Thanks to the pandemic, the world of work is changing – and it looks very different depending on where you’re based. In The Drum’s new series, Today’s Office, we ask individuals from adland to share what these new normal routines look like. This week, Jennifer DaSilva, the president of WPP creative agency Berlin Cameron, takes us through what it’s like to transport your family and an ever-changing home office across the United States.
Since the pandemic began, I’ve had an ever-changing series of offices and my family’s life has been in a constant state of flux since June, when my husband and I decided to bring our two young boys to California to escape being stuck in a small New York City apartment.
Both of us have busy, full-time jobs and the pressures of round-the-clock home-schooling and childcare – as well as feeling like we weren’t as free to go out and about in New York City due to the pandemic – pushed us towards the sunshine of Los Angeles. We’d been thinking about moving here for years and wanted to test it out before we made a final commitment (which we did, but more on that later!).
We rented a house in Venice where I transformed a small closet into a makeshift office thanks to the help of a couple of Costco boxes and a luggage rack. I worked on my laptop while being stared down upon by a whimsical painting of a naked woman, but despite the interesting taste in art of my hosts, I was able to get things done because I had a little bit of privacy. I could still pop out to check on the kids (my husband shouldered the majority of the daytime parental duties), but in my cozy little space I could shut out the noise and concentrate.
The real happiness of being in Southern California was being able to take calls outside, which isn’t possible with the noise and traffic in NYC. I could get sunshine and fresh air while talking and walking around the Venice canals, which were close to our rental.
I also found that, even though I was sometimes getting up at 4:30am to take calls, my east coast counterparts were finishing up at 3 or 4pm Pacific Time, so I could spend time with my family once the workday was done. We’d often head over to the beach or do something outside, which felt great because the kids had been cooped up in Manhattan for so long. It was during this month we spent in LA that we ultimately decided we’d officially make the cross-country move before the boys had to start school again in the fall.
After our stint in Venice, we headed up north to my childhood home in Los Gatos, where my parents still live. There, my office was a dining room table that I shared with my husband. It was actually a nice setup, with a big tree outside that was a nice backdrop for Zoom calls. But the best thing was the pocket door that my mom would close and tell the kids “your parents are working” and cart them off to play golf or swim or do some other activity. After months and months of no help with childcare, it was so nice to have her as a buffer. Plus, my kids love spending time with their grandparents, so it was a win-win for everyone.
From Los Gatos, we headed back to New York City for a couple of weeks to pack and tie up some loose ends. While we were there, we found a rental in Manhattan Beach – the area where we ultimately want to live in California – that we ’toured’ on FaceTime (I wouldn’t recommend FaceTiming a rental because it didn’t end up being exactly what we expected – funny how things can look better in photos!). But I do have a good office setup, a small guest house in the back with a lounge chair, a semi-functional standing desk gifted to me by Shelley Zalis of The Female Quotient and a wine fridge. Wine has been a necessity for getting through the pandemic, so it’s nice to have it within reach. But on a more serious note, I can close the doors of the house and concentrate – which has been a lifesaver.
The biggest lesson from all the changes of scenery is that you can make anything into an office as long as you have a place to focus. And I’ve discovered that some of my preconceived notions about working remotely weren’t true. I always felt like I had to be in the office in order to be productive and that we needed face-to-face interaction with our teams and our clients, but the pandemic has proven me wrong.
We found in a Berlin Cameron survey that I’m not alone and that employees like the freedom of working from home, with 67.8% saying collaborating remotely is going well or hasn’t really changed much from before, and 78.6% saying remote work has not affected their ability to engage with clients or has even made it easier to do so. And the agency has been successful despite us not being together in the office, winning a lot of new business in the past several months.
I’ve even found that starting new work relationships has been easier than I thought because you can still connect with someone through a screen since we’re all going through this together. Sure, your kid might run in during a Zoom call, but those kinds of things just help to humanize us. I didn’t necessarily think that was possible, but I’m grateful for the new connections I’ve made during this period of transition for me and my family.