I’ve had the good fortune to work with a high-performing, instinctively-fueled, and extremely adaptable team for the past three years. Isn’t it a mouthful? I understand. Teams like these, on the other hand, fall into the sweet spot between talent, drive, and adaptability in a Venn Diagram. What has allowed us to establish such a powerful creative body is the capacity to discover and recruit people who share the same vision, as well as the ability to focus on a greater mission of being constantly at battle with mediocrity.
As a result, by 2020, when we were supposed to pivot, the move didn’t appear to be as onerous as it had been for most people. Indeed, it felt as though we had been preparing for something like this right up until that point. The epidemic demonstrated a crucial point: traditional views of what defined an agency and its manner of functioning (commonly referred to as a poisonous work culture) had to be shaken.
No, I’m not going to do that to you when the world shuts down. I’ll go one step further. I’ll tell you how the world did the polar opposite of that overworked line and instead ‘opened up.’ Yes, I’ve returned with yet another listicle. Here’s what the pandemic has thrown our way.
1 The Definition of a Workplace: We are no longer constrained by the confines of the metaphorical box, where we were frequently found generating out-of-the-box thoughts. We are now limitless in our movement, location, and freedom. Isn’t it amazing how much freedom there is in being remote? We’ve always had a lot of work from home days (before WFH became a thing) and even what we dubbed work from chaaye khana days since we’ve always believed that good work can happen anywhere. But we never failed to complete the assignment (to the best of our ability) on time. If you ever come to our workplace (hopefully once the pandemic is over), you’ll notice a sign heading to our bathroom that states “brilliant ideas can happen anywhere,” and you’re welcome to take us up on it.
In fact, I have an interesting hiring story to share. Before the pandemic, I singled out a resource I wanted to hire for their sheer talent and collaborative nature. There was only one request from them; they would not be able to stay post seven o’clock, but would work from home whenever needed. Knowing post seven was after work hours anyway, the admission of being available after-hours for emergencies seemed a no-brainer to me as a trade off for what they brought to the table. With this thought in mind, I approached the person’s direct managers. To my dismay, the idea was ruthlessly shot down. The comfort of a physically present team was too good to give up. Respecting that this was their team to lead, I didn’t push it. But the person never left my mind. Fast forward a year, in the post-pandemic world, and I was able to hire the person because the WFH clause was now void; everyone was working from home and I faced no friction on that front. Lo and behold, this person is one of the biggest assets we have on the team today and would have been equally great pre-pandemic too, if only our perception had opened up back then to see it.
It’s as if our planet has no boundaries. One worker is currently working remotely from Dubai, and another is working remotely from Islamabad. People and what they bring to the table count more than geography. The good news is that agencies all over the world are welcoming remote teams, increasing your chances of working at the agency you ‘stan’ (a Gen Z phrase for ‘stalking’ someone and being a ‘fan’).
2 The Parameters to Build a Solid Workforce: Stay with me because I’m about to say something extremely controversial. Diversity checklists aren’t something I believe in. That’s it; I said it. More than checking items off a list to appease our conscience, I believe we should consider why we have an erring conscience in the first place. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we just hired the right person for the job, regardless of their gender, external demeanour, plans for procreation, or any other biases that prevent us from perceiving what they offer to the table? The goal should therefore be to hire persons who are qualified for the position. For me, that has meant a 70:30 (women:men) hiring ratio through a transparent procedure.
This brings me to our fool-proof hiring process. There are two simple steps to it. The first one is aptitude. We put out a brief, not an announcement post. This helps weed out trigger-happy people (who send out their CV without context or eligibility) and ensures that only the serious ones come through. In the pandemic, this process was done through email as opposed to an in-person meeting. Without having met the candidates, only their work shone, setting aside any other factors that would appeal to one’s bias. The second is attitude. We handpick the best work and a handful of meetings are set up to determine attitude and vision. Do they believe in a ‘we not me’ ideology? Are they driven by the work they do? Are they looking to raise the benchmark of the industry? The right attitude is important because we set ourselves up for failure when we hire people to do what we want them to do, instead of hiring people who by default want the same thing we want. The presence of this robust hiring process has ensured that we had the crème de la crème working on the team during the pandemic, maximising efficiency. WhatsApp messages were read on time, emails promptly answered, tasks done and dusted to the best capacity without ever the need to ‘police’ the team either on timing or work quality.
3 The Possibility of Work-Life Boundaries: The pandemic has taken away all the extras from our workday: commuting to and from work, rushing to meetings and then speeding back, small conversation before and after, school drop-offs and pick-ups, smoking breaks, chai and lunch breaks, and for-no-reason breaks. (There are far too many possible Kit Kat references in there.) The point is that we now have a genuine 10 to 6 day, dedicated solely to work, which implies razor-sharp attention on completing projects on time because there are no other distractions (apart from a child’s ‘leisurely’ shrieks; I have a screamer at home). I’ve discovered that using noise-cancelling headphones allows me to get more work done in less time.
That gets me to this point. When it comes to advertising, the concept of balance may be ephemeral, but boundaries are tangible, and both the workforce and management bear responsibility for establishing them. You complete your portion of work on schedule and with accountability, and management ensures that your workload is not overburdened. I’m going to be an idealist (only because I’ve seen it myself) and say that’s entirely achievable if both the workers and management work together. With all of the conversation about mental health and treating employees with respect, now is a wonderful time to examine and see if any changes need to be done to help draw those clear, healthy lines.
To conclude, I’d like to emphasise how fortunate we are that the pandemic has left us with a blank slate. Unlike so many others before us, we have a choice: we can either relax and return to our old regressive ways, or we may rewrite the norms by which the business operates from now on, propelling ourselves forward. What would you write on your slate?