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Remote control: how is the ad industry managing its teams remotely?

How is the ad industry managing its teams remotely?

Seven months since offices shuttered and with a second lockdown looming, working from home is looking to become a permanent fixture. But has the ad industry comes to terms with this new normal? As part of The Drum’s Agencies4Growth festival, Publicis’ Justin Billingsley and ex-Twitter vice-president Bruce Daisley share their thoughts on how to effectively manage teams remotely.

Working from home has been the best of times and the worst of times. For some, it has meant reclaiming their lives from a lengthy commute. For others, juggling life commitments with work has been a constant battle.

But with large parts of the workforce still doing so from home, ex-Twitter vice-president Bruce Daisley and Publicis chief marketing officer Justin Billingsley have been kind enough to share their experiences of managing teams, offering insights and advice on what does and doesn’t work when it comes to helping teams in isolation or from a distance.

‘Appreciate the other roles people have to play beyond being a worker’

”Every individual is on their own curve, dealing with the pandemic in different stages,” says Billingsley. ”And our teams are an amalgamation of all of these things.”

Relating it to air traffic control, he insists that managers should know and feel where their teams are on their curves. ”Adapt their workload, their ways of working and the way you’re engaging with them,” he advises.

”The way to get peak performance out of teams is to go beyond productivity. Being a worker is only one of the roles that all of us play, and knowing that being a worker ranks higher or lower for different people at different points of the day is critical. We must remember, we’re not even halfway through this, so we are closer to the beginning of this than we are to the end.”

With this in mind, Publicis Groupe is to take a more flexible approach to remote working when its 84,000 employees finally return to the office. Its chief exec Arthur Sadoun told The Drum last week (15 October): ”When this virus is gone, we’re going to find the right balance between working from home and being in the office.”

‘Avoid digital presenteeism’

To master time better while working from home, Daisley points to the advantages of asynchronous working, which he says he has learnt ”as an observer” in his role as a consultant to companies in this area.

”I spoke to one agency group that told me it was doing 30 to 40 hours of Zoom calls a week, and as a consequence, it’s in this bind,” he says. ”Can I answer my emails during Zoom calls?” he asks.

”Work is becoming a performance, where we pretend to be paying attention, but the secret is to get rid of the pretence. Make meetings zingy and fast, and even whittle them down to as few as possible.”

Billingsley agrees and points to digital presenteeism, whereby, he says: ”In the first two months, people were just wanting to be seen answering emails in the morning. But we can still be productive if it suits our lives, and the idea of sitting on endless Zoom calls needs to pass.”

‘Stop talking’

Jeff Bezos calls silent meetings at Amazon ”the smartest thing we ever did”. His process scraps the PowerPoint presentation in favour of a more quiet affair. For the first 30 minutes of the meeting, everyone reads a shared memo before any discussion begins.

”Silent meetings are an invention of Amazon,” says Daisley, ”and they now use online collaborative documents like Microsoft Office Live, but with people annotating it as you’re reading.” He says that allows workers to read and annotate in their own time, and allows the person running the meeting to spot potential questions.

While the idea of a silent meeting might sound abnormal, Daisley insists that people should give it a fair go. ”The person who suggests it might feel ’Oh my God, I ruined Christmas!’ because there is a lot of people sat in silence, which is quite uncomfortable, but stick with it because it makes you intellectually curious. It makes you shift from listening, which is innately passive, to an active sense of scrutiny and questioning.”

Daisley and Billingsley spoke with The Drum at Agencies4Growth Festival, a week-long online event celebrating the power of agencies to support businesses. You can watch the interview in full here. Sign up to watch forthcoming sessions and see the full Agencies4Growth schedule here.

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