Has Covid-19 proved digital marketers can work remotely and effectively?
We have all had to face our own challenges during Covid-19, whether it be work related or struggling to get services and supplies for what we need during home life.
I am sure that one of the key concerns for many businesses when lockdown was implemented by the government, was the challenge of maintaining a stream of income from clients, attracting new business (when many businesses tighten their belts) and also maybe the concern around managing the workload/workforce.
What approaches have businesses taken during Covid-19
Some businesses have instructed their teams to work remotely from home during lockdown. Other businesses, such as those in the industrial and manufacturing sectors have had no choice other than to furlough staff, with it nigh-on impossible for their workforce to work from home without the machinery, or an operational production line. The hospitality sector has all but been on it’s knees, with social distancing all but impossible at hotels, leisure centres and pubs.
How about those working within the digital industry? I currently work for two digital agencies and can speak very well of my own personal experience during lockdown.
How has lockdown impacted me, a digital marketing professional working agency side?
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the digital agency environment. I have missed the regular banter with work colleagues, where things perhaps aren’t always as funny through instant messenger or video conferencing as they come across ‘in person’. I miss playing my office Spotify playlists, and hearing the varied music played by colleagues. The quick drink after work and the Friday lunches. What have I, and maybe other digital marketers missed that is work related since working entirely from home? Let’s explore further within this article…
What digital marketers and web designers may have realised about working from home
Technology has come on leaps and bounds over the past 5 years or so. We have been able to see our colleagues and clients and our typical 8 hour working day may have become even more productive without having to commute to and from work – sometimes delayed further through traffic or public transport issues! Also, working with websites, all of the tools and resources for our tasks to be completed are ‘online’ making it completely unnecessary to require an ‘office’ to work from. I don’t have a static desktop, but a work MacBook which allows me to be mobile. One day I can work from the office, the next in the garden (weather permitting) or even the dining room table – for a change of scenery. I’ve worked from almost every room of the house (other than the bathroom) of course! 🤣
Just as working remotely from home suits me, it’s not a balanced, objective view without looking at positives and potential pitfalls of working remotely:
- Can we communicate effectively with colleagues and clients by working from home?
- Home internet connections are now super fast in most cases, but could be an issue for some.
- There is an abundance of free video conferencing tools such as Skype, GoogleHangouts and Zoom nowadays to connect with the required immediacy.
- Calendar/meeting invites can be scheduled and maintained as normal.
- We have headphones to cancel out background noise.
- We can share screens and demonstrate what is being discussed.
- We can still play music, just as we can in the office should this support with zoning out, or our levels of productivity.
- Can we be fully transparent in our levels of productivity to our line managers and clients?
- Stand up and Stand downs can be enforced by management to discuss our working days, or outcomes from any key tasks or meets during the day.
- Client time can be logged on timesheets for billability and accountability/invoicing purposes. *We only ever bill clients for ‘time used’ regardless of their allocated monthly pot of hours. This is also the same for my own independent clients (away from the agency environment).
- Reports can be saved on a secure, shared drive for full transparency to managers and directors that work is being achieved to a high standard. For the respective agencies I work at, this is via Google Drive (G Suite) which works very well for us all!
- Work achieved and progress is visible to clients through a shared Asana project board and outcomes relayed back to our clients via a monthly report; summarising activity, results and objectives moving forward into the next month and beyond!
- With my own clients (away from the agencies), I follow a similar approach; but use Basecamp as well as Asana in certain instances where clients prefer it. These products really support in terms of being ‘hubs’ for managing time more effectively, and not losing logs or trace of progress via separate emails.
There may be increased challenges for parents of working during Lockdown
With Covid-19 and lockdown, parents (especially) may have had childcare issues. Nurseries and schools have been shut, and we may have had to balance our work with looking after babies and toddlers, or even home-schooling. I’m sure it’s not been an easy task to balance the two for all parents.
My wife has recently returned to work from maternity leave which posed questions around childcare, with nurseries being shut; and with her mother not being able to fly into England to support us. Our child is just over 1 year old, so our routine has almost been nailed down to perfection. Here is our typical 10 step working day during lockdown for my family:
- 6am rise and shine for our child, cup of milk with some CBeebies (BBC) tv with one of us, as my wife and I alternate for morning exercise, a run or some weight training usually works.
- 7:30 breakfast as a family.
- 8:00 – 8:30: wife starts work at eight, I start work at half past.
- 9:10 – I have a morning standup with my team via Google Hangouts.
- 9:30- morning power nap for the little one who has otherwise being occupying herself with toys and the walker as we work. My wife has her morning standup during this time.
- 10:00-10:10 – snack-time!
- 12:00- family lunch – typically prepped for the week on Sunday, or (towards mid-end of week) the night before to optimise tim.e
- 12:30 – I return to work after a 30 min lunch. My wife takes a 1hour lunch to go for a walk with our kid.
- 14:00 – little one sleeps for an hour or so – and like a log! Great time to schedule calls if both my wife and I happen to have crossover in client or colleague calls – hasn’t happened to date though!
- Rest of the day as normal as our child needs an evening meal at approx 17:00, where I typically take the reins as my wife (due to compressed hours) works up to 18:00 or beyond. Evening exercise, then follow a similar pattern the next day.
Caveats which make our work/life plan during lockdown work successfully
The above routine is fairly regimented but we do account for whenever it adapts, so not to affect the all essential work/life balance.
- My wife doesn’t work on a timesheet basis (as I do), so has a full degree of flexibility to work before or after typical working hours. She is also taking Friday’s off work completely, and has compressed hours arranged with her employer – this all helps our family’s cause!
- My wife and I take in turns to work in a quiet office space upstairs or downstairs by the play-mat. We schedule our own client and colleague calls between each other.
- I offered to work compressed hours (which unfortunately at this time wasn’t available from my employer) so I have arranged with my the directors to take a reduction in working hours & annual leave by having each Wednesday off work for the foreseeable future. Monday and Tuesdays, I can work flexibly to fulfil my working hours (if necessary) before my typical 8:30 start or after 17:30. This works great, and I can still fulfil my own independent client time across certain evenings and also Saturday’s or Sunday’s.
What can digital agencies and their employees cut back on, by not working in an office environment?
The following isn’t exhaustive, but here’s a few:
- Long commute times. The average office worker wastes approx. 58 mins commuting. Just think what percentage of the population create congestion on our roads and further pollution to the environment by travelling to work for jobs they can do very easily from home. As for those that commute via rail, train delays are a widespread issue nationwide!
- Distractions – background noise (especially in open plan offices where multiple conversations are happening at one time)
- Fire drills each month and other procedural activities which eat into otherwise billable time for the company
- Unnecessary office costs – office rent/let, insurance, heating and other associated bills
- Using 30min lunch break to leave the office to travel for lunch (if unprepared)
What we may miss from the digital agency environment
- Face to face camaraderie with colleague
- Visits to the pub after work
- The occasional office treats
Where may we require face to face communication and can we strike the balance between working remotely and maintaining a physical presence?
There’s no denying that face to face meetings are more personable, and we shouldn’t forget the value in actually seeing our clients and colleagues in person. Call me traditional, but in a number of cases; I always like to introduce myself ‘in person’ to clients, shake their hand and discuss objectives across a conference table where possible. Working for an agency, I see great value in the following being ‘face to face’:
- Quarterly or annual appraisals
- Monthly or quarterly team meeting and/or team building activity
- Meet with clients at their offices, or a neutral venue. Perhaps a hotel space?
Addressing the challenges of not working from an office
This could be a big change for most workers who are fully used to commuting to their offices and spending eight or more hours with their colleagues before eventually going home. It’s almost engrained in our minds and our understanding of ‘work culture’ that an office is the hub for work.
Speaking from personal experience, here is my view – which is somewhat conflicted and doesn’t present a clear case for ALL employees working from home or in an office:
I really enjoyed working in London, the jog down the Thames path each morning; the buzz and vibrancy of the city, the free Friday lunches (provided by Directors), the camaraderie with colleagues and visiting large enterprise clients at their swanky offices. We also played 5-aside as a digital agency vs other businesses- great way to network! Also, being in the ‘big smoke’ there was an abundance of cool places to go for lunch, and after work with colleagues. My mid 20s to early 30s were an absolute blast and loads of fun. Working in London definitely allowed me to spread my wings, have exposure to larger (internationally recognised) clients/brands and developed my career no end. This experience has allowed me to now return to the Midlands with a much greater level of experience and seniority. Of course, I felt that my work could have been achieved by working from home, however would I have made as many friends down in London had I done that? Perhaps not.
There you have it, for me; working in the capital was amazing for my growth, and I would advocate for anyone from similar areas of the country such as me (where West Midlands is mainly industrial/manufacturing) to gain experience earlier on in their career to grow by working there for their own personal development.
My motives for leaving were mainly getting married, having a child and wanting my first mortgaged property; not having to pay crazy rent in Canary Wharf’.
Now in my mid-30’s I feel much more in control of my situation, and at a level of professional maturity to take control of where I feel most comfortable and productive working. Not just to meet the work/life balance, but as I feel I’ve already ‘enjoyed’ the office space enough that I have a strong, widespread social network and now feel ready to move on to working more independently. More importantly, more productively.
Herein lies the dilemma however, that you can’t have a CEO/Director create one rule for one employee (based on their desire to work from home) and another rule for an employee who (similar to my story) wants to look to experience the buzz of city life, meeting new colleagues and friends in an office.
The other clear and obvious challenge for some employees may be that their home just isn’t suitable to double up to work effectively from home. Maybe it’s time to look at the ‘work from anywhere’ model? In London, coworking or meeting spaces are common. Perhaps there’s a need for other areas of the country to offer coworking spaces such as ‘WeWork‘?
How would we meet our clients and colleagues if we aren’t in the office, other than online? Your social calendar may remain unaffected, but team building events; work do’s and other professional meets can still take place ‘in person’. Maybe book a meeting room at a hotel, supporting hotels in your region by generating some income after what has no doubt been a very tough Covid-19 period for the hospitality industry in particular.
Having the discipline to work effectively from home
Time management is critical, and having self-discipline. I have achieved this by keeping occupied around work, not just by keeping our child occupied; but also by keeping fit (which keeps me motivated) and taking on a number of side-projects (challenges):
Home workouts have become more of a thing, with my gym membership currently frozen – and I even discovered my football skills in the early stages of lockdown. Transformation is also well underway on dumping ground potting shed to garden bar & organising the work-shed.
Post Lockdown and Covid-19, should digital agencies look to ‘strike the balance’ between working ‘just’ in the office or from home. How about considering the approach to work from anywhere?
I am really thankful to my agency, who recently approved a Monday and Tuesday (working flexitime) and my Wednesday’s off work for childcare reasons. So much so, that if asked to return to the office (by which time nurseries and childcare should also be open), I wouldn’t object or hesitate.
I do feel however that it may be a consideration for workplaces to allow employees to work from home either completely, or maybe on certain days where reasonable, or requested. Particularly at digital agencies where the type of work is conducive to it – in my case as a digital marketer completely online! The same, expected, high level of productivity has to be expected of employees however and the same ‘team mentality’. Nothing should change following lockdown, certainly not a more lax attitude towards work!
Before lockdown, agencies may have outright refused requests to work from home, but who knows following this period where we have all been left with no choice but to work from home? Covid-19 has probably created a dilemma for many business owners right now. After all, the situation of being on lockdown has essentially been the ‘ultimate test and learn’ period’ revealing just how productive their workforce can be working from home.
The work from ‘anywhere’ may not be suitable for companies looking to become adaptable outside of London, due to the lack of coworking space available. A coffee shop might not the best place to work all day from, or moving around from one place to another, ‘assumed’ to offer you the space to work productively. That should be determined at the beginning of each working day. If in London, this may be a solution for some employees, and even a good idea for businesses that require ‘meeting space’ every now and then.
Now is a good time for business owners to consider the options available to them, maybe with a bit of head-scratching involved over the coming month or so, before some non-essential workplaces plan to reopen…