Rachel Zorel: Have Your Cake and Eat It Too!

Redefining ‘Work/Life Balance’ In The Pandemic Landscape

By Rachel Zorel, Founder and Creative Director of 7 Layer Studio, a design and branding agency in South Orange NJ

Every day we are faced with decisions that define the way we live and work. We constantly hear friends and colleagues struggling to perfect, or merely survive, their “work/life balance,” a phrase that has never sat well with me. For my whole career running a design agency, I have worked to build a culture that innately supports a healthy relationship with work. At 7 Layer Studio, we have rallied around an idea we like to call, “Have your cake and eat it too!” Our response to the “work-life” scale obsession. It serves as a daily reminder that we hold the creative power to build the life we need as well as how we choose to react to the needs of those we work with. Lately, we are seeing this idea take hold all around us. And we are here for it!

All eyes are on the post-lockdown routine. What do our lives even look like now with virtual meetings, hybrid schedules, and fully remote employees? We must adapt. If we buck against the trend of creative professionals prioritizing themselves we will lose sight of our humanity and the rat race will consume our time and talent. What many see as a problem to fight, I have seen as an opportunity to evolve and uncover what will ultimately make each of us happier at home and at work. It is more important than ever to build out options for yourself and your team.

In lockdown, we had time to look deeply at ourselves, our businesses, how we operate. Happiness at work and at home aren’t two different things. The sooner business owners and creative leaders understand that, the sooner we can all get to the truly remarkable work. Those that already do, are making it.

There are structures in business that will always be a part of our working lives. Deadlines, deliverables, and demand. We have to rise to meet these in order to declare ourselves successful. However, for every uncontrollable part of leadership there is something you can control. I have always felt, as an agency, that being creative isn’t only reserved for clients. We see everything around us as a potential brief, a challenge to improve process with design.

Returning to work in an ongoing pandemic, stress and anxiety are considerably more built in to people’s everyday emotions. Leadership must recognize this and nurture communication. It isn’t a new idea that a fear-based work environment is damaging to creativity and productivity. Employees won’t be motivated to do their best, and at worst will unintentionally (or intentionally) damage the brand or leave the company. A business built this way can never reach their utmost potential because trust is a necessary part of invention/innovation.

Give your team a chance to prove themselves. Have clear goals but allow people to get there however they do it best. Trust them. Not everyone works the exact same way and nurturing their individual creative needs builds a stronger team, a creative family. One of our agency’s ways of exhibiting this trust is providing unlimited PTO to all. Teaching your team to be self advocates while espousing the same for yourself shows emotional intelligence, a guiding light quality for the successful leaders of the future.

For us, “Have your cake and eat it too!” is about protecting our creativity, our authentic selves, in order to produce meaningful work. It is about taking control of our schedules and respecting our most precious resource, time.