The culture of working remotely
How to adapt working practices during the coronavirus pandemic
As we all consider how to adapt our working practices to the new world we find ourselves in, I decided to share some advice from Marta Di Girolamo, Grey Group chief executive in Italy, who is currently under quarantine in Milan. She is a brilliant leader who was open about her insights and shared some practical advice.
To help us all prepare for what comes next, here are the collective learnings on what is working and what works less well. They’re based not on guesswork, but on the experiences of our colleagues – this isn’t about VPNs and Zoom accounts, but about the culture of working remotely.
Rethink how you communicate
If 80% of communication is body language and you can’t be present with colleagues, partners or clients, then the way you handle communications needs to adapt. Most of the time screens are being shared or bandwidth is under pressure, which means we can’t see each other easily. Our Italian teams have been rethinking the way they structure presentations, the way they present information and how creative work is presented.
Build in more time so that everyone’s voice can be heard. Talk as a team about what is working and not working. Ask people on the other end of the call to playback what they’re understanding.
Keep in touch
Keep connected with clients and colleagues. Clients may be dealing with greater challenges than their agency partners, so think ahead about how you can support them. For example, the Grey Milan team prepared for the potential closure of all retail stores by developing a series of clear informational communications for social posts, website updates and emails.
The same is true for colleagues. Regular morning and evening status calls to discuss the day’s events help keep the team together and ensure you’re on the pulse of what’s happening with the work and the mood. It also stops people from feeling lonely. We’re much stronger together.
Take time to pause and assess
When working entirely remotely it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the volume of emails, calls, messages and notifications across platforms. So, take time to stand back and reflect. We have prepared by shifting almost entirely to Microsoft Teams so that we all know where most work chats and documents will be available. Marta writes, “The strong culture and the spirit of the agency has surfaced very clearly. Observe it, get a feel for it from your managers, talk with your teams. You’ll get a different sense of culture, work ethic and social dynamics than you can ever get from an office desk.”
Reinvest your travel time
Many of us spend more than five hours a week commuting. What will you do with that extra time? One good suggestion is that you tackle some of the personal development and reading you’ve been meaning to get around to. My plan for this new-found time will be to finish the book I’ve been writing on how we can break free of the hidden assumptions that limit our thinking. It’s rare to be given time back in life – and I’m grabbing it.
Expand your work culture
Necessity is the mother of invention. Challenge your teams to be creative. Try new things and you’ll be amazed at your resourcefulness. Organise an all-staff meeting on video call, it might not work but it’ll give people something to laugh about and to remember. Find alternative ways to celebrate a win, the delivery of a project or positive feedback from a client. These experiments will help strengthen team spirit and it may well become the new normal later. Already, new ideas and projects are popping up as they always do.
Act sooner rather than later
I was struck by Marta’s first-hand experience of the situation in Italy. She asks us all, please, to prepare and adopt sensible preventive measures now. WPP, in keeping with many firms, has been providing excellent and detailed guidance on what to do in any number of potential scenarios. This has made it easier for us all to prepare.
Make sure you’re getting that advice from your HQ.
Go beyond your business
Our communities and countries need help, our clients need help. This isn’t the time to be pushing a footfall-generating promotion. Instead, ask how we can use our creativity and resourcefulness to help develop fast and useful ways to help the wider society. This has meant facilitating donations to health organisations, supporting the Italian government in convincing people to stay at home and change their habits. It has also meant developing useful solutions like free delivery, or supporting parents whose time is now dedicated to caring for kids at home.
People are already thinking about how the world will be different after the virus. Let’s use the time now to make a better future.
19 March 2020
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