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Many 'working from home' guides have failed to take into account the nuanced home life situations faced by workers around the globe, so The Drum has asked individuals from across ad land their top tips for remote working: no matter the setup. 

With around 20% of the global population in lockdown, never before has the internet been so proliferated with unsolicited advice on working from home.

Tips range from the obvious – ‘washing and getting dressed will improve your state of mind’, to the presumptuous – ‘dust off your yoga mat and try some at-home workout apps’). Very few guides, though, take into consideration the nuances of home life and the barriers different setups can impose on simply getting the job done – whether that’s wrangling toddlers to ensure they don’t moon your colleagues during a video conference, working alongside a partner or living in complete isolation.

The ad industry was catapulted into remote working early. Holding group giants including WPP and Dentsu Aegis Network moved staff from corporate desks to their sofas and kitchen tables in mid-March before governments imposed their own lockdowns. Now, slowly, but surely, the industry is adapting to its new normal – holding new business pitches over Zoom, investing in remote technology systems and setting up wellbeing initiatives for employees.

Ad land is swimming in a sea of well-meaning web links (is there an agency person who wasn’t been sent that Salesforce document?). Although, when it comes to practical advice on contending with the nuances of home life while still collaborating with colleagues and clients there is very little out there.

Seeking to reflect the industry in all its diversity – from working parents to single young professionals – The Drum has pulled together a guide of its own: here are some tips on how to work from home no matter your setup.

The parents and home-schoolers

Tom Pepper is head of marketing solutions for LinkedIn in the UK, he lives with his wife who is self-employed food writer and broadcaster. Together they have a two-year-old daughter and a son who is five. Since schools and nurseries closed in the UK (like many other parents) they have been juggling work, home schooling, sharing an office space and keeping two small children entertained.

“Due to the broadcast element of my wife’s job [she records a show for BBC Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet every week in our spare bedroom], when she’s recording it’s particularly important to keep our children quiet and entertained which is my job,” he explains.

On the whole, he says balancing a young family with two working parents has been a challenge, but Pepper advises that building a routine around his children has been key: “I’m learning to enjoy the time I’ve got back from not commuting and appreciating the fact that I’m home for bathtime and picnic lunches in the garden,” he adds.

Tips he finds work for his family include putting aside time in the calendar each day to spend with the kids. “I have been the PE teacher each day for an hour – it’s a great way to get a break from meetings,” he laughs.

He also advises being up front with colleagues about the fact disruptions might occur.

"Explain to anyone you’re speaking to from work that your children are at home so there may be additional background noise or interruptions,” he adds. “Some people may even welcome one of your youngsters popping up on screen. If your children do end up disrupting you, handle it with a cool head like professor Robert Kelly did when his BBC interview was interrupted by his daughter.

“It’s also important to remember you’re not on your own,” he adds, pointing to platforms like his own employer as a means to link up with communities and combat isolation.  

Jaqueline Bourke is senior manager of creative insights at Getty Images. Earlier in March, she accompanied her mother – who helps look after her 17-month-old daughter – back to County Mayo in Ireland and was forced to stay there herself and self-isolate after her toddler got Covid-19-like symptoms.

“The story became very real very quickly. Thankfully the local doctor acted very fast plunging us into separate self-isolation. It was a scary situation but my one year-old is now back to full toddler strength while we wait it out here,” she explains.

As for her routine, any attempts at holding to rules of her usual parenting were thrown out the window and she advises others not to be too harsh on themselves if they are feeling the same.

“It is all about slowing down, delaying responses and looking for safe learning opportunities in unusual times and unfamiliar surroundings. Want to empty out the fridge? Go for it. Build milk towers and food mountains on the kitchen floor. Wonderful. Change the meaning of Happy Birthday? Why not.

“A colleague told me that singing Happy Birthday twice is the length of time for thorough hand washing. My one year-old now thinks that is the hand washing song."

Another practical tip is learning to type work emails in an adaptive manner: "You need to learn to go faster with one finger on your weaker hand as your predominant arm contains a toddler threatening to spill liquid on your keyboard.

“Breathe, adapt and be grateful for the daily juggle. Remember for any WFH parent, exhaustion is always there to embrace you like an old comfortable blanket at the end of every day.”

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Bourke doesn’t think WFH will become the new normal post-coronavirus, but she does expect to see more of it.

“I would hope to see businesses trust their employees more to work flexibly, focusing on output rather than presenteeism,” she concludes.

FutureBrand’s executive director of growth and marketing in the US Simone Oppenhe is also in the thick of it as a single mother with two young children.

“I’ve accepted I’m in survival mode. And like so many other parents out there, every minute means you need to prioritize something different,” she says.

“One minute it is logging my son in for his classes, the next one might be about dialing in for a client call.

“I’m surviving minute to minute and prioritising for the moment. There’s no blanket priorities that I’m applying day-to-day, I’m focusing on making game time decisions based upon what else is happening and what is most important at that time.”

The work (and life) partners

Lockdown is giving many an insight into the working lives of their partners and spouses, with couples sitting opposite one another at makeshift desks or fighting for custody of the spare room for video calls.

Hobie and Chris Walker are head of wellbeing and head of art at AML Group respectively. For now, they have set up a makeshift desk at their dining room table, leaving the room to take calls where they have to. To vary their day, we go down to the garden room for an 11 o’clock tea break and for lunch.

“It’s nice having someone from the same agency to chat with,” says Chris. “Working alone must be very tough. Microsoft Teams is great, but it’s not quite the same, and Hobie doesn’t like it when I wear my headphones for meetings as she says I shout.

“I can’t say I really enjoy our online fitness classes all that much. The pub used to be much nicer. But having a cut-off at 6pm is good for me, as I’d just plough on endlessly. I take a quick peek at my emails at about 7pm and hope there are no emergencies.

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Their top tips for other couples in the same situation? Have a structure in your day and make it feel different from the weekend, take regular breaks and have a project you’re working on whether it’s a puzzle, a painting, or learning something.

“Taking regular breaks also helps as you lose all track of time sitting at your laptop or computer all day,” says Hobie. “And there aren’t the usual interruptions and office banter that goes on in the office.  We’re particularly lucky in that we have each other to talk to and see in real life. Also, make cups of tea for each other.”

Those flying solo

Not everyone has a quarantine partner, however. With the UK’s advertising industry skewed towards big cities where young professionals either live solo or with housemates, many in the industry are in lockdown alone.

Juliet Cox is client business director at branding and design agency JDO. She lives by herself in London, in a small one-bedroom flat with no outdoor space.

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“I walk five paces from my bed to my dining table to work.  My work set-up is in constant view so there's no escape from the visual reminder of work. I miss the social interaction and inspiration of working in a studio,” she says.

Her advice for others in the same situation is simply to get outside every day for exercise or a walk and call friends and family every day to feel connected and laugh.

Also: “Hide your work screen and computer under your bed on weekends so it's not a constant visual reminder.”

The innovators 

If sticking to a routine within your own four walls doesn’t appeal to you – then you can always do what marketers are best at and innovate.

Among those thinking of weird and wonderful ways to make their home setups more engaging is Threepipe owner Jim Hawker, who purchased a 1987 Talbot motorhome and parked it outside his house as a makeshift office.

“The wifi stretches and the wife and I can alternately use it between looking after two children under the age of five in our small flat,” he explains on LinkedIn.

The camper comes equipped with a fridge, sink, gas hobs and “apparently you can even sleep in it".

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Agencies too are thinking outside of the box to ensure employees in all manner of home situations remain connected.

WPP’s AKQA just launched a new radio station to bring together its 2,200 staff around the world. WFH-FM, Work From Home radio station was an idea born out of the Melbourne office initially, led by Jessica Day and creative director Adam Grant.

Promoting community and creative innovation during a time of social distancing, the two serve as station managers, encouraging the global AKQA team to contribute content and ensuring a round-the-clock program of music and chat.

A number of its London studio, including managing partner Sam Kelly are involved, hosting shows on the 24-hour network with music, interviews, special guests, and DJs from across the planet.

With China's Wuhan only tentatively coming out of lockdown this week after 76 days, one thing is certain: agencies and brands will have help employees adapt to remote working (regardless of their home situations) for another month at least.