped you during this time? 

Working from home - especially during lockdown - can be quite monotonous, so being strict with my boundaries has been important. Walking the dog ensures I get out of the house at least twice a day, also spending time practising piano means that, even if only for 30 minutes a day, I can’t think about work. It’s amazing how, when learning a new skill, your brain has to focus 100% on the activity – almost like a form of meditation. I’d love to say I’ve been squeezing in more exercise but I’d be lying! I try not to carry my work into the evenings so when I close down for the day, I usually cook dinner (another form of meditation), have a glass of wine and relax with my other half.


Will you try to keep any of these self-care practices going post- pandemic? If so, which ones?

Absolutely. I expect post-pandemic I will still work in a very flexible way so will try to retain most of those rituals. Also Frank isn’t going to walk himself!


At what time of day do you feel most creative? Why?

I’d definitely say I’m more productive in the morning rather than the afternoon or evening. Between 10:00 – 13:00 is my sweet spot - I’ve had my first cup of tea so am fully awake but I haven’t yet had meeting overload, meaning my brain is engaged.


What has been the biggest challenge of working from home? 

I can honestly say working from home has given me far more positives than negatives. I suppose the main challenge is diary management and ensuring I’m not just on back to back calls, which, in turn, means I don’t get any actual work done. Also the lack of social contact. Although I’ve gotten to know my local community far better, pre-pandemic I was used to constantly meeting new people, attending social events and walking to various parts of the city. I suspect most of that will return once lockdown ends and I can enjoy the best of both worlds.

What has been the best thing about it? 

Balance. Not feeling like I have to go into the office every day, even if my day is made up of meetings. I’ve also had some great, distraction-free time to do some creative and strategic thinking. Going forward, I’ll really think about what specific activities I’ll want to go into the office for and what simply requires me to concentrate and do work from home. Also going into the office five days a week was the primary reason for us never owning a dog and as soon as we recognised that wasn’t going to be the case going forward, we bought Frank. Having a dog has changed our lockdown experience and has done wonders for my mental wellbeing!

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