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    In the age of remote working, how can agencies build bridges between cross-border teams?

    As part of The Drum’s Globalization Deep Dive, we ask agency bosses from across the globe how they go about creating intercontinental camaraderie.

     

    Each week, The Drum asks agency experts from across the world and the ad business for their take on a tough question facing the industry, from topical concerns to perennial pain points.

    This week, as part of our Globalization Deep Dive, we turn our attention to the challenges faced by global agencies in getting their offices to work together.

    Even if you’re part of the same national company, there’s a chance your colleagues might be Zooming in from abroad. While that might suit employees’ individual circumstances, it can make building up or holding together a team culture much harder.

    So, what can agencies do to fix it?

     

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    Sairah Ashman, global CEO, Wolff Olins

    We’ve continued many of the rituals we developed during the pandemic and, now that we’re hybrid, they’ve become core to keeping us together, including regular events like global company meetings and workshares with contributions from all corners of the Wolff Olins universe. We use Slack to support us globally, locally integrated with Lattice to drop public and private shout outs.

    Each region hosts a ‘stand up’ Monday morning meeting in the same format, making it easy to jump from one studio to the other. Globally, we circulate a weekly round-up of the week’s headlines, including celebrating new joiners and achievements. The key thing for us is to keep it personal – the pandemic helped us understand what matters, including keeping things real.

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    Dounia Senawi, chief commercial officer, Deloitte Digital

    As someone who just returned from Oktoberfest with my German colleagues, nothing can beat shared experiences to build team culture… Since travel isn’t always possible, however, it’s the activities that help build trust, respect and mutual appreciation that make all the difference. We encourage our teams to have one-on-one conversations, regular check-ins and informal meetups to deepen relationships and build meaningful connections. The wonderful thing about having team members all over the world is that we have shared personal experiences that bond us regardless of location. Where there are differences, we can be champions and sources of support for each other.

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    Malcolm Poynton, global chief creative officer, Cheil Worldwide

    In an age of AI assigning people to projects, camaraderie has been swept aside in favor of faster, cheaper. Since Cheil was never built like traditional western agencies, we’ve always focused on creating global teams of unique talents from different geographies.

    With mobile in our DNA, teams run DM groups sharing life’s crazy, raw, random, comedic and human side. We intentionally run project reviews at a super high cadence, quickly developing trust with monthly global programs bringing people together. Underpinning all this is our shared Korean value of commitment to do whatever it takes. It’s called ’tuhon’.

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    In the age of remote working, how can agencies build bridges between cross-border teams?
     
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    Andrew Mason, chief media officer, Digitas

    Whether teams are global, regional or local, our people are integral to the service we provide for clients and helping them get future ready. Beyond collaboration, strongly rooted camaraderie requires honest communication, intentional interactions and a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere. The first thing to note is the use of the word ’team’. It may seem a small point, but the struggles many businesses have is not structural or process but mindset. To ensure we maintain this we invest heavily in time for non-work activities (townhalls, social events and other team-building activities) and in autonomy and ownership (creating an environment where employees feel they have autonomy and ownership means they’re more engaged, committed and productive). 

    Feeling empowered and enabled is one side of the equation. The flip side is ensuring that people feel respected and appreciated. One of the ways we do this is by running weekly shout-out sessions (virtual and in-person) recognizing great work across the agency. We also undertake many one-to-ones with the teams to offer guidance and counseling.

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    Naomi Troni, global chief marketing and growth officer, Wunderman Thompson

    From Wunderman Thompson’s Got Talent to WunderPets – a competition that turned our network into a ‘petwork’ for everyone to show off their pets – we’re constantly looking for ways to engage our 20,000+ employees. What we’ve found to be the perfect platform for employees to explore and connect is the WT Metaverse. Not only has it been instrumental in bringing employees together for team stand-ups and client meetings, we’re even using it to create a unique experience for our new hires to give them back the first day they can’t have when working remotely.

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    Sander Volten, global chief executive officer, 180

    At 180, we’ve worked hard at not being another ’network’, operating instead as an ecosystem of end-to-end creativity. We feel a greater sense of togetherness across our hubs in Amsterdam, NY and LA as people are empowered by their place in the broader ecosystem. People thrive because their unique skills and perspectives aren’t replicated between office but are valued as part of the whole, allowing us to gather the right people around the table to solve our clients’ problems intelligently.

    We’ve fueled the ecosystem with connection, energy, growth and opportunity, with an office exchange program, virtual meetups, management meetups in person and the One 180 platform where our creds, pitches and case studies, plus day-to-day practical documentation, is all held – all fostering our ambition of radical collaboration.

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    Emma Cumming, global culture director, We Are Social

    As a global business, we know the power of working as a collective. The key for us is local individuality underpinned by global connection and consistent culture. We believe both virtual and in-person opportunities to connect have a role to play.

    Our We Are Social ’Passport’ program gives our people the opportunity to spend time in our offices around the globe, working among different teams, building new relationships and strengthening our culture. Born out of Covid, our annual global virtual conference transports all our people to the metaverse to connect, inspire and have fun – with everything you would expect from a regular conference, plus speedboat races, group meditation and beach parties.

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    Trevor Hubbard, global CEO, Butchershop

    We never bothered our people with a ’will they, won’t they’ dance on coming back into the office, which has opened us up to an entire new world of talented subject matter experts. 70% of the work we do is heads down ’producing’ time – and we support that with a ’no meetings’ day on Fridays. The other 30% is ’planning and playing’, where we create occasions and spaces, including building pod spaces in cities with 10+ team members for (non-mandatory) in-person collaboration.

    There’s also our annual La Creme Summit, where we gather the entire organization for a three-day retreat, strengthening relationships through a series of work-based sessions with plenty of free time to relax and connect with the team.

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    Julie Cohen, CEO, Across the Pond

    I’ve just returned from our Global Gathering and it was the best investment we could have made. With offices in London, San Francisco, Singapore and Shanghai, spending time ’being human’ together is utterly invaluable.

    Day-to-day, we create reasons for global teams to connect. We do cross-office ’buddy’ pairings, a 30-minute ’not work’ chat. ’Water cooler catch-ups’ are another fave. Small groups get popped into breakout rooms for the last 10 minutes of our All Agency Weekly meeting to shoot the breeze.

    Another win throughout Covid that we will keep forever has been learning to embrace the silence on video calls. It so often opens the door for a whole new conversation and growing feeling of connectedness and belonging.  Every opportunity to get different people speaking is gold.

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    Callum Fitzhardinge, creative director, Media.Monks

    It helps to be human first: put work aside and talk to each other before starting. That includes learning each other’s skill sets and passion points; we don’t do that enough IMO. Big thanks to those who don’t like small talk because it’s valuable in this context. We even coined a new phrase—“Good Morvening”—which always gets a laugh and breaks ice across timezones.
    We’ve also done a bunch of work on cross-cultural collaboration, inspired by Erin Meyer’s brilliant book “The Culture Map”. This helps everyone understand global nuances, especially between nations with different communication styles, like Netherlands and Japan.

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    Nate Woodhead, deputy executive creative director, Virtue

    We’re a global team with a borderless approach. Our working culture means we have teams from offices across the world working on the same client brief so we build connections through the work. We also have regular meets like our monthly cultural exchange – a chance to catch up as a team and showcase the best work inside the agency.

    Two people from the team also share their personal passions or skills during these sessions and we do something called Go, See, Do where one person gets £100 to take on a cultural experience to report back to the agency.

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    Rebekah Cabré, director of operations, B-Reel Stockholm

    Being a global independent agency, it has always been imperative for us to maintain our culture across our network.

    During the pandemic, we made sure to preserve our Slack culture. When people started working from home, we encouraged posts with silly and entertaining topics in dedicated channels to keep the conversations and good vibes going.

    As we continued to grow the team, we introduced virtual speed dating across the global offices to onboard everyone with informal one-on-one chats. Relaxed online meetings without an agenda were encouraged.

    This year, we also introduced B-Reel Nomad, which allows anyone to visit and work on local projects from any of our four global offices, further emphasizing cross-collaboration within our network.

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    Ryan Woor, chief operating officer, M&C Saatchi Talk

    Sermo, our global network of independent PR and communication consultancies, was built on relationships not ownership. Each agency provides a monthly landscape insight update, case studies and local market report. These are shared across the network allowing us to foster a culture of friendship. We celebrate the fact that each team works idiosyncratically and all communication is locally nuanced. This is an invaluable tool to tap into when working on global projects. We also have a global hot desk scheme: anyone who is traveling to a city where we have a partner is encouraged to extend their trip for a few days and spend some time working with them.

    Want to join in with our weekly discussions? Email me at sam.bradley@thedrum.com. And for more on what marketers and their partners need to do to succeed on a global level, check out The Drum’s Globalization Deep Dive.

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