Getting personal: 'Can't wait to get back to office' - emerging agency leaders trade views with senior execs on emotional stress, mental health pressures, workplace change
This is a cracking conversation. You need to know this:
- Team Red’s Emily Cook and Bohemia’s Mark Echo are co-chairs of the MFA 5+ industry group
- Emily Cook says her biggest COVID challenge to date is not having the visual cues from face-to-face interaction that she thrives on to manage her team. “You can see who is under pressure,” she says. “Or who just needs to put the headphones on and power through. So without those visual cues it’s really difficult to really understand what the rest of the team is going through, hearing those day-today conversations and the richness of those conversations"
- Mark Echo says he’s an extrovert, thrives in environments with people but has struggled with his “emotional variance” in working from home versus the office: “My emotional variance is at a bigger ebb and flow,” he says. “I’ve called it from two to eight on a scale of how I’m fluctuating now, whereas when I’m in the office I’m fluctuating between four and six because I’m radiating off everyone else in the room. I’ve had to absolutely focus on what I’m doing for my energy management, ensuring I’m exercising, eating and sleeping right so that I can be there for other people, for the team and the wider Bohemia. If I put any of those in imbalance, I’m already putting myself on the backfoot."
- People, overall, are falling into two camps, says Echo. “These words were given to me but people are either freaking out or figuring it out. Those that are freaking out at the moment are those really looking at the whole situation in a narrow view. They tend to panic. They’re listening to too much news and really getting swept up in it. We need to make sure we’re helping people that are going through this in their minds. There is light at the end of the tunnel."
- Echo says at least 50% of the industry is facing emotional stress and mental health issues. The MFA’s CEO Sophie Madden concurs
- Madden says the “blurring” of work and personal life at home has forced her to be “super structured” to cope. “I’ve had to be super, super disciplined in how I’m working. Everything just seems to blur – every day into another. There’s a sameness to it so in order to compensate for that I’ve had to try and become super-structured. I put some work clothes on. Certainly at the beginning I wasn’t exercising, I wasn’t eating because I was just super busy. So I’ve had to really diarise and schedule: ‘Ok, this is lunchtime. I’ve got to take a break’.”
- Wavemaker CEO Peter Vogel still goes to the office every day and can’t wait for the troops to return en-masse. “I think I’m an extrovert,” he says. “We’ve got 250 people at Wavemaker and about 160 of them are in Sydney. Any morning I can walk through the office and get a sense of the energy. I can wish someone a happy birthday, I can get a group of people together to quickly brainstorm a solution for something. That’s what I really think you miss out on. Certainly COVID-19 has helped prepare ourselves to become a lot better at working from home but I don’t think it’s quite as efficient and as effective as face-to-face. What’s so important for agency cultures is shared experiences.”
- Still, Mark Echo and Sophie Madden think big changes are coming to the media and agency sectors post-COVID. “I don’t like the working from home frame,” says Madden. “I’m going to call it working from anywhere because I would like to think when I’m allowed to go out to other places, that on my Fridays I might be at the beach working or at the park or somewhere else. I see a hybrid model working for my whole team"
- Madden also thinks the "seachange" and "treechange" movements will return, particularly for the media and agency sectors. “We’ll see more people move outside Sydney and potentially do their whole role from home and just commute occasionally,” says Madden.
- Mark Echo says no-one will work from home in the early stages of a loosening in lockdowns. “Everyone will appreciate, to Peter’s point, being in the office,” he says. “And then I think it will get up to about 50% of your time can be approved to be working from home. But it is going to be a blend. There’ll be two streams. There’ll be scheduled working from home or anywhere and there may also be adhoc days. So if the day will be more efficient and productive working from home or anywhere, you should be able to take it. But also use the office if you want to.”
- While Sophie Madden says a home-to-work ratio shift of “50% feels about right to me on average”, Peter Vogel thinks it’s too high. “I don’t think we would get over 20%,” he says. “I think it’s more for those people who either live far out or have children or have something to attend to at home.”
- A final nod to the “people bit”. Emily Cook says one upside of COVID-19 is it’s humanised client and colleague relationships more. Video calls with clients who have kids asking maths questions and the like will do that, says Cook. “What I’ve loved about it is this window into colleagues, media partners and client’s lives,” she says. “It really helps humanise a lot of the conversations that we’re having. When you talk about it with others in the MFA community, you’re starting to see that clients are asking for our help but they understand the pressures that we’re under leading our own teams because they’re navigating the exact same on their side as well.”
- So, that’s the teaser for an enlightening conversation in this week’s Mi3 Audio Edition. The nuance, insights and honesty are far better captured in the podcast. Take a listen below.