The huge growth in home working experienced during the pandemic has clearly demonstrated the commercial and social potential of institutional remote working policies. However, as we move beyond the lockdown era, many organizations are now wondering which of the past year’s ‘remote working’ trends should be reversed and which should be accelerated.
As part of its Agencies4Growth Festival, The Drum, in partnership with Adobe Workfront, recently hosted a panel discussion of marketing industry experts, exploring the issues surrounding remote working in 2021 and beyond.
Gordon Young, co-founder and editor-in-chief, The Drum, moderated the session, and was joined by Andrew Hall, EMEA digital sales and field marketing director, Adobe Workfront; Sarah Baumann, managing director, VaynerMedia London; Visar Statovci, co-founder and managing partner, Waste; Colin Chow, global managing partner, TwentyFirstCenturyBrand; and Andrew Barraclough, global vice president of Design, GSK.
VaynerMedia’s Baumann believes the shared global experience of the Covid-19 crisis has had a humanizing effect on the world of work. She said: “One of my favorite moments of the pandemic, and probably my entire career, came early during lockdown, during a video call with a brand-new client. I had never met this CEO before, and we had a very intense 1-2-1 discussion about his business while he was sitting in his young daughter’s bedroom with pink bunting in the background.
“The pandemic stripped us all back to reveal our humanity. In our case, it also stripped back the formality of the old school client/agency relationship and led us to forge new ways of working with our clients, our partners and our own team. We now have clients that we’ve been working with for a year, often on very complex, collaborative projects, and we’ve yet to meet in person.”
Discussing the unexpected impacts of lockdown, Statovci of Waste said: “Like a lot of other office-based creative agencies, the lockdown was a big shift for us but, from a technical perspective, it went very smoothly. Our main concerns initially were how the situation would impact our creativity. Traditionally, a lot of good ideas arise out of chance conversations and people just hanging out together at the office. Surprisingly, though, remote working didn’t seem to have much impact on creativity at all, at least in the short term, and it also opened up the opportunity to access new talent remotely in a way that we probably wouldn’t have considered before.”
Adapt and thrive
Chow of TwentyFirstCenturyBrand said: “As a brand strategy consultancy, the initial shock of lockdown was massive for us. We work directly with founders and CEOs and CMOs, so we wondered if our whole business model was at risk. Didn’t we need to be in the room, whispering in ears, having these intimate encounters with our clients? In reality, we adapted quickly and figured out how to do things better than before.
“For example, one of our core values is to ‘ambush with humanity’. We bring together an organization’s leaders to foster very intimate emotional conversations and to discuss the undiscussable. Typically, we would gather a small group of senior executives in a private room for dinner and drinks, then get out the whiteboard and roll our sleeves up. During lockdown, we adapted by sending out personal whiteboards and bottles of tequila and the result was some of the most honest, powerful sessions we’ve ever had. There are a lot of learnings from lockdown that we plan to carry forward.”
TwentyFirstCenturyBrand are not alone in taking pandemic-related lessons forward. Barraclough says that the pharmaceutical giant GSK is also rethinking ways of working in the wake of a disrupted 18-months: “One of the discussions we’re having internally at the moment is about ‘work that works’. How does it work for you and how does it work for your organization? We're also starting to think about spaces as a place to create, collaborate and celebrate together, rather than a place to sit and do your email. Post-pandemic, we’re all asking ourselves what is the point of commuting for an hour and a half to do something you could easily do at home? We’re working on a framework with our teams around the world, providing some guidance on why you might go into the office or not.”
Addressing how software tools such as Adobe Workfront can help organizations make the transition to a new flexible way of collaborating, Hall said: “As a collaborative work management tool, we're a big believer in a hybrid way forward. There's a couple of trends that we're seeing that we think will be important. The first is the move to a global talent pool or, at least, a more geographically distributed talent pool than before. The second is the management or working time and how many of us welcomed the flexibility that home working offered us to do things like take our kids to school.
“I think we can really help with the continuity of collaboration. The pandemic has shattered the boundaries of time and distance for most organizations and we’ve shown it can work. The question now is how do we start harnessing the creativity of a global workforce that demands genuine flexibility in when and where it works? The answer lies in tools like Adobe Workfront that can really help to progress organizations into a hybrid working model, where time and geographical distance are no longer boundaries – and that’s hugely positive in the modern world.”
You can watch the full panel session here.