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22 - 26 March

Festival for a rapidly changing world

Topics include: Direct to consumer / E-commerce / Data & privacy / Martech

Today’s Office: Iris CEO Ian Millner on sharing a makeshift study with his kids and dogs

'Trust, pride and camaraderie are still the vital ingredients in any successful agency business, whether you are WFH or not'

For Iris CEO Ian Millner, life in lockdown has felt like a bit of a stopgap — not least because he has moved into temporary accomodation while his family home undergoes work. Here, he talks about his makeshift setup, keeping the kids (and adventurous dogs entertained) and what he thinks ad land should take away from a year out of the office.

Everything feels so temporary right now. And since we’re in the middle of renovating our house, my family and I have moved lock, stock and barrel over from Seer Green to the neighbouring town of Amersham, just outside London.

In our temporary place, I have a makeshift study and I also have several bottles of very good single malt whisky. I am approaching dangerously low levels though and may need an emergency delivery soon... not that I want to panic anyone or anything.

Everything is fine here, apart from the wi-fi, which is medieval. That’s OK for me, but it’s harder on my kids who seem to be on a dozen devices each at any given time. They also moan constantly and when the moaning stops, the wrestling starts.

Then there’s the dogs, which seem to come and go as they please. I don’t know how they keep escaping, but they always seem quite happy to come back home once they have been out for an adventure. Quite often the dogs (actually it’s only ever our youngest one) are brought back to the house by proper dog owners intent on make sure that I learn my lesson and graduate to proper dog ownership too.

Another challenge is the stream of interruptions from surprisingly friendly and efficient delivery drivers. The day seems to go in a flash and bleeds late into the night.

The flexibility that comes with working from home can create a kind of comfortable inefficiency, where you spend the time you would have spent on the commute (in my case three hours a day) wasting time and ending up working late. Go figure.

In terms of how my day looks now, it’s a little different. I have to say I really enjoy getting the kids up and out and off to school. I start most days now with the school run, running epic battles to get there on time while dodging the white vans and BMW driving racers. I never used to do this, and I can’t believe how strangely rewarding it is.

Most of my life is now spent mainly in premium leisurewear. I get up with Lululemon, Adidas and North Face, then breakfast for the kids and a quick coffee.

I still plan exercise into the week. As a PE and movement scientist graduate, I’ve also known the power and significance of exercise. I can’t quite put my finger on what else I got from it.

I stay inspired by reading, walking and trying to go into the office as often as possible. Catching up with friends and colleagues of old really helps.

The main difference now in my working life is that there are no ‘hard edges’ to the day. No definite commute, fewer hard stops and no ‘compression time’ between the work and the life. The lack of definition in the day increasingly leads to a night shift from 9pm to midnight.

I’m a big champion of the role that office plays, both in improving motivation and productivity and helping to attach significance and commitment to the work we do. You can literally get through a day in the ‘blink of a Zoom’.

Most people have enjoyed the extra permission around working from home, and I think that this should continue. But we, as an industry, have to be very careful not lose the defining benefits of our offices. If we do, we face losing the atmosphere of our business and the gravitational pull so necessary for the bold and the brave to create, sell and run the best ideas.

So while I’m in no rush to get back to ’normal’ office hours and firmly believe we should take our time doing so, there is no doubt that we’ll be much better off (mentally, physically, financially, culturally) when most of our working life is anchored in a more physically social setting.

I think that it has been easier than expected to slot into new routines and working methods. It feels like the technology has been there waiting for us all along, to catch up and wake up to its potential.

The ease of the adoption across our network and into the relationships with clients has been brilliant. We have always believed in the power of people and a high empowerment and relationships-orientated culture. I think when a big change happens like this happens this really helps you make the adjustments without so many negative impacts.

Trust, pride and camaraderie are still the vital ingredients in any successful agency business, whether you are working from home more or not. We should remind ourselves of this and not take these principles for granted once we get to the spring and there is more confidence in the air.

Work is too easily interrupted right now, and when we look back at the depressing blur that is 2020, I wonder what, other than just getting through it, we’ll have to show for the year. But maybe just getting through it is enough.

Work and life have never been separate, it’s an ongoing set of tensions and dynamics with one informing and motivating the other. To think of them as separate may well be missing the point of the meaning of life itself.

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