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Each week, we ask agency experts for their advice on real problems facing today’s marketing practitioners. 

There are two big shifts currently shaping the agency landscape for both bosses and workers – a very gradual return to offices in the US and UK, and a lot of hiring activity. While some businesses clearly hope for a return to a 2019-flavored normal, many are offering staff hybrid work set-ups of a variety of stripes – something many staff will welcome. 

But there is an issue here, particularly for younger or less experienced staff. Prior to the pandemic, most training was done on the job, over the shoulder of someone more senior, which isn’t replicated so well by screen sharing. So what are agencies doing do persuade potential – and existing – staff of their capacity to invest in and develop their skills? And can that be done effectively away from the office? 

How do you solve a problem like... training junior staff remotely? 

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Carly Avener, managing director, Leo Burnett London

The lack of learning by osmosis is particularly tough on junior colleagues and new joiners. So at the start of the pandemic we launched Leo’s Learns, a training program that sees staff deliver a learning topic to the whole agency on a bi-weekly basis. We even had our Axa client deliver a session on ‘good client-agency relationships’ and they have since asked us to deliver some of the sessions to their own people.

It has been a resounding success, not only because of the value in the content in itself but because the sessions bring people from different departments and account teams together, to learn, share and interact with each other as a collective. In many ways, the opportunity to bring people together for learning and training has been as valuable as the training itself. We’ll continue the Leo’s Learns series indefinitely, hopefully in person once this awful pandemic begins to recede. 

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Helen Matthews, chief people officer, Ogilvy UK 

At Ogilvy, we focus on meaningful connections for people – for example, by ensuring inductions to allow new joiners to meet key stakeholders. All junior staff have a formal mentor to help them with their development, but we also have informal buddy systems and, of course, our employee networks.  

We have a comprehensive learning agenda through our Craft Academy, which has predominantly shifted towards online learning. Our apprentices are supported through our partnership with Bauer and peer networks to share learning. Our current creative Pipers have just been set a challenge which they’ve worked on together entirely remotely, with mentors available to them every step of the way. 

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Gilmar Wendt, principal, GW+Co 

With less time being spent in the office, trust is crucial to help develop the skills and career paths of junior staff. Our junior project manager has been given lots of responsibility, running her own clients since the start of the pandemic when her more senior colleague left. She has plenty of support to counter the isolating effects of remote working, with regular coaching and a mentor who she has a weekly chat with to help her grow into a more senior role. We regularly check in with clients to make sure they’re happy and our processes are working well. And I personally make time at least twice a week to be in the office with the team.

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Scott Harkey, chief executive officer and president, OH Partners 

We’ve utilized mentorship programs during onboarding, particularly for each employee’s first year. We’ve also had one-on-one coaching for company leaders to become better managers. Lastly, we prioritized aligning with our heads of HR and accounting to allocate significant and realistic training budgets. Overall, it’s crucial to ensure that employees don’t feel alone. As a leader, the thought of team members feeling isolated keeps me up at night. To prevent this, we’ve been leveraging the benefits of Zoom and the benefits of safe in-person meetings. 

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Sophie O’Brien, head of people, MI Media

In reality, it’s really tough. There are two types of learning: there’s learning how to do the job and there’s learning how to carve out a career. The former can quite feasibly be done remotely – it just takes more time, more dedication and more proactivity. But the latter, I learned by being there. Being there to overhear phone conversations, being there to have meaningful conversations, being there to grow relationships. To celebrate the highs together and commiserate the lows. It’s worrying how much value is being placed on simply getting the job done. Are we training up people or robots? 

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Elise Cangemi, chief happiness officer, Good Apple 

To welcome new Apples, introductory meetings with immediate team members are scheduled throughout their initial weeks and they’re assigned an onboarding buddy outside their team to encourage additional relationships within the company.   

Recorded trainings are a great resource for new hires to reference and we increased our partnership with the IAB so each new hire completes a 50-hour course as an introduction to the industry (previously 8 hours).  

We also implemented more formal ’3/6/9’ month check-ins with clear performance benchmarks as an opportunity to address any gaps and see how Apples are pacing from a growth perspective. 

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Les Marshall, head of talent and leadership, Dentsu 

Hybrid working is a huge benefit for many employees, but it does mean that we have to be much more deliberate and structured around people development. At Dentsu, we are extending availability of formal learning programs to more early careers staff, including apprenticeships which afford nationally recognized qualifications.

These give employees an opportunity to spend 20% of their time on their development, which can be completed remotely or in the office. Our teams are also working together to create ’team charters’, which clarify how, when, where and why teams will come together in person, including for the onboarding, reboarding and training of colleagues. 

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Victoria Usher, founder and chief executive officer, GingerMay 

In the last 18 months, we’ve successfully grown the GingerMay team by 26%, half of which are juniors. To ensure our juniors develop as fast and confidently as possible, senior staff are present in the office at the same time so they learn directly from more experienced members of the team. We have also reworked our comprehensive training program to ensure it involves blended face-to-face and virtual modules that match office working practices. Furthermore, we assign buddies should new team members need a dedicated point of contact for advice and questions that arise because of this new hybrid working pattern.

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Andy Helmholz, strategy partner, Carat Germany 

It could be argued that, in pre-pandemic times, on-job learning in busy offices wasn’t necessarily effective and often created a fallacy of progress. No matter where you train your folks, it’s critical to chop tasks into digestible pieces and track progress – something often difficult when it was all on-the-fly.  

Outside of formal training, Miro has great potential to hold everything together, which helps to revisit learned content and bridge asynchronous but timely feedback. Similarly, a three days in/two days home scenario gives junior staff undisturbed focus time for exercises. Propose your rookies use fallow times to consider emails they’ve been CC’d to or watch the recording of a Teams meeting they hadn’t been invited to and ask them for their key takeaways, then track and discuss it with them. 

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Christi Tronetti, marketing director, M&C Saatchi 

In July 2020, we launched Open House, a completely free IPA CPD-certified eight-week online training program open to anyone interested in finding out more about advertising, with modules taught by experts from across M&C Saatchi Group. Our goal was to help participants become well-rounded communications experts, introducing them to a broad range of disciplines from data to creativity to PR, because our clients consider the entire marketing ecosystem for every brief. 

Following an amazing reception (we received 1,569 applications from 38 different countries, with a number subsequently taking up roles within the agency), we’re running the program again this year and this time we’re also making it available to all existing staff. 

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Michele P Sileo, partner and managing director, Eleven Inc

At the beginning of the pandemic I looked around at our junior staff and wondered how on earth we were going to guide them from afar. Then it struck me: between the structures we already had in place, and technology, we could recreate a nurturing, virtual experience. We doubled down on our mentorship programming and encouraged bonding. Young talent stepped up, attended video pitches and joined meetings they otherwise would not have been invited to. I’m not one to pile on meetings, but I now believe this hybrid world has made way for learning, observing and connecting like never before. 

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Harriet Shurville, global chief people officer, Iris 

With people confined to their homes during Covid, we always knew that lockdown was going to be a key time for focusing on personal development. We developed an internal online training platform dubbed the ‘Netflix of training’; Fast Forward is an on-demand destination where internal employees and external experts give masterclasses and training workshops. From deep dives into our creative specialisms through to workshops on coping with ambiguity, Fast Forward has become a space for everyone to learn from.  

Crucially we have invested in a global learning and development lead, whose role is to focus on ensuring our people get all the support, resource and inspiration they need to develop and progress their careers at Iris. Developing and supporting our line managers is currently our number one priority, as they are responsible for the development and progress of teams within every corner of the network. 

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Nicole Horton, director of creative services, Periscope 

To map out what inclusion means on all fronts, we’re implementing flexible working environments and positioning our junior talent for success: in the driver’s seat. We asked them to tell us how they learned best.  

Periscope promotes supportive training culture for talent, where they choose the level of support they need – virtual coffees with leadership, mentorship programs, a robust performance management system and weekly meetings with managers. 

They’re immersed in a culture that cares about their roles as much as who they are outside of work – generating growth by extending rigorous empathy, fierce creativity in our techniques and becoming students of our pupils. 

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Jason Villar, leader of brands, Doner LA 

We train and develop junior staff with a suite of programs. We start with the Doner Buddy program, pairing every new employee with someone who can familiarize them with the hybridized virtual and physical office culture, and help navigate agency processes.  

Junior staff is also invited to participate in the Doner Rise program (reach, inspire, support and encourage) to further prepare new employees for the hybrid work environment. Rise is a mentorship program that identifies an employee’s career goals and connects them with senior leadership, sometimes in a different office location, to provide coaching and career advice. 

Want to join the conversation? Email me at sam.bradley@thedrum.com.