'Our marriage comes first... until she tries to poach a client': WFH with your rival

Campaign talks to Hannah and Kev Strong, spouses who work at rival agencies, about their experience.

Married rivals: the Strongs have been adapting to WFH
Married rivals: the Strongs have been adapting to WFH

It's often said that you spend more time with your colleagues than your spouse. So, in theory, working from home should provide the perfect opportunity to get to know better the person you live with. 

But what if your partner works at a rival company?

From virtual pitches conducted in secret to working on separate floors, Campaign got the inside scoop from married couple Hannah and Kev Strong, who work at different Newcastle-based agencies.

'I’m expecting some strain to our relationship as parents'

Hannah Strong, head of marketing, Silverbean

Describe your current workspace

Having just returned from maternity leave on 1 April (what a time to return, right?), I don’t have a set space right now. I’m flitting between the living room/kitchen when on babysitting duty, and the dressing table in the guest room as a more child-free zone.

How are you keeping a separation from your partner?

Kev is in his office/games room/man den during his 8.30am-5pm workday, mostly with the door closed if he’s not to be interrupted. I’m mostly downstairs to keep my distance.

How are you ensuring he doesn't overhear confidential information?

Truthfully, we haven’t got this nailed yet. Short of setting up a shed in the garden, we don’t have a lot of options – even in a four-bed new-build! A couple of closed doors and working on separate floors is all we can manage. And wearing headphones as much as possible, so the other half only hears one side of the conversation.

Any new house rules you’ve introduced?

As it’s day one for me, our lunchtime chat brought about a calls rule: one person on the phone at a time. This makes it more difficult not to accidentally earwig, but is essential for keeping an eye on the nine-month-old who is trying to climb up tables and the sofas as we speak.

What are you talking about during breaks from work?

The usual "must-haves": what’s for tea, how’s the day going, latest office coronavirus updates and what we’re watching on our next date night. Now, more than ever, it’s important to have stuff to look forward to. And memes. Always sharing memes.

What's your new quarantine tea-break ritual? 

Kettle on, check the other half is still alive, make beverage, swing back to see the daughter for five minutes, back upstairs to work (that's Kev's). Mine revolves around not spilling said beverage on the clambering daughter.

Does avoiding each other, while being away from your colleagues, leave you feeling lonely? 

Kev will probably say something completely different here, but having him around during the day has been really nice – as it’s mostly just been Amelia and I entertaining our days for the last nine months. I’m having regular video calls with the senior team at Silverbean and AGY47, and daily calls with my new content manager who started a fortnight ago, so if anything I’m feeling more sociable than usual.

Are you worried that the lockdown will place a strain on your relationship?

Being honest, I don’t think it will put a strain on our marriage partnership, but I’m expecting some strain to our relationship as parents – especially as we learn how to adapt to completing our allotted working hours whilst being on childcare duty. There will be a time when he’s preparing for a pitch and I’ve got a strict deadline, and one of us will have to give in to prioritise seeing to the wee one.

Most careless mistake you’ve made so far since working from home? 

In typical "BBC dad" fashion, probably walking in when Kev was on a team call and waving the baby around on camera. The door was closed as well; my bad. Thankfully, it wasn’t a client call, but I’m expecting to do that at some point, to be honest. Kev said he’s met most of his clients’ partners and families via Zoom/Google Hangout now anyway!

Any evidence of foul play so far? 

I’m not aware of any, but Kev could have been on the other side of the door, dictaphone in hand, ready to share all our marketing strategy secrets with his MD… the truth will come out eventually, won’t it!?

'It's like being a teenager all over again'

Kev Strong, head of search, Mediaworks

Describe your current workspace

Well-prepared, actually. I'm a part-time gaming streamer/YouTuber, so I have the perfect set-up for video conference calls via my own dedicated gaming room/office.  

How are you keeping a separation from your partner?

Currently staying locked away in my office and tentatively opening doors to make sure she isn't on a video call, as Hannah can operate from any room. I've not had to commando-crawl across the floor to avoid being in one of her video calls yet – that's a bonus!

How are you ensuring she doesn't overhear confidential information?

She often has conference calls on loudspeaker, so it's pretty hard to not "listen". I often have to duck away into a room or start humming to myself if she's walking through the house on a conference call so I don't hear anything – a very conscious effort on my part.

Any new house rules you’ve introduced?

Having a nine-month-old baby, we've had to introduce a rota for company calls – we can't have calls at the same time. Similarly, if I have the door to my room closed, then do not enter under any circumstances. It's like being a teenager all over again.

What are you talking about during breaks from work?

Normally planning the afternoon out to look after our daughter and/or any office gossip from that morning. Unfortunately, it's pretty work-related .

What's your new quarantine tea-break ritual? 

I'm drinking less than I used to in the office! As we're both digital marketing agency workers, it's easy for us to take a five-minute break for a cuppa – the offer of a round is still forthcoming.

Does avoiding each other, while being away from your colleagues, leave you feeling lonely? 

Not really; the company I work for adapted very quickly to working from home, so we are in constant contact with our colleagues via video conferencing. Without that, though, I honestly think I would be crawling a wall now! Also, at the end of the day, I can just go and speak to Hannah if I do feel down or lonely – we're not that much of a rival that we don't have time for each other.

Are you worried that the lockdown will place a strain on your relationship?

We've always been a supportive couple. I've tried to make sure I'm doing stuff around the house a lot more in terms of day-to-day tidying as well as odd jobs, DIY etc – stuff that will stop arguments from occurring.

However, the biggest stress has been having a nine-month-old baby in the house too – this has been tough on both of us. We've had to implement rules to ensure that someone is always there for our daughter as we've both been on separate conference calls with clients when she has woken up from her daytime nap and you can hear her crying down the corridor. Thankfully, everyone is understanding and you can nip off to go and get her.

Most careless mistake you’ve made so far since working from home? 

Definitely leaving my child in the high chair whilst I've jumped on a "quick" conference call for it to only last two hours. Thankfully, Hannah was on hand to take over. I've also nearly discussed strategic reports for clients within earshot of Hannah where she has a direct competitor as a client, only for me to realise and close my office door – that was when I knew I was effectively sleeping with the enemy.

Any evidence of foul play so far? 

None so far. We've handled working for rival agencies very well over the last few years and, when it comes down to it, our marriage is more important than anything else – until she tries to poach one of my clients.