For almost everyone in our industry, working from home has suddenly become the new norm, thanks to the COVID-19 crisis. While many of us might be thinking “WFH? WTF?”, there are plenty of ways of dealing with the challenges of being physically separated from our office culture. We chatted with Rebecca Carrasco, ECD at Saatchi & Saatchi Australia, and Stu Wragg, Strategy Director at Herd MSL to get some tips and insights.

TCC: What are some of your tips for staying healthy, happy and productive (oh, and sane!) while having to from home?

Bec: Video conference where you can. It doesn’t matter how bad you might look at 8am or 8pm, people need people, and you’re less of a person when you’re just a voice.

Output is more important than looking busy, so find time to step away from the machine. We’re makers, but it’s hard to make anything when there’s no time to think.

Don’t hide the children. Someone said this to me today, and I appreciated it, so I’m sharing that as a gift. We’re all in this together, and children bring people joy.

Stu: When you’re working together in an office it’s easy to ask things on the fly.  You simply turn around and ask the person next to you. When you’re all working remotely you need to pick up the phone or make a video call.  One benefit of everyone being at home is that it’s super easy to get in touch. Let’s face it, there aren’t many other places they’re likely to be.

At the same time, calling someone whenever you have something to ask isn’t necessarily fair or efficient. Particularly when you think about a team that includes parents trying to juggle working from home with educating their kids.

What I’ve learnt is that you have to be really organised (more than normal). You need to prepare for your calls to ensure you get everything covered. You also need to be on time as best you can – so you don’t waste time.

TCC: Agencies rely heavily on team culture: how do you maintain that culture if everyone is working remotely?

Bec: Well, there’s a virtual drinks trolley on hump-day, complete with bad hats and half-muted conversation. (Pun intended.) And then there’s our Group Hugs end of week wrap-up, a lot like the aforementioned virtual drinks trolley, but slightly more responsible, as hosted by our CEO.

Our virtual drinks trolley was once delivered by one of our senior creatives, who played us a guitar solo to kick-off proceedings (although I rather suspect he may have kicked off the drinks trolley before anyone else arrived). And one of our suits put a beer in each room of his home to simulate a pub crawl. But it’s early days. Crazy takes time.

For a short while we did have a Saatchi & Saatchi Clovelly, with two CD’s operating a subsidiary business from one of their back porches, until increased social distancing finally shut it down.

Stu: Our agency culture is the sum of the little things we all do everyday.  Like buying a colleague lunch or offering to help before you walk out the door at the end of the day.  In a remote environment we don’t have those cues so we’ve had to rethink how we connect with each other. 

For example, in our agency we’re big on celebrating birthdays and that means ordering in cake and gathering everyone together to sing happy birthday.  Just because we can’t do that in-person hasn’t stopped us doing it. As someone who had a birthday in the first week of working from home it made my day to receive a box of macrons from my team, delivered via Uber Eats. 

At the end of each working day our team assembles for an all-in video conference. Sometimes there are formal matters discussed but more often than not it’s a time for general chatter and banter.  Last week most of us came to the call in fancy dress. There is even talk of a virtual talent show. Whatever we end up doing, I love rounding off the day with a quick get-together of familiar faces.

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

Bec: There will no doubt be a fair amount of hardship coming out of all this, I don’t want to discount that. But yes, as an industry, I think this is likely to make us reassess where our value lies and how we can deliver on it. We’re problem-solves and makers, and while we need to be together for a lot of the making, a fair amount of the problem-solving can be done with time to think – something that’s not always easy to come by in the office. Our industry has always had a fairly structured way of working; this is forcing us to find other ways. I don’t know that we’ll ever really come back from this – I don’t know that we’d completely want to. But I think this is also making us all realise just how much we like being together and how important team culture is to motivation and mental health. The making is far better together. 

Stu:  Developing creative solutions to the challenges our clients face will always require high-levels of collaboration.  One person can develop a good idea but making it great requires the input and thinking of many.  In the current situation we’ve been forced to embrace new ways to collaborate and while it’s no replacement for face-to-face interaction, it’s forced us to make it work – whatever it takes.  The crisis has also reminded us that the world does not stand still.  What was right and relevant yesterday is no longer so today.  We’ve always been quick on our feet to deliver for our clients but the current crisis has put that to the test like nothing else.  I’m so impressed by the ways our teams have rallied over recent weeks to support the brands we work with but I equally look forward to reconnecting in-person with team members and clients that make what we do so enjoyable.