COVID-19 Response: Paula Daher, Principal, Daher Interior Design

We check in with twelve architects, builders, designers, and suppliers to see how they are managing their staff and their businesses during this incredibly challenging time.

With the coronavirus currently taking over our personal and professional lives, the measures that have been instituted to stop its spread have had a major impact on most businesses, including those of us serving the New England design industry. In times of crisis, we turn to people who have withstood similar circumstances in the past and persevered. We reached out to twelve industry leaders who have led their firms through past crises to share what actions they are taking now, how they will measure the success of their firms over the next twelve months, and how they’re moving forward.

Today Paula Daher shares how she is communicating with clients, keeping the team motivated, and running her business during the COVID-19 crisis.

Home is going to be more important than ever before. How do we keep consumers engaged now?
Reaching out to our clients becomes a delicate balance. For projects that we are currently engaged in, weekly communication is easy. To reach out and touch prior clients, I want to be optimistic, yet respectful of our current situation. I sent a short note to all clients, past and present, early on, then and communicated with all of them again in mid-April. This second communication was more upbeat, looking for the light at the end of the tunnel with a focus on home. As a side note, the mailing list has been a good project for one of our team members. Also, I have them researching Constant Contact and MailChimp as avenues for a continuing email campaign.

How are you communicating with your in-house teams and outside vendors?
We have been using Zoom for daily team meetings as well as individual meetings with my clients and my designers. Zoom has made working remotely for the design professional actually achievable. For vendors, email has been a great way to reach out to source items, then jumping on a Zoom call when necessary.

How will you be defining success in three months, six months, a year?
Success in three months will be defined by new projects that come into the pipeline. This will be important, as we are unknowing how the economic collapse will impact real estate and our industry.

Success in six months will be a filled pipeline and the beginning of a return to business as usual.

Success in a year will be a firm that has weathered the storm with retention of our team and a pipeline that meets our mark to support our team both economically and with exciting projects.

Is there something you implemented at your firm in 2008 that worked that you are executing again?
We managed to be strong and grow the firm during the 2008 recession. We managed this by broadening the type of projects we worked on with a combination of residential and commercial. We found a small niche of projects in the prep-school world and for doctors waiting rooms that were immune from the economic downturn.

How are you thinking about cash flow management differently now than in more normal times? Are there different cost-saving strategies you are leaning on regarding staff, overhead, and discretionary spending?
The moment we were faced with a business disruption, we took a deep dive into all expenses and found as many areas as possible where we were able to shave. The focus is to preserve cash for operating expenses. Staff is one area we analyzed for creative solutions.

How do you ensure your “all of a sudden” remote workforce remains motivated and productive?
Design is a difficult world to transition to “work at home.” Samples are in the studio, site visits are critical, and collaboration is natural. In the beginning, we focused on our tech company assuring all team members could access our server from their homes, and we tried different ways of communication. Conference calls at the beginning were fine but ineffective. We tried Skype and then Zoom. Zoom has been invaluable.

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