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Virtual Reality View: A conversation with VMLY&R's Gracie Page

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Stephen Lepitak
Editor at The Drum
Gracie Page
Emerging Technology Director at VMLY&R London

As we get used to remote working norms, there's still a case for working from the office

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

I’ve read a lot in the last few weeks that of the many things that Covid-19 and the Coronvirus pandemic will teach is that working from home is the best way to work. That it will unlock the hidden productivity in us all and that we are wasted traveling to offices and having half of our day taken up by a commute. I have friends who run agencies who have evangelised the notion of remote team working (they recently took desk space in East London) and my wife works from home regularly as she works so I know the power that flexible and remote working can bring.

I read a lot from founders, tech start-ups, business leaders in universal praise to remote working and can see that the freedom and flexibility to work around your own personal schedule and close to friends and family can be invigorating and is for some and should be for all an important element of modern work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of remote, flexible, and WFH opportunities. We have an agency-wide WFH policy at Wilderness and have supported individuals to work remotely for extended periods during family and personal issues and to support their mental health. But, what I haven’t read a lot about in the last few weeks is the case for working from an office.

Though we are just in our second week of our entire agency working remotely, and though having our whole team on a Google Hangout has been fun and revealing, I’m still an advocate for working for an office… and so it seems are many of the team. Here’s a few reasons why working from an office space still wins for me:

In person beats over video

There’s nothing better than getting in a room and thrashing out an issue, or working through a creative execution. Having real people in the room to feed-off is hugely important and the ability to iterate an idea or spark off one another is lost over video, however well structured the video call is.

The technology has made it simple to replace the “tap on the shoulder” chat either through a Slack message or one-button video call but is it as valuable an experience for both people.

We’ve also found, in only a week, that there is a tendency to overcompensate for the lack of face-to-face connection by making every conversation a video call. Meaning what would have been a five minute chat in the office is a long-running video chat over Slack.

Overheard at Wilderness

We have a long-running Slack channel with funny quotes from the team; sometimes out of context they can be very confusing. These small moments in the office, often-overlooked, are an amazing repository of some of the funniest and most bizarre things that have happened over the year.

There are moments throughout a day when you can connect with someone in the office, you share a joke, have a laugh, tell a story, that you can’t recreate as easily over Slack.

Working remotely focuses you to plan connections which can be impactful and productive but you lose the serendipity of bumping into someone in the office and a chance moment or connection being struck.

Those that lunch together…

One of the loveliest things that happens in our office and started very organically not longer after we moved in ten months ago is that the team will often lunch together. We have a large kitchen area and two long trestle-style tables so there can often be found more than 20 of our team lunching and chatting together. When people talk about office culture they often talk about times where the business has enforced them to work or have fun together. But real culture just comes from the team and them wanting to have experiences together. It’s the same with our agency book club. Our London office is above the well-known Shoreditch bar The Book Club and so what better place for the team to have an actual book club in once a month.

We are trying to re-create that sense of community and togetherness by creating a daily video link for anyone who wants to jump on it at lunch time. It’s not the same but offers an opportunity for the team to keep in contact with one another through what is a really important activity in the culture of our office.

All that said we are in this for the long haul and are getting used to our new remote working norms. We are lucky to be a digital business that can easily operate and function remotely. The challenge is to maintain our people’s mental wellbeing, creativity, and elements of our company culture through this long-running remote working experiment.

Tom Jarvis, founder & CEO of Wilderness Agency

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