Never has the abbreviation WFH been more apposite – three letters that are surely going to collectively save hours of time as legions of remote-working staffers substitute it for the rather more clunky "working from home".
In just days, WFH is becoming the new normal for employees of businesses worldwide, including agencies, advertisers and media owners, as they react to the coronavirus outbreak. It seems as if barely a minute passes and more news breaks of staff ditching their offices and heading for their sofas.
There are too many to list, but among the most recent companies to send staff home are Campaign publisher Haymarket; ITV, which has cleared the third floor of its Grays Inn Road office after an employee contracted the virus; the School of Communication Arts, which has closed its schools and moved learning online; Good Housekeeping publisher Hearst, which has sent people home at least until the end of March; Cannes Lions organiser Ascential, which has closed its offices; and Omnicom, which has decreed that only essential staff should go into the office.
It’s reassuring that cutting through the stories of mass exodus are messages of positivity and calls for calm, such as from the likes of Havas' Yannick Balloré, who sent out an internal memo to curtail fears of economic collapse, while Publicis Groupe's Arthur Sadoun called for solidarity.
There are clearly practicalities that WFH renders nigh on impossible, but as an industry that touts its flexible working credentials so readily, adland is in a position to show it can be done.
So, in defiance of all the tabloids-induced WTF and OMG, Campaign asked an array of home-bound workers: how is WFH going for you?
Chief marketing officer, Eve Sleep
When Campaign emailed me to ask if I wanted to write something on working from home, I responded in less than four seconds. And I guess that kind of tells you all you need to know about me and WFH. As a modern business, we’re pretty set up to work from home already, but it’s just not something I choose to do that often. And that’s for damn good reason.
I have an honest admission to make. I can get no serious work done before two o’clock. I do all my thinking in the evening, and I wrote all my university dissertations overnight and slept during the day. I am the nightiest of night owls, a daytime procrastinator extraordinaire and a normal office environment suits me fine. I can spend my mornings in meetings, workshops and one-to-ones, getting ideas and stimulation, catching up and co-ordinating, connecting with people and helping the team get stuff done. And I really settle down to serious "thinky" work in the afternoons and evenings.
But working from home scuppers all that. What am I meant to fill my mornings with if I don’t have teams to catch up with, workshops to run, stimulating discussions and time round a flipchart? I spent a large part of this morning staring out of the window… I’m hoping this reduction in social contact won’t go on for too long!
Creative director, MullenLowe Profero
Less social but amazingly productive, my to-do list has never looked so complete. It took us just hours to get back up and running after leaving the physical office. In the time since, we've successfully held stand-ups, briefings, workshops, chemistry meetings – you name it – virtually. We even held our weekly "Friday beer o'clock" online, with drinks, snacks and tales of the week to keep the team spirit up. I think the challenge is going to be maintaining morale. But with the right sessions in place, I’m sure this virus is going to give our industry the wake-up call it needed to more flexible working.
Creative, Sky Creative Agency
As creatives, we’ve always been encouraged to work where we get our best results. As such, we’ve had a fair amount of exposure to remote working. However, usually we’re only out of the office for a day or two at a time. It’s going to be a challenge working on an entire campaign remotely, especially when it comes to the more technical stages, like mixing and mastering.
A Skype meeting is almost as good as the real thing, but when you need to send a 50GB file to a designer on home internet speeds, you need to plan it hours in advance. Things like that can be worked around, though – the office has been raided to set up home edit suites and we’re developing a new workflow as we go. There might be a few hitches in these early days, but I don’t think it will take long until it becomes the new normal.
Head of sales and marketing, Park Pictures
Short term, it works. We’re equipped with the technology to do it and we’re applying best working practice. Divert the phones, use those group chats, Tony’s Chocolonely is not for breakfast. I do it two days a week already; we can make it work for now.
For the long term, we need to take the short term seriously. And do it now. We bring groups of people together to create film but we have a moral responsibility for our crew and colleagues’ safety and well-being. We must not take that lightly.
If we can look at other countries that are ahead of us in this process, learn from them and take stock, we can aim to give ourselves the strongest possible outlook when getting back to business.
Senior strategist, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
The first time you boss a conference call while secretly lying on the sofa in your pyjamas eating Lotus biscuit spread straight out of the jar is nothing short of thrilling. But as someone who’s always valued working away from the office for the usual planner-y headspace reasons, this is not my first rodeo…
Creative and strategy types love to point out how office conditions hamper our ability to create the best work. Distractions. Meetings. Other people. Urgh. So, on the face of it, more time and space to think properly can’t be the worst thing in the world.
But self-isolation in the name of great thinking only gets you so far. Once developed, great thinking needs to be opened up to others – built on, challenged and sharpened. Work flourishes when thoughts, ideas and points of view collide, so we need to keep things colliding, despite the current challenge of physical proximity.
Based on the incessant email/WhatsApp/Teams/Slack hum, and my team’s ingenious suggestion of remote rosé on a Friday, I am optimistic.
Head of new business, Creature London
We kicked the week off with an all-agency meeting, as we always do – only this time everyone's faces were slightly bleary on a screen, rather than slightly bleary in a room. And, from then on, we sort of just cracked on. Because, the truth is, a lot of what we do is pretty easy to do remotely – and the meetings that probably don't need to happen fall away pretty swiftly, which is a joy.
You do, though, start to realise how much the stuff you take for granted matters: the exercise you get travelling to and from the office each day; the inadvertent conversations you have or overhear that spark something exciting; the psychological value of actually leaving the office; and the plain human joy of actually hanging out with people, however much more "efficient" you might be without them around.
I've argued before that offices are brilliant – and, predictably, the biggest challenges you face when you start working remotely aren't logistical (that stuff's always basically fine); they're cultural (how do we continue to feel like a gang when we're spread out all over the UK?) and they're pastoral (how do I make sure everyone's OK when I can't really see them?). Focus on those two things, make sure you get some exercise and turn your computer off at the end of the working day, and you'll probably be OK.
Founder and chief executive, Croud
Being at home with loved ones more is nice (for now). Croud, like many other digital-first businesses, is well-set-up to cope with home working (bar Sky’s pitifully slow upload speeds).
Keeping active is important – I’m trying (and advising the team) to get out and do some exercise each day. The key thing is staying in touch and ensuring everyone in the business is OK and that people continue to feel connected – we’re running team catch-ups first thing each day and will have our weekly "Crouded House" highlights (with a drink recommended) over Google Hangouts on Fridays.
But I do miss the interaction. Sitting in front of a Google Hangout for eight hours just isn’t the same as that buzz of the office – we thrive so much on the energy we collectively generate being physically together. Hope to get that balance back soon…
Co-Founder, Futures Network
Working remotely should be simple. The technology is there and freely available, but many businesses still struggle to utilise it effectively. Whether it’s building in the right structures to those individuals working out the best WFH practices that suit them. It’s even more of a challenge when it comes to keeping things human.
Even with all the brilliant tech available, I am still missing the human interaction, the buzz of the office and the silly jokes across desks.
Tech can be the answer but it requires proactivity. One thing I’ve done is schedule social video calls for 10 to 15 minutes with my now distant colleagues – essentially a virtual coffee break. Or to start more formal video calls with a general conversation (as you would do in the workplace).
As we move through these uncertain times, it’s essential to remember the little things we can do to create more meaningful human interaction online.