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Coronavirus is making agencies focus more on quality and less on ‘presenteeism’ culture

"The process of data crunching, mapping and understanding took far too long before, with so many distractions in the office."

The way the coronavirus pandemic has forced marketers to work from home has already left a positive legacy, according to a new webinar by The Drum, in partnership with Deltek, which explored how agencies are digitising their workforce and preparing for the future.

One of the most positives changes has been less of a reliance on a “clocking in and clocking out” culture at agencies, and giving workers more freedom to produce quality work within their own set boundaries, according to Sera Holland, co-founder of The Fawnbrake Collective, talking about the practice of being present at work but not being productive.

How are agencies navigating the digital transformation path?

“I am encouraged by how the present time has shifted how we look at time and value,” she explained during the discussion. “The younger generation coming in expect work to be based on the value you are creating, and so the tools and platforms we are using are subsequently starting to shift. In a practical sense, it is now less about clocking in and clocking out, and more about giving people freedom to produce quality work. It might have taken six months to create a campaign before, with all the meetings and red tape, but by digitising things, you can get everything done in four weeks. That’s positive.”

Holland says any agency persisting with the same model they had before the pandemic is going about things in the wrong way. “We all need to take a step back from how we did things before, as that way of gathering data and insights is redundant in this new world,” she advised. “The key now is to use digitisation to meet physical access challenges, whether that’s working hours or parenting. We need to make our workers as comfortable as possible.”

René Praestholm, VP of agency solutions at Deltek, agreed with Holland’s assessment, adding: “This pandemic has shown why it’s so important agencies shift into digital transformation. If they don’t execute it, they run the risk of being disrupted and replaced. Those who were already on that path to digital transformation will have coped a lot better than those who haven’t, and that’s quite telling.”

Watch the full webinar on demand here.

The need for increased collaboration

On a more emotional level, Praestholm says it is time to bolster collaboration and invest in tools that help to build efficient and resilient teams. He gave the example of how Deltek employees are making more time for one another outside of the work agenda.

“We now have a weekly team Zoom call with absolutely no work agenda. It’s simply a time to get together and talk as friends,” he added. “It’s enabled us to get closer over this period and created more of a social closeness. I even pick up my guitar and do a song for my team. Maybe things like that would not have happened if coronavirus didn’t play out the way it has, and I’m sure these are things we will maintain long after it ends. It has made people more caring of their colleagues and that’s only going to be positive when it comes to the work that agencies do.”

Also speaking on the webinar was Christopher Onderstall, director and partner for the creative studio at FleishmanHillard, who said that many agencies are already well equipped to deal with a crisis and don’t need to invest much capital. “If I tried to pitch to my agency before this that everyone will work from home for three months then I would have been kicked out of the meeting room, but just three days into this new way of working and we could see it was possible,” he explained.

“My art director got stuck in Australia on a different time zone, but that’s just meant we have had a production team working 24/7, and screen sharing has meant there hasn’t been any real impact on how we work. I think a lot of agencies will have realised the tech they already have in place is really adaptable and the idea of working from home isn’t something that should be feared. This whole thing serves as a reminder that if you focus on getting good talent and equip them to do their job, then they will find a way to adapt and do that successfully.”

According to Onderstall, agencies tend to often take note of the loudest person in the room dominating a discussion, but he says this doesn’t work on Zoom meetings and that working from home culture has brought a greater focus on quality and “less on talking about results and more on delivering them.”

Looking ahead to the future, he hopes things won’t just return to normal, but agencies will adapt from all the lessons they’ve learned from this period. He concluded: “So many barriers have been reduced and things that used to take three months, we’re now launching in two weeks. The process of data crunching, mapping and understanding took far too long before, with so many distractions in the office. By giving people more space, they’re able to create ideas faster and with a clearer head. We all need to keep this momentum going after lockdown ends, and ensure we’re giving agency workers the parameters to work as efficiently as possible.”

If you want to find out more about how agencies are preparing for the future of work, watch the full webinar here.

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