As part of an interview series with talent agency Major Players, Engine CEO Ete Davies discusses our flexible future and how to be mindful of your diverse workforce
LBB> First of all, how are you coping with the emergence of a second lockdown? Are you finding it any different to the first?
Ete Davies> From a work perspective, there’s been little difference. We’d been mainly working remotely since March, even when we reopened the office in July. Knowing that this lockdown is only for a few weeks has been important to manage morale. We’ve all been very focused on supporting each other, keeping people motivated and concentrating on making great work for our clients.
LBB> Has this year helped you see any new potential ways of working for the future?
Ete> Like many creative agencies, this year has really pushed our inventiveness and unlocked new ways of working. We’ve become more agile and collaborative in our approach to the creative process – from clarity and brevity in briefing, to remote workshops and brainstorming with our clients to speed up decision making – we’ve discovered lots of new practices that we’re adopting permanently.
LBB> How do you see the huge shift to remote working affecting the role of the office? Will we ever get back to the office in the traditional sense?
Ete> We’ve long been proponents of fluid working and encouraging a performance over presenteeism culture. So, I think it’s unlikely that we’ll ever fully return to everyone being in the office five days a week, even if public health advice changes. However, there are clear benefits to the office for employee morale, well-being and company cohesion. Also, there are many elements of working in a creative environment which critically benefit from people being in the same physical space, not to mention meeting and working with our clients.
It’s also important to remember that for some of our people, working from home is not ideal (for several reasons). Ultimately, we’ll adapt with the needs of our people and clients. But I predict that the office will be used for in-person collaboration, critical meetings with clients and team members, or a general workspace for people to use as and when they need it.
LBB> If we are now more open to working from all sorts of remote locations, do you see this opening up more opportunities for the types of people who we can collaborate with and recruit/hire?
Ete> Yes, I think what the last year has proven is that it is possible for organisations (of all sizes) to operate productively and effectively, remotely. We’ve now all adopted and become accustomed to working with technology that enables us to do this, and we are more used to remote working behaviours. This should lead to more inclusive work environments - for working parents and carers and the physically impaired, but also those who can’t afford to move to, or live in, our cities. This in turn should also create more opportunities for talented people and businesses to work with talented people across the country, which is a huge advantage for creative companies.
LBB> With many people struggling with the balance of work and home life, what is your advice on creating a productive environment when working from home?
Ete> We’ve tried to focus on the simple and practical things we can do to support our people. We’ve encouraged everyone to:
1. Discuss a schedule with their line manager/ team that works for them, and communicate it clearly up front, so everyone knows what to expect of them and when.
2. Actively block out time for lunch/break in the middle of the day, but also to not schedule meetings outside of working hours.
3. As much as is possible, set up a home office that is comfortable – we’ve provided funds to purchase appropriate desks and chairs, as well as making second monitors and other bits of IT kit available.
4. Keep work-related Zoom meetings short and focused. Also, where reasonable, opt for a phone-call to avoid ‘Zoom fatigue’ and enable people to take a break from the desk.
5. Get outside and go for a walk/do some exercise every day and bake it into everyone’s schedule.
6. Keep a look out for each other. Not all meetings need to be about work, it’s important to engage with and check on each other socially.
LBB> And for business leaders, what advice do you have when it comes to emotionally and financially supporting employees working from home?
Ete> Communication, empathy and adaptability are amongst your most important behaviours. Provide training for your line managers on how to best manage remotely. Look carefully at your IT operating system and invest in the right tools for collaboration. Use employee surveys and meetings to gather feedback on people’s needs and check in on people regularly. Prioritise mental wellbeing and appoint mental health first aiders or similar – whether that is from the HR team or others – to give people an outlet they can talk to confidentially about how they are doing.
LBB> As a champion for diversity, what should we be aware of when it comes to the different types of support that people may need during this time?
Ete> It’s a question of thinking through all of the different use cases of the diverse people that make up our staff and, through discussion with these different groups, working through the specific issues they face and support they may need. A one size fits all approach is not enough. For example, working parents might need more flexibility around working hours, to establish a support network to share ideas and resources, or just a place to know they are not alone.
Neurodiversity will mean that some people will find group Zoom sessions much harder to participate in than others, so being mindful of this is important. As is helping managers think through how best to create the right environment for the different characters in any group they work with. For minorities, working remotely might well heighten any existing sense of exclusion and increase the need for support networks and more formalised means of outreach, so people feel supported and always heard. There are no easy answers to this question but constantly listening, communicating regularly, and being very responsive to situations as they arise is the best approach.
LBB> Any final thoughts?
Ete> Unquestionably, the last year has been challenging for all of us. However, it’s also highlighted many things that needed to be evolved or addressed to create more equitable, inclusive, and innovative work environments. As we return to normality in the next year, I think it’s important that we don’t just snap back to the old way of doing things but use this experience and all its learnings to adapt and evolve to more progressive, modern (and resilient) workplaces and offices.