Today’s Office: Neville Doyle on juggling work and a new baby in Australia’s level 4 lockdown

Neville Doyle has been learning to be a parent during the pandemic

Thanks to the pandemic, the world of work is changing – and it looks very different depending on where you’re based. In The Drum’s new series, Today’s Office, we ask adland to share what these new normal routines look like. This week, Town Square’s Neville Doyle talks us through the silver linings of lockdown life in Australia and how his team have broken through the Groundhog Day lifestyle of working from home.

At the moment, I’m in wintry Melbourne where we have the unwanted distinction of being one of the most locked-down Covid-19 hotspots in the world. And yes, it’s absolutely as fun as it sounds.

At the end of last year my partner and I welcomed our first child into the world. Neither of us have any family in Melbourne so we’ve been juggling learning to be parents, working from home and keeping a baby entertained through this pandemic. It has been equal parts fantastic and stressful.

There is, however, a certain calming clarity that comes from walking around for several hours each day with a baby strapped to your chest (our son will literally only nap in the harness thing, so we have been pounding the streets). It has been a constant reminder of the really important things in life, and that even when literally everything seems shit, there are always things to hold on to that are brilliant. Or at least, there are for me, for which I feel very lucky.

I remember learning once that animals in a zoo have a life expectancy of around 40% of those in the wild, because their body is constantly in ‘fight or flight’ mode. They can often smell predators in nearby enclosures and know they do not have clear ground to escape into, and that constant underlying danger wears down their bodies at a crazy fast speed. That’s sort of how I feel we all feel at the moment. Even if you do not understand the physiological reactions at play, you know the feelings it produces. So, I miss the lack of lingering, existential dread casting a shadow across each day. And the occasional long Friday lunch. Love those.

Before we moved into ’level 4’ lockdown, I had developed a routine I was really enjoying. Exercise first thing and then working through to around midday. Then, I’d strap the baby to my chest and head off round the local parks for 90 mins or so, with him napping on me for about half of that. Getting all that extra one-on-one time with him every single day has been the best thing about 2020 for me.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that admin is not my forte. And by not my forte, I mean I am criminally bad at it. As such, I set up a temporary working space on my kitchen breakfast bar thing in March and that is still where I am today. My laptop is sat atop a box my headphones came in and a Jamie Oliver cookbook. I have the good fortune of living only a 10-minute walk from the office which has (before the most recent restrictions were imposed on the city) allowed for the occasional afternoon there and a slight change of scenery.

Being a strategist at a small agency means you tend to wear a lot of hats, which definitely suits me because I have a slightly crazy way of working. From that point of view, things are much the same as before, just all through the lens of Zoom. But one of the big focuses our agency leadership set ourselves was trying to ensure that the brilliant sense of teamwork that we have at Town Square was not lost with us all scattered.

One of the simplest and most successful measures we’ve put in place has been our morning roll call. Every morning the entire agency jumps on a call hosted by a different staff member each day. They have to ask a question or state an interesting opinion, and then we rattle through the whole agency. Then there’s a roundup, key items we need to know and anything weird or wonderful anyone wants to share. It sounds simple, but it has gone an awfully long way to ensuring we continue to feel and operate like one coherent team.

Just before the world ground to a halt we had one of the most significant new business wins for our agency – one of the world’s most prestigious airlines. Brilliant timing, right? However, we are lucky that the first two projects are both long term endeavors and so have continued largely unaffected by the pandemic thus far. Having something new and truly exciting in the agency to all sink our teeth into has been great inspiration.

The lines between work and real life are hazier than before – it’s all been one big Bill Murray blur, to be honest. However, working from home has meant that I have been able to carve the day up into blocks of ‘life’ and ‘work’ time. And because every single thing is taking place here at home, it has meant I am 100% focused on that. I am not trying to multi-task anything else in my brain, I am just focused on being present in the moment (and yes, I would usually roll my eyes too at a sentence like that, but I’m finding it increasingly important and true). In a weird way, as the lines between work and life across the week have blurred, I am in some ways finding a greater ability to appreciate both.

That all having been said, I cannot wait for the return of some semblance of normality, not least for my poor son who is now eight months old and must be clamoring for the presence of anyone other than his mum and dad – something I realized when I caught him smiling at the baby on the side of the pack of nappies this week, which was a tad heartbreaking. We have a couple of friends with babies the same age and cannot wait to get back out into the world for him to meet them.

Neville Doyle is chief strategy officer at Town Square

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