What. A. Year.

Bakken & Bæck
Jan 18 · 8 min read

We confidently ended last year’s review with: “Can’t wait to see what 2020 will bring.” Well, we were in for a treat.

2020 was the year we opened up our London Office and were named one of the most innovative design studios by Fast Company.

It was also the year of WFH. A fully remote team brought along practical, social, and psychological challenges no one could have prepared us for. Nonetheless, we’ve managed to run big projects and workshops across our locked down countries. We’ve organised pizza parties, solved puzzles, played Mario kart — all while working from home and communicating solely online. It’s been hard, it’s been refreshing, it’s been interesting.

“The year that lasted a decade” was one of quiet reflection and distanced compassion, and we thought it fitting to sum it up with the musings of a handful of BBers — getting into their thoughts, highs and lows, and insights from the past year.

Paulius

Front-end developer, Vilnius

“Was it really this year? Amazing.”

Before the pandemic broke out, some of our teams managed to find time for a retreat. While Paulius and the front-enders got to play arcade games and party out in Köln, the designers went to Tromsø and stayed on a floating sauna, and the mobile team learned to ski on their cabin trip to Norefjell. All activities which, looking back, seemed like distant, forbidden fantasies.

“There’s been a lot to adapt and get used to”, he says when summing up 2020.

“At the same time, it has been a very happy year for me, because we welcomed a new member into our family at the end of July. My daughter was born right in between the two waves of Corona. Having a baby is challenging, but it also helps to provide focus and center yourself.”

Paulius has been working remotely from Lithuania since 2019. Despite being used to the home office and video calls with the rest of the team in Oslo, Bonn, and London, he still found 2020 to be a very strange year. Discovering new routines for his weekly activities, such as training, helped him stay balanced in times of turmoil.

“I used to go to karate a couple of times a week, but when Corona hit, we organised it online. In the morning, for 45 minutes or an hour, I would put my laptop on a box on the table and clear out the room to have more space. Physical exercise at home felt great!”

Palak

Head of People Operations, Oslo

“I miss hugs the most — I’m the kind of person that hugs everyone, so I definitely miss social and physical contact.”

Palak deserves more than a hug after last year, as life kept giving her lemons.

“My father was diagnosed with cancer this year, and I haven’t been able to travel home to India. He’s in the risk zone, and even with a lot of treatments, it’s been up and down. He is better now, though. Not seeing family at this time has been very tough.”

Making lemonade for everyone around her, Palak spent much of the year building a solid onboarding program for new hires, ensuring that our team members are welcomed and met with the best possible tools to thrive from the start. And although she usually strives to keep work and private life separate, this past year came with the realisation of how important it is to be open about mental health.

“In some ways, it’s been difficult, but it’s also been a year where I discovered my strength and how I’m able to tackle a lot –more than I thought. Things got intense enough for me to realise I needed to seek help, and I found local courses and groups for self-help techniques, which I attended for a few weeks. They really helped.”

Annabel

Designer, London

“This was a year of improvisation. Going with the flow and making it up as you go along.”

Just weeks before the world went into complete lockdown, we opened a new office in London and welcomed four British colleagues to our team. One of them was Annabel, a designer currently located behind an oak desk in her parents’ house in Cambridge.

“In the dashing new London office, we would have got the renovations done; we could’ve had a party there with everyone. Without the virus, I think 2020 would have been great, to be honest.”

Still, there have been some upsides this past year. When relocating from London to Cambridge, she’s had time to cook, drink nature wine, make candles, sew, hang out with her dog and take care of herself by exercising.

“I’ve enjoyed taking time for myself. I’ve managed to have a bit of a detox and just reassess what I like to do. Mentally it’s been a struggle — it’s really difficult, but physically I feel a lot better.”

Annabel also found time to help others, particularly her grandmother, by delivering homemade sandwiches and do her shopping.

“She’s a widow and was usually quite social. During a normal week, she would go to dances with her friends but is now left feeling very alone and helpless. Especially because of limited digital literacy. Since March, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can make better services for people like my grandmother.”

Wesley

Developer, Oslo

“I think going to the office is what I miss the most. The traveling, the events, and just seeing faces in the office.”

Like the rest of us, Wesley misses being around people and finds the new ways of communicating challenging.

“Sometimes, events would spontaneously occur at the office, or people would come over to you. On my current project, we would have the client over and all be together in one meeting room. Now everything is through video. I feel like going digital makes a lot of difference because you’re always on mute, and it’s harder to jump in and say something. I think it makes a lot of people not say anything at all.”

His new puppy Molly has been an important factor the past year.

“I have to make time for her, give her food, and take her out for walks. I think all these new daily routines kept me more balanced throughout the year.”

A literal highlight of the year was getting engaged at 1883 meters.

“My initial plan was to propose to my girlfriend in Croatia because it’s such a nice place. Instead, I did it on the mountain Gaustatoppen, here in Norway. At the very, very top, I went down on one knee and asked for her hand. At least I achieved something in 2020.”

Gala

Designer, Amsterdam

“I used to go dancing. On Sunday mornings, I would go to a three-hour-long class in a tightly packed room with 50–80 people. There were no windows and a lot of sweating; you could grab tea and water — they would rinse the glass out under the sink and put it back out. People would put their hands in the same tray of fruit. You couldn’t think of a better place to catch Corona. That’s another world now, right?”

For Gala and the rest of the BB team, a lot has definitely changed. However, we have kept meeting in the ways we could. We played tennis (the ultimate social distancing sport), attended painting classes, and took walks together. Over the summer, each office even managed to go for small and safe summer excursions. And then there were the ever-present options of online meetings that sometimes led to memorable moments.

“When Trump lost the election, we celebrated with Champagne with a few people in Amsterdam. It was the longest video call I’ve ever had; more people joined, and half-way through the London team dropped into the call. Although drinks online can be awkward, we had so much fun. That was nice and unexpected. All Zoom drinks should be bubble-related. Maybe that’s the secret!”

For 2021, Gala is crossing her fingers that the vaccines will bring some commonality back.

“It’s been so horrible for so many people — people have lost loved ones and have not been able to see their families. Despite all the terrible stuff, we’ve started asking questions about how we do things, why we do them, and what really matters. It was a pretty shitty and introspective year, but in that sense, it’s been good.”

Chandana

Developer, Bonn

While restrictions have been tough, they also sparked creativity in unexpected ways — like internal projects such as Cokolino, where we learned to cook with the bare essentials, and Flourly, a sourdough baking app we’ve been working on throughout the year.

For Chandana, our software engineer working in Bonn, growing her own spices served as a serendipitous new hobby during the pandemic.

“I’m trying to find out which herbs I can grow with less sunlight inside my home. Mint, coriander, and all this. And of course, I’m preparing some new Indian recipes.”

Cooking also provided structure and routines in a year without too much time off.

“I usually don’t take breaks. If I start doing something, it’s hard for me to come out of it. When it comes to cooking, I can’t take more than half an hour pause because I might lose focus on my work. So I started to prepare the next day’s meal in the evening, making it easier to fit both food and my job into the daily schedule. ”

Finding the balance between hobbies, exercise, food, and work, was one of this year’s biggest challenges. For Chandana, 2020 also brought her first machine learning project.

“I jumped into a new field, a new technology, so everything was completely fresh to me. As the only developer on the project, I had to pick up every small piece and learn a few new skills. After I learned it, things went easy. The key was to take it slow and steady, and it has turned out to be a really nice project to work on.”

All things considered…

We are privileged; in an insecure and unstable time, we’ve still been able to meet, do meaningful work, socialise, learn, and grow together. We kept some sense of normalcy in a year when nearly nothing went according to the plan.

After leaving behind a year full of tumbles and transitions, we hope 2021 will re-introduce us to the pleasures and simplicity of basic joie de vivre. The small stuff like IRL smiles, laughter, hugs, togetherness, exploration of new places, and random conversations across the lunch table. With exciting new projects, interesting clients, and more brilliant people joining our team, we firmly believe that 2021 will be a good one.

Illustrations by Gianluca Alla.

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