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UK Digital Agency Census: how we’ve kept our creative culture alive in a pandemic

The Drum’s UK Digital Agency Census – released throughout this month – reveals the best agencies in Britain for creativity. Here, Johnny Budden, the executive creative director of AKQA – the digital agency in pole position of our creativity rankings – tells how the shop has kept up its culture of excellence while colleagues and creatives are working apart.

The contexts in which we work are ever-changing, be that through a business, environmental, social or technological lens. Many of our team joined AKQA inspired by the potential expressed in our purpose to create a better future, which has never felt more relevant than it does now.

We always seek to explore how the work we do and the way we do it can enhance the service we provide for our employees, clients, society and the world around us. From the suppliers that we engage to the local communities where we are based and the spaces in which we function, 2020 reset the balance on what is expected of a workplace environment.

It would be foolish to assume five-day commutes will return. Instead, we have the chance to create a truly progressive model of what a workplace’s function will facilitate and how that will continue to improve the way we serve our people and clients for the better.

Creating a sense of togetherness and nurturing creativity during a time of social distancing was new to everyone. The culture of our studio consisted of shared listening and conversations throughout the day; we realized how much that was missing during the shift to remote working and created the Work From Home radio station, WFH FM, as a way to stay connected. The station has promoted and built community and creative innovation over the last 10 months globally.

We recognized that with the number of video calls we were all participating in, talking about the work 100% of the time doesn’t allow people to create their best output. We all need the time to consider ideas as they can often be so fragile, need nurturing and we need to obsess them with a level of respect and understanding of human behavior.

Each member of our creative team has a safe space and an opportunity to share new ideas in our creative sessions each week, not only providing time for us to learn more about each other but to broaden our reference points, appreciate the diversity in our teams and how they are inspired by different things, and stay connected in a way we hadn’t been before. Everything we have experienced this year has been as a team. It’s a new dynamic, which has bound us like never before.

Every team member at AKQA has the freedom to be entrepreneurial, inventive and deliver genre-defining work with each brief they work on. It is our motivation, through what we deliver and the culture we influence. The desire to create a better future is at the very core of all our work.

We are always asking the question: why does it have to be this way? Why does this idea deserve to exist in the world? What value will it bring? Our founding ethos of innovation is more pertinent to the world around us than ever – everyone feels that right now, whether or not you work in this industry. We work to elevate the spirit with pioneering ideas, new possibilities and a leap into the unknown to improve people’s lives and make a positive, lasting impact in the world.

The excitement of delivering a new piece of work for some of the world’s most respected brands and creating something unique with the team to help build a better future is incredibly inspiring. It is this sense of pride coupled with the friendship our teams create that keeps us motivated. The therapeutic value of creating together is the outcome. Employees experience AKQA as a place of creativity that enables trust and defines their career. We are proud of our diverse teams and celebrate individuality and uniqueness. It is about having a sense of purpose and satisfaction to what we create and the positive effect it has when it is shared with others.

Last year we saw more global collaboration across our network than ever before, such as launching the Netflix ’One Story Away’ campaign – a nine-studio effort and work that at its very essence is about human relationships. There is no doubt this work and the collaboration was accelerated by a different working model, which is reflected in the effectiveness of our work. This multi-studio collaboration is continuing into 2021. We used to say we had 30 studios globally with 2,200 people. Now we are one studio that thinks globally thanks to the way our team has adapted.

We continue to be a work in progress with the knowledge that our next project will be our proudest, with a respectful and meritocratic working environment, with limitless opportunities for each employee. In that respect, 2021 is no different – we are excited to create the future, faster, so long as we continue to look after each other.

Learn more about The Drum’s UK Digital Agency Census 2021 and sign up for future updates here.

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