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Insights and Intelligence

  • 11 Mar 2021
  • 3 min read

Has a year of working from home changed agency culture forever?

Puppies, Pikachu and Power Walking: After a whole year of working from home, our Leithers reflect on the benefits, drawbacks and lessons to take from life in lockdown.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole year since Boris Johnson issued his stay at home orders and the whole country went into lockdown. At that time I don't think anyone could have predicted that, a year later, we’d still find ourselves working from our home offices, sheds, kitchen tables, beds and sofas.

While tracky bottoms, gym buns and sometimes even dressing gowns have been widely accepted as meeting attire, the subject of homeworking, and what flexibility means once life returns to normal, has been a hotly debated topic in the last year. Although many people have celebrated the benefits that have come from this new forced flexibility, others are fed up and feel that creativity has been stifled.

So what does this mean for creative agencies, and for Leith specifically? Whilst the path out of lockdown and home working remains slightly unclear, our colleagues from across Leith are here to share their own experiences of working from home - warts and all. Here’s what they had to say...

Katrina Barry, Account Manager

Katrina Barry, Account Manager

Overall, what’s the experience of working from home been like for you?
It's certainly been a strange one; mainly due to the fact I joined Leith back in October, so I haven't actually met a lot of my colleagues in person yet! Starting a new job from your lounge is definitely a unique experience. I had quite a few one-to-one and team Zoom calls in my first couple of weeks though, which helped to get my head around the different departments and team structures - everyone is really friendly and welcoming!

What’s been the biggest challenge for you?

Probably striking a good work/life balance - it's not as easy to 'switch-off' when your fold-up desk is in the same room that you watch TV, cook and eat your dinner. Also probably not getting out for a walk or air as much as I should. It's far too easy to stay indoors when the weather is miserable outside, whereas when you need to commute to work you don't have a choice - and you certainly get a lot more steps in!

What will you take away from this period of home working, once the world goes back to normal?
That I think it's going to be good to have a balance moving forward. This period has shown that you can be just as (if not more!) productive working from home and away from any distractions. On the other hand, there's definitely scenarios or projects that would benefit from getting everyone together in one room - plus it's nice to see people face-to-face every now and then!

What impact has WFH had on agency culture?
It's hard for me to say since I haven't actually worked alongside my colleagues in the Leith office since joining - all I've known is Leith while WFH! From what I gather though, they're a fun bunch and there's always a lot going on - whether it's Bold on the Barge, the Summer BBQ or the Christmas party. I'm looking forward to the day we can get back to this and I can get to know my colleagues a bit more. You really miss those morning or tea-break chats in the kitchen.

What’s been the best thing to come out of the forced WFH?

Well, I got a puppy back in August, who's made a pretty good (but very lazy!) colleague. She's really helped to keep spirits high while working at home, and it's been great to have her sleeping beside me while I work!

Andrew Girdwood/ Girdy, Head of Media Technology

Andrew Girdwood, Head of Media Technology

Overall, what’s the experience of working from home been like for you?
To be honest, I've enjoyed it. I like working in an agency because I like surrounding myself with smart and friendly people. I feared missing that, but thanks to the internet, those smiling faces have never been far away. I'm glad there's a finite limit on the working from home lockdown, though. Also pleased that we've coped so well with it that we'll likely have changed the agency forever, adding flexibility and more ways to find the work/life balance.

What's been the biggest challenge for you?
Some projects are better tackled by pulling up a chair beside someone and brainstorming it together. It's been challenging without that. I also seem to have a knack for getting deliveries during my most important meetings.

What will you take away from this once the world goes back to normal?

Get out of the building at lunch. Escape and refresh the brain. Go for a walk.

What impact has WFH had on agency culture?

I like that distance has become less critical. We're working with clients on exciting projects that might not have happened back before simply because postcodes didn't line up.

What's been the best thing to come out of the forced WFH? I bought a pair of limited edition Pikachu high tops and can wear them whenever I want.

Jemma Goba, Managing Partner - Tanami

Working from home used to be a rarity. One that we felt a tad uneasy, even defensive, about in terms of justifying productivity. When lockdown first hit, let’s admit it, there was a slight novelty factor. We goo’d and gaa’d at babies on laps and kittens on keyboards. A year on, and any novelty is well and truly over as this is now a way of life.

For someone who began WFH in lockdown with a 10 month old baby on my lap and a child to homeschool, believe me when I say that I understand and sympathise with the relentless juggle and I would never try to underplay the challenges we have all faced. However, as hard as some days have been, there are positives to take from the last year.

These are my top three:

- Contentment: In life BC (Before Covid) we all rushed from one meeting to another, events, school drops offs, after work drinks, the cinema, dinners, trips away – you get the idea. We felt like we had purpose, it was difficult to “just be”. Then slam! All of these “essential commitments” were no longer essential and we were left with the power to redistribute our time. When everything is stripped back – what is your purpose? There’s been a lot of soul searching in my house lately; a year into lockdown and we no longer feel uneasy about this new way of life. The importance of strong relationships has been magnified. That feeling of true contentment should never be undervalued.

- Daily exercise has become as routine as teeth brushing: With a 60 – 90 minute round commute in life BC, I often found building exercise into my day a real challenge. My previous goal had been three gym sessions a week, whereas now daily exercise (usually in the fresh air) is the norm. Whatever time of day best works for you, carve it out and build the habit. Also, understand your team's chronotypes; you will have some morning larks and some night owls. I try to consider my colleague’s preferences in this respect so I would avoid asking certain individuals to an 8am brainstorm – just as my team wouldn’t expect me to be firing on all cylinders come 7pm!

- Increased communication: at Tanami we have a 9:30am meeting each morning that we have all grown to look forward to. We cover work essentials first and foremost, but often the last five minutes or so is more social. As an example, this morning we covered Meghan and Harry, Gemma Collins, veganism and vets bills oh yes and Craig’s head shave faux pas. Sounds like the front of some trashy magazine right there! When restrictions have allowed, we have also met in pairs for a long walk and talk. Fresh coffee in the fresh air with face-to-face contact should never be underrated. People matter most. Fact.

Thea McGovern, Planner

Overall, what has the experience of working from home been like for you?
It's impossible to answer this without thinking about how many people have lost jobs, or had to work in high-risk situations over the last 12 months. I feel lucky that I've been able to work from home. And I often feel guilty that it's been easier for me than for many of my colleagues, because my close family has been healthy, my teenagers are more self-sufficient with schoolwork from home, and we have space to spread ourselves across different rooms. These things make such a difference.

What’s been the biggest challenge for you? From a family perspective, it's been harder to switch in and out of 'work mode' at a defined time. The one upside of my old bus commute was that it helped me change gears, and pack away some of my work stresses before coming through the front door in the evening. From a work perspective, it's been difficult not having all the hundreds of small chats and checks with people everyday. Whether that's picking someone's brain, learning from what other people on other accounts are up to, or just getting a sense of people's mood, emotions and stress-points.

Thea's kitchen table

What will you take away from this period once the world goes back to normal?

While some meetings will always be better face to face, others really don't have to be (which is good for us and good for the planet).

What impact has WFH had on agency culture?

I think it's brought some people closer together because we're more aware of the herculean effort people are making to balance home and work life. But I'm conscious there are some people I've barely spoken to in the last 12 months because our roles have less crossover; and there are people who've joined the agency during the last year who've had very little opportunity to get a feel for Leith's culture, which must be very hard for them. So I can't wait until we can all be together again (probably getting over-emotional, singing 'Sunshine on Leith' at 2am).

What’s been the best thing to come out of the forced WFH?

Consigning high heels to history.

Helen, Client Operations Director - Tanami

Overall, what has the experience of working from home been like for you? A bit of a rollercoaster; two parents full-time working with a 15-month-old was not easy! However as nurseries have gone back, I've really valued the extra time from cutting out the commute, and simply by being here all the time, a better connection with my local community.

What’s been the biggest challenge for you? Keeping the personal and work separate is something I've always tried to do, and has been near impossible over the last year. I hadn't really envisioned my bedroom wardrobes becoming quite such a feature of work meetings! Trying to manage work, whilst looking after a wee one who noticed immediately if I split my attention, was (and is!) incredibly hard. Trying to keep team morale up when we can't see each other or access normal support networks was another big one.

What will you take away from this period of home working once the world goes back to normal? That workers are much more flexible than employers give them credit for I think. We adapted to WFH within days, and continued to create high-quality productions throughout lockdown, beyond and then back again.

What impact has WFH had on agency culture?

I miss chatting! As someone who is not always in the thick of things like the production team, there have been projects that I've barely known about until I see them on TV. Just being in the office allows you to soak up a lot more of what's going on generally, and I miss the more spontaneous chats - scheduled Zoom fun isn't quite the same.

What’s been the best thing to come out of the forced WFH?

Not commuting whilst pregnant has been pretty great! But also I think hopefully an appreciation that employees are motivated enough, skilled enough and flexible enough to make great work without having to be at a desk, in one place, during set hours.

Well, what's the verdict then?

As you can tell, the past year has changed the working landscape of our agency life, but there are some clear benefits to have come out of this madness (looking at you, Zoom tea breaks, puppies and lunchtime strolls). We might not be totally clear on what impact this will have on creativity and agency culture long-term, but one thing we can say for sure is that the world has definitely kissed goodbye to attitudes that working from home means a lazy day on the sofa.

So, that’s all from us. Over to you to make your own mind up. In the meantime, we’ll keep an open mind.