On this, the first week of the Covid-19 shut down, we agencies are caught between a rock and a hard place. With offices shut and most of us working from home, many pitches inevitably may be put on hold or could switch to virtual rather than in-person pitches. Yet for agency and brand owner alike, a shut office need not – and should not – mean a business is closed. Not only can we carry on, we have to. And we must be more creative than ever if we are to do so.
The shut-down may still be young but already, three important things have struck me.
The first is logistical. Not only are colleagues across our group agencies now working from home, remotely, they together are also working in the same way with our clients. Which means working, interacting, collaborating – and, increasingly, pitching – via the varied array of videoconferencing and virtual teamworking platforms.
The good news is there are many to choose from, and a number of leading suppliers – from Google to Microsoft and Zoom – are offering tools for free. The bad news is there are many to choose from, and it is likely not only that the one chosen by your client is not the same as the one you are already used to, but that with everyone having a favourite you’ll need to learn how to master all of them, rather than just one or two.
I used Skype for Business, Google Hangouts, BlueJeans, StarLeaf and Microsoft Teams for a series of different meetings I had with an array of people in just one morning earlier this week and the challenge is to master these and more. To do so effectively, at speed – sometimes live – having the right safety nets in place, is an absolute must. Which is why, when it comes to real-time trouble-shooting that can be done between you and your remote team, even during a live presentation, nothing beats WhatsApp.
Getting to grips in advance with related protocol is also important: when and when not to turn on video or mic; how best to keep everyone engaged; and screen-sharing do’s and don’ts.
The second important thing I’ve learned is more strategic. At the best of times, new business can be lonely. But now more than ever it is critical to keep those new business conversations going. We must communicate faster and generate a stream of continually refreshing content to demonstrate that, though the lights are off in our offices, in the minds and hearts and souls of our businesses, there’s still life.
This means upscaling your content strategy and sharpening your approach to the social platforms you own and use.
Last, but by no means least, is culture. Creating, nurturing and evolving a business’s culture across multiple offices is often a challenge. Now, with offices closed and workforces working from home, this is even more so. But protecting and, where possible, deepening your culture now will be essential if we are to come out of the difficult next few months healthy – if not stronger.
At the very least, it is important for each of us to know we are here to support each other, when reassurance or advice is needed. But the potential to minimise the risk of people feeling miserable and isolated, by ensuring our particular culture is effectively extended across the virtual working experience, is essential. Which is why, from week one, we have introduced a number of things intended to underline a sense of community and lighten the mood with banter.
So, we are encouraging colleagues to share selfies of their working from home chic, for example, or circulate recommendations for favourite work lunches or background podcasts. And we are creating virtual water cooler moments – like the bedtime story time we have set up with some of us taking turns to read via video-conference to some of our colleagues’ younger children.
All of this will help our business through the next few difficult months. It will strengthen bonds within our team. But it will also strengthen our foundations for the future. So when the world gets back to normal, we will come out ahead as a result of getting even more creative and keeping our nerve.