What is the best thing you’ve learned in a year of remote working?

Campaign asked a mix of people from CEOs to our Faces To Watch.

Clockwise from top left: Outhwaite-Noel, O'Neal, Chauhan, Young, Celino, Brown, Miller
Clockwise from top left: Outhwaite-Noel, O'Neal, Chauhan, Young, Celino, Brown, Miller

It is exactly one year since many UK companies began working remotely as the pandemic took hold – ahead of a compulsory lockdown that took effect on 23 March 2020.

There have been many business challenges over the past 12 months – in addition to more than 100,000 deaths and a major impact on mental wellbeing.

But there have been some benefits about working from home and, in some cases, it has led to greater collaboration and camaraderie – both within companies and with partners in the wider advertising ecosystem.

So what is the best thing you’ve learned in a year of remote working? Campaign asked a variety of people from chief executives with previous experience of recessions to newer names from Campaign’s Faces to Watch 2020.

Here’s what they had to say.

Nadine Young

Chief executive, Starcom

I’ve learned many things over the past year, not just about myself but also about humankind. I’ve learned that I’m a “rubbish” maths teacher, I “don’t grate cheese the right way” and I can’t get the hang of Minecraft despite giving it a good try.

On a brighter note, though, I’ve learned that people are kinder than I ever realised and all of us are stronger, more resilient and adaptable than we probably gave ourselves credit for. Enforced remote working has cultivated a more human, more compassionate work ethos across our industry, precisely because we have had to make such an effort to stay connected; if there is one legacy I hope stays with us all after the office doors have opened once more, it’s this.

Stu Outhwaite-Noel

Founder and chief creative officer, Creature

A real banana skin of a question, this. Because at first glance we’ve discovered that a decent internet connection, artsy Zoom background and the entire back catalogue of Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures is all you need to run a successful creative agency. Who needs human connection, trains to client meetings or trousers, with the convenience, efficiency and comfort that back-to-back Zoom meetings, Slack and Sunspel superfine cotton boxers bring? Who needs offices?

And that right there would be the wrong lesson to take away from the past 12 months. Yes, our place hasn’t just coped with lockdown, it’s flourished, and it has allowed us to challenge and define new, blended ways of working that will have long impacts and benefits for the agency. But once we are allowed back in Shoreditch, I think we’re going to have to unlearn a few of the lessons of the last year.

Get back to embracing meetings where people can talk over one another, snatched creative reviews in the kitchen, meandering coffee walk and talks, or Tube rides where presentations percolate. Because creativity can’t exist in a vacuum or on a grid of Zoom boxes; it is visceral, collaborative and emotional.

In short, don’t let go of the office lease. Logically, remote working might promise a world of efficiency riches; but, in reality, brilliant work is born from wonderfully messy collaboration.

Sam Brown

Head of account management, Wonderhood Studios

We started a Wonderhood book club in lockdown 2.0 and the closing paragraph of Ed Catmull’s book, Creativity, Inc, made me think of remote working as a process.

“Don’t confuse the process with the goal. Working on our process to make them better, easier, and more efficient is an indispensable activity and something we should continually work on – but it is not the goal. Making the product is the goal.”

Our goal is to use the power of creativity to grow ambitious brands and get them talked about. The remote working process has meant we’ve had to approach making great work and looking after each other in a different way, but our goal remains the same. The best thing I’ve learned is how the resilient the Wonderhoodlums are – continually adapting our remote working to stay focused on the end result.

Priya Chauhan

Head of media activation, Team Quorum; Campaign Faces to Watch 2020

I've learned that building a company culture can translate to remote working but it needs to be deliberate, requiring attention and nurturing. Going into the office and seeing the same faces every day helps people become part of the fabric and culture of their agency, inspiring a natural sense of belonging. Working remotely requires everyone to make a concerted effort, get involved with virtual socials, check if a coworker is OK or just to say hi in the morning.

David Miller

Chief executive, Red Brick Road

Sensorial overload used to be the norm, from olfactory horrors of the commute to the amazing multisensory explosion that was agency office life. Lockdowns deprived us this and, free from all those distractions, I’ve focused on my ears. I’ve learned to actively listen.

Weekly client calls have taught me so much more about their businesses in a way that catch-up socials never could. Social listening tools have enabled me to listen to consumer sentiment with an intimacy like never before. I’ve felt privileged, too, hearing so much more about my colleagues’ lives, dreams and fears through our one-to-ones during these most intimate of times. Active listening is so rewarding; I’m determined to cherish it and keep it up, whatever the year ahead has in store for us.

Charlie Celino

Sales lead, The Social Studio, News UK; Campaign Faces to Watch 2020

For me, it would be the importance of physical meetings. Although I strongly believe that remote working will be the norm moving forward (whether it be a couple of days a week), there is something about the physicality of a meeting, brainstorm or catch-up. Virtually, you are not able to achieve the same ease of conversation or the bond with others as you are able to in person.

Yasmin O’Neal

Personal care brand and sales director, P&G Northern Europe

Over the last year, I’ve learned just how adaptable and resilient we all are. Everyone has had their own challenges to face but by working as a team, we have been able to support one another and continue to learn and grow. We’ve actively celebrated the little wins, using each as an opportunity to instil a sense of pride and excitement in the day-to-day. From a team member’s first-year anniversary at P&G, to getting new products listed on retailer sites, to a new campaign going live – we have celebrated them all. This has not only helped us through the challenging times, but has motivated us all to be the best that we can be.

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