Keeping Business on Course in These Challenging Times

Here in Puerto Rico, our design firm, Stewart Rodriguez, made it through Hurricane Maria and the months that life and some work was on hold. As designers, we can make it through the coronavirus crisis too. We just have to be organized and a little flexible. 

04/03/2020
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Fernando Rodriguez Home Office During Coronavirus
For Fernando Rodriguez, working from home is productive and Zoom is his best friend.

This is not my first time facing challenging times. Not too long ago, we were hit by one of the biggest hurricanes in Puerto Rico’s history.  You might remember hearing about Maria. We lost almost every project and our team was reduced to a minimum. The team worked from our dinner table for almost six months while the Island got back to “normal.” And we survived.

Right now, we are facing a new challenge. Today, the whole planet is experiencing the coronavirus pandemic. I am here to tell you that it will pass. We will be back at our offices and studios creating and designing just where we left it. The good news is that we all know that sooner or later we will be back at work. Nothing in this life lasts forever.  

Thankfully, we don’t have any projects canceled because of coronavirus.  But what if you did? I am here to tell you from experience that there is hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s hard to see the end in sight.  Going on a path with no clear understanding of when we will be back in our studios can be overwhelming.  

But as I always tell my team, “There is no crying in baseball!”  We have to create a new structure and put platforms in place to keep our current business on track. Setting new expectations with your team is vital. I have always believed that we all work best based on productivity levels, not on hours spent at the office. I will share some of the expectations I’ve created for the team as everyone is working from home.   

Setting Team Expectations

As business owners, we have to buckle up, create action plans and maximize the situation.

Zoom is our new best friend. Luckily, I like to work from home when I have a full plate anyway — less interruptions and meetings —  so Zoom is a platform that we have been using for a while. 

During our Zoom calls we have specifications such as: no distractions during calls, such as dogs or people interrupting. We also set clear expectations of what we want out of the team during working hours. We meet at the start of each day to set the goals and touch base at the end of the day to see where we are.

There is always something to do, even if the workload is light at the moment. We’ll work on billing, updating software, marketing, organizing files. There is so much that can be done remotely! We do make sure that we follow up on whatever we ask our team members to do. In my opinion, there’s nothing worse than a leader who does not check on the work requested from team members.  It hurts morale.

It’s important to make the work fun too, especially now. Everyone is stressed and experiences these situations differently. We have to modify the way we communicate with our teams. Be more empathetic. Be sure we share how difficult it is for us as well. We share good movies or Netflix shows that we can all be watching to pass the time while staying at home — after work hours of course! Most importantly we need to communicate to our teams that this will pass and that we’ll all need to be ready for business as usual the moment we are all back at the studio. Ballet dancers take classes from home to stay in shape. We need to stay in shape too!  

Reading and educating ourselves in the industry as it evolves in this new normal is crucial. Every employee has a different set of skills. This is a great time to have them take a course in Excel or AutoCAD, Photoshop, any platform that we use on a daily basis.  It’s also important that they share what they learn with the team. This empowers them to learn and use the time to work on those needed skills.

Managing Ongoing Design Projects

If you still have projects running as we do, then secure that you are communicating with every vendor and revise ETAs. It’s hard to look at fabrics, finishes and textures from a computer screen.  Call vendors; they will ship samples to your home. Everyone in the industry is in the same boat. We depend on them; they depend on us. Exceptions are made at times like this. 

What is the number one positive result from this? It’s actually very clear.  Everyone will finally understand that taking care of your home and having a good sofa to read or watch television makes more sense than ever before. That art on the walls can cheer you up, and let’s not forget the best one yet… no more white walls!

Be ready designers! Our business will grow, because what we preach all the time will finally become a reality for many who didn’t see it before.  How long have we been telling our clients and friends that home is your safety, source of energy and shelter? Make it beautiful, give it love and take care of it.  

There is always a choice.  Make it work for you, stay present in what is in front of you. Do not worry about the future. We can’t control it. There is only now.  

I love this quote from Victor Hugo: “Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.”

 

Fernando Rodriguez
Fernando Rodriguez of Stewart Rodriguez and ASH Home

Fernando Rodriguez splits his time between New York and Puerto Rico, where he and his partner, Aaron Stewart, own a thriving design business and home retail store, Stewart and Rodriguez.

With a background of work with world-renowned brands including Martha Stewart, Tory Burch, SFERRA, Hickey Freeman, and Joseph Abboud, Fernando Rodriguez and Aaron Stewart opened high-end home retail store, Aaron Stewart Home (ASH) in Puerto Rico in 2013. The brand won multiple recognitions and awards, including the ARTS Awards for Best International Retailer in both 2016 and 2017.

The brand also developed a consulting arm. In 2015, Caribbean Property Group chose ASH to brand and design the high-end residential development Bahia Plaza in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The project involved the creation of a fitness center, resident's lounge, lobby and concierge space, pool area, and nine model units.

Stewart Rodriguez, LLC - an entity related to ASH - has offices in both Puerto Rico and New York, and has a broad portfolio across the home, commercial and hospitality industries, with projects of all sizes. Their impressive roster of clients includes Dorado Beach, Ritz-Carlton Reserve and El San Juan Hotel.

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