Work-from-home wisdom from Esther Raice

4 min read
Shayna Hodkin
  •  Nov 15, 2019
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Esther has been in the design industry for 20 years and has a background in computer science. She has managed design projects across many domains, including food safety, records governance, mailing and shipping products and more, and is struck time and again by how universally applicable design thinking tools and behaviors are. She enjoys leading a team and fostering a culture of creativity and constant growth. She’s the proud mom of four amazing children and the journey of raising them while growing her career has been challenging and incredibly fulfilling.

Name: Esther Raice

Title: Director, User Experience for Software & Data

Company: Pitney Bowes

Location: Suffern, NY

Years in the design industry: 20

On the advantages of working from home:

I’m lucky to have what I think of as my “woman cave” as a WFH (work from home) setup. When we finished our basement 8 years ago, I claimed my space and set it up in a way that I thought would foster deep thinking and creativity, and it has definitely been an inspirational space for me!

I have both analog and digital tables. The analog table is a dedicated space for puzzles and sketching, which I use as a way to develop and process my thinking. The digital space is a table for my laptop, monitor, keyboard, mouse, iPad and Apple Pencil, external hard drive for backup… all of the non-analog tools in my work ecosystem.

Esther’s analog table.

I wish I could say my digital space is super organized, but there are sticky notes everywhere and it’s kind of cluttered. I painted a whiteboard wall behind my digital space so I could brainstorm visually; my daughter likes to come and erase stuff (important or not) and draw mermaids and loving messages.

I also have a great bookshelf: I’m old-fashioned and just love the smell and feel of actual paper books, and, of course, an awesome couch for reading, napping, or video chatting.

Esther’s reading couch.

On her toolkit:

As a leader of a design team, I do a lot of coaching, advising, collaborating, planning and storytelling. I like to use physical tools like Sharpies, stickies, and whiteboards.

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As far as digital tools are concerned, I use Mural a lot for visual collaboration and MS Teams for chat, file sharing, meetings, and more. I like to start in Google Docs for creative writing, and I use Google Keep to compile lists of interesting articles I’ve found online.

I’ve also become a LUMA Instructor this year and I use LUMA Workplace extensively to plan workshops.

Five words on her career path:

Unexpected, interesting, growth-filled, fun, gratifying

On her weekly creative ritual:

It’s called no-meeting Wednesdays and I invented it to combat meeting culture.

Esther’s digital workspace.

“Deep work” or “maker time” can’t happen in the small spaces between other meetings; time needs to be designed intentionally to create space for important—but not urgent—stuff.

Wednesdays on my calendar are fully blocked out as busy and I use that precious time for thinking, strategy planning, workshop designing, writing, and anything else that requires longer, uninterrupted periods of quiet.

I’m flexible as needed and I do tend to end up with one or two meetings, or if there is something really important happening on that day I’ll flex, but I won’t accept recurring meeting series on Wednesdays. Making and protecting this time has had a tremendous positive impact on my career.

On empowering her teammates:

My favorite thing about being able to recognize the potential in my team members and empowering and enabling them to reach for it. I know that intuition is kind of looked down upon in today’s data-driven world, but I lean on empathy and intuition to know how to best help my team members thrive, and I feel vicarious joy from those successes.

On bouncing back from failure:

Failure can hurt a lot, but it’s also a tremendous catalyst for growth. If you can see your way towards not taking it personally and taking a step back to examine it almost as a scientist would, you’ll uncover lots of opportunities you never even realized existed.

“We’re always told to “do our best,” but we don’t always recognize that at different points in life or even different days, our best looks different.”

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A number of years ago I was suddenly and surprisingly let go from a job, and it hurt like hell. After the initial shock wore off, I started to think about what else I might do that I hadn’t done before, and I ended up working at two really fun startups before I made my way back to the enterprise world.

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The startup experience was totally new for me. I learned a great deal and enjoyed the change of pace tremendously. So while you probably wouldn’t wish for failure, if it does happen, embrace it and look for the possibilities.

Esther exploring the rainforest in Puerto Rico.

What do you wish someone—anyone—would ask you?

What’s it like to work full time in a demanding career and raise four children at the same time?

On what she wishes someone would have told her…

  1. Before starting her first design job: Designers belong to an exclusive group of highly trained professionals, but don’t let that make you elitist. Know that democratizing design thinking—teaching everyone around you to behave empathetically, imaginatively and iteratively and to leverage a designer’s methods and tools—will amplify a design-led approach and create outcomes that are much more client-centric and impactful. Don’t think of others learning your craft as something threatening. If you’re good at what you do, rest assured they won’t take your job.
  2. Before becoming a manager: When hiring, recognize that a designer’s softer skills (empathy, communication, collaboration) are just as important as their design chops and research skills. If a designer can’t win friends and influence people with their ideas and insights, they won’t go very far.
  3. About becoming a mentor: It’s nice to think about becoming a mentor in terms of paying it forward, but it’s really not that altruistic. You gain as much or more than you give, so give freely.
  4. About life: We’re always told to “do our best,” but we don’t always recognize that at different points in life or even different days, our best looks different. When you’ve been up all night with a sick child your best is not the same as if you were well-rested and got in a power workout that morning… and that’s ok. As long as you do the best you can in that moment, give yourself credit and don’t sweat it.

What music inspires you while you work?

I’ve always been a classical music fan, even as a teenager (weird, I know). When I want to get focused work done I have classical music and instrumental playlists to help keep me in the zone. I like Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell (I recently went to a concert of his at Carnegie Hall), Lindsay Stirling, Brooklyn Duo, Piano Guys…

Please name three other designers we should be keeping an eye on.

  1. Sara Conklin: This article of hers from last year is quite timely. Sara is a rare talent who uses design thinking to rally teams to achieve unbelievable outcomes. She is an amazing storyteller and a self-professed research nerd. Sara is a rising star for sure!
  2. Alex Mack: Alex’s background in anthropology and archeology brings a fresh approach and perspective to UX research. Alex always has fascinating insights about human behavior to share… have a look at her posts online and you’ll see what I mean.
  3. Emily Holmes: Emily is an inspiring and enthusiastic speaker and coach on all things design thinking. I’ve had the pleasure of partnering with her to deliver design thinking training and I learned more from her than I imagined possible.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard