KEEPING OUR TEAMS HAPPY, PRODUCTIVE AND SANE WHILE WORKING REMOTELY

2020-03-23

It’s been a week since we sent our people home, overnight becoming a company with 250 remote offices. A lot has been written about the productivity levels of remote workers being higher than that of office workers. At the moment our people are energised and as passionate about their work as ever, but we’d be foolish not to recognise that we need to help them maintain a positive attitude while in isolation.

Advertising attracts highly creative people, many of them young. Socialising together is one of the ways we humanise the relationship between our organisation and our people. You’ve only to look at their Insta feeds to see what rich social lives they have. We get it: when your output is constantly creative, mixing with others feeds your creative energy… but now we’re forcing everyone indoors, many on their own.

We’ve been developing a multi-layered strategy to help keep our teams buoyant as their new reality sets in, maintaining a semblance of normal office practice despite not being in the office.

This is as simple as checking on workmates every day and having that quick chat they usually have at the coffee station or scheduling intentional coffee breaks. The only difference is that it’s all happening online. It’s important to take this time out during the day, putting work aside and just shooting the breeze.

We’ve given everyone a random coffee buddy for the week. The idea is to make time to talk to each other and find things in common. If we get this right, we’re going to return to the office a much closer team.

We continue to have staff gatherings on Microsoft Teams. For less formal internal communication, we’re running the #stayhome club on Slack, bringing office banter and ritual to life with daily celebrations of birthdays, wins, campaigns going live, etc. We have a Slack channel where parents with kids at home share resources, and sometimes just frustration.

We’re also changing our monthly internal Axe inspiration-sharing sessions to Rel-Axe, with regular fireside chats among small groups of participants over multiple sessions every week, just hanging out and talking about a non-work topic that interests them.

We’re also helping our people recognise and use the advantages that come with staying home. What can you do with the time you’ve gained by not commuting? Instead of letting this bonus time get swallowed up within the course of the day, we suggest doing something calming and restorative: pumping up the music and dancing around the lounge, doing some exercise, completing a puzzle, drawing, journaling, baking, crafting.

We’ve added the mindfulness practice of practising gratitude for general well-being. Gratitude is known to actually change the brain. We’ve recommended that all our people start a real gratitude practice, and by real we mean writing down five things they are grateful for every day, not just thinking about them.

And we’ve not forgotten how important it is for everyone to stay accurately informed and so our #Covid-19 Slack channel is used to share the most relevant (and real) breaking news and other updates from South Africa and around the world.

While our tone is deliberately light, we are very serious about helping our people through this anxious time, so we have counsellors on stand-by to work remotely with those who need it.

But such is the culture of our business that our people have, so far, embraced their new reality with such coolness; way beyond any Covid response plan could imagine. We all gathered on Thursday evening, fully dressed for the occasion, to watch an online awards show, and made our acceptance speeches via Instagram. We now have an online radio station, started by our CEO, that live-streams curated lists of our people’s most favourite tracks. And the cat-lovers amongst us have set up a ‘cat call’ every morning before official office hours to show off their favourite felines on-screen.

The best advice for anyone who feels helpless is to become a helper. Tend to the neighbour who needs stricter isolation, even if it’s just a regular phone call. Above all, this time is perfect for building personal resilience, a skill that will continue to serve workers in an increasingly uncertain world of work - we’ve circulated links to great free content and resilience tools.  

We know we can get through this and we’ll do it together, even though we’re physically apart right now.