We talked to Donovan Justice, founder of Digital Detox, about clean digital technology, and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Donovan Justice: We’re very fortunate because we live in the countryside. We keep each other sane, we try to get outdoors, go for walks, and schools in France didn’t close, which has been great for the kids. My wife is a full-time mum taking care of our two daughters, which gives me space and time to look after Digital Detox.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Digital Detox.
Donovan Justice: I’ve always been keen on starting little businesses and turning them into a profit. I watched my parents who were self-employed and quite enjoyed seeing their independence. If I fast forward, I came to the UK as I was interested in studying animation and got my degree in this field. Later on, I started Digital Detox without a business plan or ambition to grow a big business, I just wanted to see websites go live and the things I worked on so hard being used by people.
My real focus was to get the next project in and I encourage everyone to do that – just focus on the small wins and eventually you’ll have great people coming on board to help. That’s the hardest part – to start. I didn’t spend a year trying to decide on the logo and the brand, that comes a little later.
How does Digital Detox innovate?
Donovan Justice: One of the ingredients of innovation is culture; having the right environment where people feel as though they can step out of their comfort zone, make those mistakes and there won’t be any repercussions.
I think innovation is all about discretionary effort. It’s not about working long hours, but about people coming to work and looking after the outcomes as much as you do. You just naturally start thinking out of the box and asking questions like: ‘How about taking it further and doing this instead?’
Innovation is also born out of constraints and some of the best innovations have come out of limitations. It might be a digital transformation project constraint, legacy software, or maybe a very short timeline to achieve a result. That’s when innovation happens and we start being creative with technology to find those solutions.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Donovan Justice: In the beginning, it was quite straightforward for us to go remote as we’re a digital company. We approached the situation with the mindset that this is not normal and we’re not just working from home, we’re working remotely through a crisis. Our strong culture and the autonomous team have helped support the company through uncertain times. We look after each other and our wellbeing at all times to ensure our team feels connected, supported, and trusted.
On a human level, people are missing interactions. Everything has become so functional: we go to virtual meetings, the chit-chats have gone, it’s all about getting through the agenda, and agreeing on the outcome of that meeting. That’s why I advise everyone to just slow down.
At Digital Detox, we’re proactively focused on everyone’s mental health, but also physical health. Maintaining the health, wellness, and happiness of our team is one of the ongoing strategic objectives of DD, formalized as one of our company’s three pillars – People, Planet, and Technology. In fact, we run our business aligned to those three pillars because we see this as the future of work.
Before Covid, there were times when we were struggling with some of the large transformation projects and this insistence that we all have to be in the same space to be agile. This often meant that we had to travel out to different parts of Europe and there was this mindset that we needed a local agency to be able to work in a specific city or country. We don’t want our team to be traveling – we’d rather have them working from home, having that work-life balance, being able to get the kids to school, and look after their mental health.
The sentiment that we can do things remotely and run a successful transformation program has worked out in our favor. Moving forward, we will be helping our clients continue their digital transformation journeys whilst creating a more sustainable world by adopting a pragmatic approach to design and development.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Donovan Justice: One of the difficult choices we had to make was to defer salaries for Q3-Q4 last year. Even though we were likely to have a successful end of 2020, the mindset behind it was that there’s usually a delayed reaction to this kind of black swan event. I worried that the broader economy would take a nosedive in 2021 and we would have made these pay rises but we either had to reverse them or make redundancies and we didn’t want to be in that position unnecessarily.
When it comes to lessons learned, if I look back when the lockdown started, my calendar was full of meetings so I often had to cancel the casual virtual coffees. These are the most important meetings in my calendar now, where we just talk about the weekend and just catch up as if we would be in the office. That’s a lesson learned for me: don’t underestimate the regular catch-ups and how important it is to gauge someone’s stress levels and find out if they might need support.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Donovan Justice: I think Slack, Whatsapp as well as phone calls are all great for communication. I’m quite enjoying phone calls as I can have a walk around the corridors, move and chat at the same time. The mirror is also a fantastic tool to replace the office whiteboard as no one comes in and wipes it off and you have something to refer back to.
In terms of management skills, I would like to refer more to a management style, which is empathy. It’s very important to have empathy for the people that might not get back to you on Slack quick enough and if you feel like someone hasn’t done something right, reach out and have a chat with them, find out how they’re doing and give them some feedback.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
How do you plan to stay in the game?
Donovan Justice: By focusing on the people behind the technology. I love tech, but I want to put tech in its place and make it work for us not against us. We want to be able to add value to a project, come in and look at the research, speak to people, and then design and build things. Often we have to augment our team and client’s team, and there’s people, emotions, communication involved – that’s what gives us an edge and we’re good at these working models and collaboration. People over tech is my mantra.
Your final thoughts?
Donovan Justice: This is a bit more personal, but I can’t believe I used to fly to London every week and for somebody who cares about sustainability and values my own physical and mental health, I don’t know how I managed to convince myself that was normal.
I think a lot of people might be in this situation, thinking about how did we sustain all that travel after work, which means long hours and not enough free time to be human and enjoy life. I am not going to travel halfway across the world twice a year to go on holiday and I certainly won’t be flying as often but spend most of my free time with family and friends.
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