Can you introduce yourself?
Hi, 👋 I’m Daina Lightfoot, a Canadian designer based out of Denver, CO. I’m currently a Senior Brand Designer at Abstract. Before Abstract I worked in-house at Disney Online Studios, Hootsuite, Optimizely, Dropbox, ZOZI and Mesosphere.
I grew up in Kelowna, BC Canada before moving to Vancouver, BC when I was 20 years old. After five years in Vancouver, I secured a TN Visa and moved to San Francisco, CA. This past summer I relocated to Denver, CO officially making me a remote employee for the first time.
Growing up, I didn’t always know I would be a designer, but I knew I would be doing something creative for a living. Whether that be a pastry chef, welder or … designer. I really fell in love with design through my love for snowboarding and the culture within that community. Seeing all of the different brands creating their own unique personalities through design and copy was really inspiring to me.
How did you start working remotely and why?
In 2018 my boyfriend’s job moved headquarters from the Bay Area to Denver, CO. Two weeks before he found out about the move, I had accepted my current role at Abstract, which is a remote-first company. We weren’t certain we were going to move to Denver, but it was a relief knowing that I was able to keep my job with Abstract either way. I didn’t have to choose between my career and my relationship.
What is your typical day like?
I love routine, so I keep my schedule pretty dialled in on the weekdays.
7-8:30am – Gym
8:30-9am – Commute home / shower / breakfast
1-1:30 (or 2 if I have time) – Lunch + Walk around the lake by my house
2-5:30 (or 7) – Work
6:00pm – Dinner
7-10 – Whatever I want
10:30 – Bedtime!
Since I work from my home office, I make a point of working from a local coffee shop every Tuesday morning to get out of the house. I have fewer meetings on Tuesdays, so it’s a good time to work in a public space.
Waking up to go to the gym is the most important part of my day. I go to a Crossfit gym, so I get time to socialize with people and use some energy before spending my day in front of a computer. It also forces me to have a shower and put on real clothes.
On Sundays, I go through my work and meeting load for the week so I have an idea of what I’m getting into that week. Then each morning, I do a quick check of my Google Calendar and my Asana tasks and hop right in.
To make meals easier and healthier, I meal prep my breakfasts and lunches on Sundays. This helps me maximize my lunch break for getting outside and ensures I’m not snacking on whatever I find around the house.
If I can, I go to bed early. I like to read before bed and I am a huge advocate for sleeping at least 8 hours a night whenever possible.
How do you stay efficient and engaged while working remotely?
While I’m doing my calendar review on Sundays, I also do some rough time blocking for my days. Since I’m in Mountain Standard Time and many of the co-workers I collaborate with are an hour behind me on Pacific Standard Time, I use my mornings to get a head start on creative work before my meetings begin. As for the meetings I set for myself, I like to bundle them together as much as possible to create large gaps in my day for design work.
Honestly, I’m only 8 months into being a full-time remote employee and I haven’t had a tough time staying engaged. While I know some of this is my work ethic, as a company we are still pretty small and scrappy, which leads to higher workloads. If I don’t stay on track and get my work done, I will be letting one of my team members down. I’m also way less distracted by what others are doing so I tend to get more done in a shorter amount of time.
What are the tools and workflow that you’re using to get things done?
Illustrator – 99% of our graphics
Abstract + Sketch – Digital marketing, web design, and file organization
Photoshop – Editing photos, some layouts, additional illustration elements
Indesign – Print layouts and books
After Effects + Premiere Pro – Video editing and motion
Slack – 1:1, group chats, and project channels
Google Calendar – All things work, time-blocking, and personal
Asana – My source of truth for all project management
JIRA – mostly just to report bugs
Dropbox – organizing all exported files and all non-Sketch and Adobe XD files (which live in Abstract)
Dropbox Paper – Project plans, company directory, and shared notes
Notion – All of my private/personal notes
How do you think remote work will evolve in the future?
I imagine that the tech industry will continue to push forward and more companies will start to hire partially remote teams, with a headquarters in a specific city for a small subset of their employees. More tool companies will be innovating in ways to make remote work easier and more virtual.
I would really like to see more companies hiring remote internationally, even though it is much more difficult to collaborate because a lot of times you’re sleeping while your coworkers are working. As remote work starts to normalize in the tech industry, I hope that other industries will follow suit. I have seen agencies, apparel companies, etc struggle to even adopt video conferencing, which will have to change in the next few years.
Another hot topic right now is co-working spaces. They are popping up everywhere, yet are still very expensive for the person who has to pay for it out of their own pocket. I foresee more co-op/owner run style workspaces being established in the next few years to help alleviate the huge expense that start-up tech amenity type co-working spaces have. Right now a dedicated desk at WeWork in Denver is going for 600 USD/month and there are very few even available.
How to you stay in touch with your team?
Being a remote-first company, we tend to be very chatty on Slack. I also make a point of having 1:1s with members of my immediate team every week, and biweekly or monthly 1:1s with my cross-functional counterparts.
I tend to have a decent number of meetings and always try to be on time so we can have a bit of a lighthearted conversation about our weekends or pets before getting into the business.
Abstract, the platform we are building, is meant for this. All of our design feedback and developer handoff happens there, so it’s easy to keep track of decisions and provide transparency for our cross-functional teams.
We are over-communicators, and we need to be. Being transparent about process and timelines through Asana, Abstract, and our Slack channels are probably the one thing that keeps everyone on track.
What do you enjoy most about working remotely?
I consider myself to be an extroverted introvert. When I used to work in an office all day, I looked forward to my evenings by myself. Now that I spend a large piece of my day alone, I look forward to spending time with others in the evening, instead of more social time feeling like a chore.
The flexibility of my schedule is also a huge bonus. I love the ability to go for a walk in the middle of the day and make lunch from healthy food in my fridge.
What is your office/workspace look like?
I’m lucky to have an entire room dedicated as my office. I have a large window so the room usually is full of daylight which is huge for me.
I love my LG display and the Autonomous desk. I spend most of my meeting time standing and my design time sitting. Additionally, we have a printer cabinet and printer that helps house all the odds and ends for print tests and personal projects.
One day I think I would like to get an iPad Pro and Procreate and start messing around with that. In a few past roles, I had a Cintiq or tablet to help with illustration work. I definitely miss that but haven’t invested in anything personally.
Additionally, I have modelled our dining room to be half for eating half for crafting. It’s great to have a large space to be able to start projects and leave them out until they are complete.
What are the challenges of being a remote worker?
I work on some print design and not being able to be hands-on with vendors can sometimes be tough. Abstract has a team in San Francisco as well, so I’m lucky to be able to have them help out when needed.
You learn a lot from your teammates as a designer. Even after doing this kind of work for a long time, I would still learn new hotkeys or ways of creating things differently by sitting next to my team. I miss that.
I really like my team and would consider a lot of Abstract employees my friends. I wish I got to hang out with them outside of work more often. We do have all-company Team Weeks and an additional design specific “offsite” so we get to see each other face to face a few times a year.
Also, I moved to a new city and I work from home so it’s been a bit tough to meet people. I had a couple of friends already, and I’m lucky that my boyfriend’s coworkers that relocated are cool, so I get to hang out with them. But, I’ve definitely had to put in a lot of effort to get that social time.
Do you have any side projects? Can you speak about them?
I’m on a work visa living in the US, so I’m not allowed to earn any income outside of my role at Abstract. It’s a bit of a blessing and a curse, but I do get to do some illustrations for myself which is fun. Every once in a while, I will help out a friend with some design work, but nothing official.
I also recently bought a house and have been spending a lot of time fixing it up. It’s nice to put my creative energy into something new.
What are your future life goals?
This came up at work recently. In the future, I would love to start an agency with a few friends focusing on brand and marketing for small businesses. In the past I have worked with a lot of tech companies, but I would love to focus more on helping makers and people who build communities.
On the other end, I have always wanted to open up a shop that is half co-working space, half coffee shop, with the brand leaning towards the skateboarding and motorcycle industry.
How do you combat feelings of loneliness, isolation and burnout?
I’m a bit of an introvert so the time by myself is actually quite nice. I live with my partner so — no matter what — I at least will have him around in the evenings.
As for burnout, that is so real. I’m really trying to learn how to deal with it before it gets to a bad place. I still have a hard time with it. I’ve started to book more vacations way ahead of time so I know I will be forced to have some time off. I also try to be vocal about how I am feeling because no one is sitting next to me, so they may not know how hard I’m working. I show my work at all stages of a project, ask for help, and are honest about my workload. I also lean on my coworkers when my brain just isn’t feeling creative.
What is special about the place where you live?
Denver, CO is definitely an up and coming city. There are lots of cool shops and things to check out, plus you are only a couple hours away from some incredible ski resorts. I find the pace of life to be pretty slow here in comparison to most cities, which is a nice change for me.
Besides work, how do you like to spend your time?
During the week, I spend a lot of time doing Crossfit or general strength training. Outside of that, I love my motorcycle, learning how to skateboard, spending time snowboarding and hiking in the mountains in the winter, and hiking and camping in the summer.
Do you have any recommendations for those who want to work remotely too?
Deep down, you need to think about if remote working is right for you. You need to be able to manage your time well and be pretty self-sufficient in most of your work as it is much more challenging to do hands-on collaboration and mentorship.