Written by Marian Connolly , People Partner at Fold7.
This year is entirely unique, of course. Never before has the world been so united in a shared experience. We have all fought personal battles and been on a rollercoaster of emotions, sometimes changing hour-by-hour. Some of us have found life-changing new perspectives, many of us are simply exhausted. And just as we thought we were coming out of it, looking forward to some degree of normality? Wham! It looks like we’re in for a long, and potentially for some, a lonely winter. What we need now is resilience.
As we head into the next phase, fresh approaches will ensure our energy isn’t depleted and that we have sufficient reserves to manage constantly shifting priorities. Lockdown has altered our definition of life quality, and much of this has been a wake-up call.
How ready we feel has a lot to do with our relationship with work. As Fold7’s People Partner, I’ve always looked out for the team’s emotional and physical health. We are a family. And like everyone else at the agency, I’ve done my best under difficult circumstances. Above all, I’ve focussed on keeping us connected and as a result, I can genuinely say, we’ve come through this stronger: closer and more productive.
I followed my instinct, but we now have empirical evidence to support this strategy. The Leesman Home Working report, a survey of over 125,000 respondents across 83 countries, which highlighted the differentiators in businesses, found that our happiness and satisfaction in working from home was all about employers’ and colleagues’ actions and behaviours to make people feel connected.
So, on this day of reflection and focus on our collective mental health, I would like to share our experience and some of the things that worked for us, in the hope that it can work for others too.
Communication and connection
Looking back now, we knew deep down that communication and connection were critical for both our own well-being and that of the business. We were fortunate to have had strong social bonds before lockdown, which undoubtedly sustained us throughout. Our agency values of generosity, curiosity, and ambition have been a constant source of connection.
We have always thought about our people holistically and know the value of bringing our whole selves to work. It’s why, even before the pandemic, we developed a well-being programme, not just for our physical health, e.g. yoga and kickboxing classes, but also to train mental health first aiders and create a safe space to seek support.
Since March, we have over-indexed on communication and connection. Feedback from Slack channels, our Unlocking the Lockdown survey to see how people were managing, sharing concerns about a potential return, and then regular check-ins as we approached an office reopening, were all connections that helped guide our plans, maintain momentum and kept us close. We knew this was key as we shared greater responsibilities, creating opportunities for people to make good calls under pressure and leaning in even more to help us all succeed.
This allowed us to quickly find ways to continue with productions. Over the past few months we’ve delivered over half a dozen TV ads, including ‘Fly Audible’, which has been scored as the brand’s ‘most loved’ TV campaign to date, and ‘This Is It’ for Rightmove, which was shortlisted by Thinkbox as one of the best ads this summer. We’ve conceived and designed a digital platform for Carlsberg to help pubs and restaurants trade during lock-down, designed a brand universe to launch a new confectionary brand to the UK, and created a global toolkit for Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc. No mean feat with a team who were all working remotely.
All this productivity comes with its own problems. Acknowledging the risk of overwhelm has become even more critical, as we constantly adjust our priorities and to those of our clients. Early days of talking over one another on Zoom or not knowing the best channels to stay connected, have transitioned into different challenges.
We are less overwhelmed by channel volume and clearer about what works for us individually and creating some space between work and life at home.
Trying to take notes, focus and ask great questions can be tougher with your reflection looking back at you; sometimes a voice call is simply a better idea.
We have made a conscious effort to minimise initiatives and provide the security of guardrails, whilst giving people space to find their own way. I think the one size fits all, or categories of ‘same’, will disappear from talent discussions, as the unique shape of each individual’s experience has been brought into even sharper relief.
Now we are not commuting, switching off from the always-on is tough when the glow of the laptop seeks constant attention and we are without the valuable decompression time and natural separation from work our commute had once provided.
FoldSchool ‘lunch and learns’ continue virtually, from poetry classes with resident poets, book club, TED-style talks sharing stories of projects created in lockdown, e.g. sister agency New Stance’s racism in football documentary fronted by Micah Richards, to offering a pause between home and work with a 10-day series ‘Lifting Barriers’.
In the spirit of inclusivity and our pledge to help grow as employers and employees, we have been sharing recommendations twice a day, during our usual commuting hours, podcasts, TV programmes, pieces of art and poetry as an introduction to a wider spectrum of commuter and post-work stimulation. From Afua Hirsch’s African Renaissance BBC series to Brown Girls Do It Too podcast, we have been consuming a wider range of important and fantastic content.
Inclusion was our broad focus with a morning and evening ‘commuting’ suggestion. For every suggestion we proposed, more came back in response. We knew from experience of piloting people initiatives with everyone, that structure and familiar rituals could help manage our boundaries at this critical time.
Years of working in innovation taught me many lessons, not least how important contagious energy is in fostering collaboration and sustaining culture.
So, every single morning since lockdown began, I have made a short film out on an early morning walk or ride: Morning Maz. Every week our Friday Specials, people nominate the next Friday’s guest host, made from home have been a wonderful source of comfort, laughter and creativity across the agency; miniature Foldster family guest stars joined in and out-cuted us all. The insight into each other’s lives, and the sharing of partners’ and flat-mates’ highs and lows, has brought us even closer together. It is something we have felt with our clients, too. We know more about their personal lives, in turn making our connections with them even deeper.
We also continued with our monthly all agency meetings, sadly not squeezed into the dry jacuzzies at Kirby Street, but instead on Zoom squares at home; our employee awards for those who best live our values are a key feature, fuelled by peer nominations.
Wellbeing, kindness, vulnerability and empathy
Asking for help and checking in on how people are feeling has become much more important every day. We have not always got it right, and it feels awkward the first few times, but the simplicity of asking how someone is feeling at the start of a meeting reassures us that we don’t always have to be 100%, especially as we can cycle through a variety of emotions in a working week in these, dare I say it, unprecedented times.
During Mental Health Awareness Week, our Random Acts of Kindness brought us even closer and offered joy away from the Zoom calls. Our Slack Wellbeing Channel and DMs have never been so active, with support for one another in our uniquely individual circumstances. Parents, carers, partners, flat mates, loved ones, they’ve all played an important role in the Fold too, supporting and contributing in so many ways to keep us safe, well and connected.
Almost against the odds, generosity has been our constant. A call, a message, a Moonpig card, a Greggs sausage roll delivered to the doorstep, a random shout out on a morning film; we know instinctively what will bring a smile.
We believe that kindness should not be considered a soft skill, or an optional extra. It’s vital for any team striving to be productive and committed to their employees’ well-being.
Importantly, whilst some have a good set-up to work remotely, we absolutely recognise that others want and need to work from an office. Being part of the Miroma Group means we can book space at their offices, which are fully Covid-19 compliant, should anyone need a place to work collaboratively, and they are able to travel to the office safely.
We experiment from time to time with new ways to stay connected. As the majority are happy and productive working remotely, then a mid-week Walk and Talk is our latest suggestion. Simply having a 10-minute chat over lunch to check in on someone and stepping outside into the fresh air, will help to make the most of the shortening days. If this idea doesn’t stick for any reason, we’ll listen, learn and go again.
Our Ambition value continuously stretches and guides our career progression, our agency development and our personal goals, and will continue to do so when the pandemic eases and life begins to return to a new way.
As we look into the next wave of uncertainty and fresh challenges, we continue to focus on everyone’s mental well-being, checking in frequently, understanding their resilience levels, leaders included, mentoring managers as they coach remote teams and keep up the mischief and kindness. Kindness increases our personal well-being, reduces stress and enables us to feel happier. Mischief keeps it fun.
Our endless curiosity in supporting one another, understanding our clients’ circumstances and sharing what is going on in the world has meant our conversations are more enriched. We have a greater understanding of our lived experiences and that has bonded us in a way that might not have come about had we been working only at Kirby Street. From day one, our curiosity helped us to understand where everyone was living; we created a quick map of locations to know who was at home, looking after an elderly parent, had returned to family or a new house share to avoid being home alone. Small things which seemed like nothing much, and yet rooted us.
Although a few of us have honed our sourdough skills or learned Spanish whilst on furlough, we have also been exposed to new and intriguing experiences even within the confines of our homes. The plethora of webinars available out there have given us the chance to take this new curiosity into our work and collaborations.
Seven things we’ve been mindful of, which may help others navigate the next phase and stay connected:
- Think about how you use technology; don’t overwhelm
- Interact with each other in more human way; – Face2Face, Walk & Talk
- Put in place structure and rituals to help manage boundaries
- Vulnerability is brave
- Communication. Communication. Communication
- Retain your mischief and playfulness
- Cultivate a strong sense of purpose
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