In this second instalment in our series on how to cope with working from home in a world turned upside down, we caught up with Josh Edge, Senior Creative at Meerkats, to talk Zoom, Slack, KitKat and pants-optional catch-ups.
TCC: With ad agencies’ creative output relying heavily on team culture, what kind of steps are you taking to try and maintain that team culture with staff working remotely?

Josh: Thankfully, we got in pretty early with the whole working from home issue from a staff perspective. It was right back at the start of March that we first started working the creative and strategy departments at home, which gave us a lot of opportunities to try different scenarios. First of all, the entire office was already working on Slack – which was a huge lifesaver as we all knew how to get hold of each other and hold instant video conference chats.

Most of us have morning catch-ups (pants optional) which gives us a chance to check in and see what the day looks like. We have an all-agency Monday morning Zoom catch-up which is usually pretty epic, 40-odd people all staring bleary-eyed at each other over a large mug of coffee. We also have an all-agency Friday drinks session which has taken place from homes, cars, the beach…

There’s a channel on Slack specifically designed to give everyone a round-up of the day’s events to keep everyone updated (named The Daily Mel after our Head of Strategy), and the boss has set up a RUN-MRK channel on Meerkats’ Slack to give everyone a personal fitness and workout regime. Which I have promptly ignored. One of our young creatives has also been running an all-agency Zoom Quiz Nights on Mondays which has proven to be a big hit. The Office Zoom Instrument Jam Sessions were less amazing, due to Australia’s shitty internet lag!

TCC: What sort of assistance are you providing staff to make sure their work-from-home experience is as seamless and productive as possible?

Josh: Every staff member has been able to take as much of their equipment, chairs, stand-up tables etc home with them as they needed, so our poor office is looking fairly barren at the moment. We actually had a break-in shortly after most staff had moved out, which was fairly lucky as everything was already gone! But most of our staff are already pretty skilled up in terms of off-site software etc so it wasn’t a big transition, and we’ve kept up our licenses for things like Lynda and Masterclass to help our staff stay in the groove of learning and skill sharing.

TCC: It seems clear that working from home will be the new norm for some time to come: what are your top tips for maintaining mental health (ie just staying sane!) during this period?

Josh: The CEO’s exercise regime and all-agency Friday drinks were two of the first things we put in place to cover either ends of the mental health spectrum! But we’ve also set up a Buddy system called KitKat that pairs every staff member with someone else in the office, to take a break and help one another out with personal issues, fun stuff, or just have a whinge to.

Some of the staff have gone super serious with this and created entire brand identities and logos for their KitKat team, and built Spotify playlists for the agency, monthly Book Clubs, AMA questionnaires and a bunch of other cool stuff.

TCC: We’re a creative industry: have any of your teams come up with any left-field, really creative and/or fun initiatives or strategies to deal with the work-from-home situation?

Josh: The stuff coming out of KitKat has been pretty inspiring, so many memes! The race to have the most insane Zoom backgrounds has been pretty hot, and the discovery of Snapchat’s new Snap Camera app has taken the facial filter’s game to the next level. Other than that, the Quiz Night was a cool thing that got everyone pumped and laughing on a Monday, I definitely recommend most agencies try it out.

We recently had our local Campaign Awards Night cancelled so Meerkats helped them organise a virtual awards day with the results streamed live on Facebook, and everyone in the local industry was encouraged to dress up in their best Ball outfits for Baller Monday and jump in on Zoom. There was a charity link set up for the Oasis Foundation that people could donate to during the day, and a bottle of wine was given out to Best Dressed outfit using the #oasisballer hashtag on socials. The best part was that you only had to dress up from the waist up!

TCC: Do you think any positives could come out of this crisis that might permanently change how we work better as a creative industry?

: Absolutely, I think this has really opened the industry’s eyes to how productive off-site working can be if it’s handled right. We have a lot of mums and dads with kids, and partners with weird working arrangements, so it’s given us a lot of ideas for more flexible working arrangements across the agency. I think it’s also given some of us more possibilities for expanding our client reach outside of Perth, and even Australia, now that everyone’s seen how easy it is to work with people over a screen.

It’s hard to imagine everyone being happy to simply settle back into the same old 8am-6pm and beyond rhythms after this is all over. At the same time, I think this has really reinforced the importance of face-to-face time and more intense creative group sessions – which might have been something we took for granted before. I think you’ll see a return to more person-to-person group sessions and things like that, simply because people will be so desperate to reconnect with one another. From a creative media point of view, I think this has also reminded everyone of the importance of a proper digital ecosystem, and a return to interesting digital activations and brand experiences after years of moving everything back out into the ‘real world’.

The brands and companies who have properly invested in interesting online brand platforms, e-commerce websites and great digital advertising should be killing it right now with so many people glued to their screens and devices indoors.