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Adland in isolation: 10 things we’ve learnt about how we work

This was originally published on Creative Brief


During this terrible COVID-19 crisis in the UK, all non-key workers are rightly being asked to stay at home to prevent further spread of the virus. For many, including myself, this is the first time that they’ve spent an extended period doing their job outside of the office, or “WFH”, to use everyone’s new favourite acronym.


(Check out Gina's @self_isolation_gram for more on what it's like for everyone during #COVID-19) 



So, as we move into week two, what’s it been like so far? There are some clear downsides that come with working during self-isolation which we’ve heard first-hand from members of our FUTURES community: not being able to sit down with colleagues for lunch or meetings, being in a small environment 24/7, a lack of demarcation between work and home-life, and not to mention needing to unexpectedly take care of children whilst also trying to work.


As an industry, we must of course recognise our privilege in not being on the frontlines of fighting the virus or being in roles which are much more directly affected by the shut-down. Working from home still means we have a job. And although there are undoubtedly challenges in a new working environment, in the spirit of sharing a small bit of positivity in what is a very difficult time for many people, here are 10 things that I think we’ve learnt as an industry about how we work from our experience so far.


1. Companies realising WFH isn’t such a big deal. 


Enforced self-isolation has meant that whole industries have had to make WFH, work. And turns out, funnily enough, that it is possible. Speaking to friends across an industry which has traditionally shied away from people being out of the office, it feels like there is a sea-change in collective attitude towards flexible working.


2. Getting personal is okay. 


No-one minds if your kid runs into the background of your call. In fact, entirely the opposite. It’s a wonderful thing to see members of people’s families and their home environment and really aides your understanding of who they are as a person.


3. New meeting etiquettes can have a benefit. 


Companies have embraced video calls as the new way to get stuff done, and with them comes an unexpected silver lining. You might have noticed that ‘attendees’ have to be much more careful not to speak over each other than in a regular meeting. We’re all listening to each other more and making it easier for quieter people to have a voice.


4. It’s nice to have some space to think. 


As studies have shown, the rise of the open plan office has actually been pretty detrimental to productivity. With people now needing to ring or email when they need something instead of leaning across the desk, it forces people to take time to collect their thoughts before contacting someone, and really think about whether they want to interrupt them.


5. The benefit of embracing new technologies. 


Zoom’s had a pretty good ride in the last few weeks, with their stock shooting up 50% as companies get on-board with video conference calling. And beyond that, Google Sheets, Slack, Microsoft Teams and even WhatsApp have been invaluable communication tools that have been taken on by companies who have previously relied on email.


6. The importance of making socialising sacred. 


With it now being so much more important to see colleagues’ faces, companies are now making sure that there’s time put aside to make this happen. At my agency, SNAP LDN, we’ve got creative with pub quizzes and bingo by VC to keep the gang together.


7. That sharing is caring. 


As we’re all spending more time physically alone during the day, it feels like people are becoming more open about challenges they are facing, and more willing to be vulnerable. We’re valuing each other’s company more, because it’s a scarcer resource.


8. Keeping perspective can be pretty helpful. 


People have embraced doing exercise during the day, or other hobbies which naturally take your mind away for a bit. Being out of the office environment can aid headspace; it’s a good way of remembering that something that might seem like a big deal, might not actually be. And getting that perspective will probably help you deal with it better.


9. Better collaboration. 


Teams being split up means that naturally we’re all having to work more iteratively, and not being able to put quite the same ‘polish’ on projects, and even pitches, as might have previously been possible. But the flip side of this is that it opens up and exposes the working process more, encouraging early conversations and collaboration rather than jazz-hands presentations.


10. Remembering there’s a world out there. 


It’s easy to get into a bubble in certain industries. And advertising is one that’s particularly guilty of that: agencies bunched around hubs in central London with craft beer on tap. Being back in your home away from the over-priced sushi shops is the reminder we all need to make sure we spend time in the ‘real world’ and get away from our echo chambers and narrow viewpoints.

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