Lessons from COVID-19

And how they can benefit you and your business.

The Republic of South Africa went into lockdown from midnight 26 March to 30 April 2020, and the world closed its doors for business shortly after. This affected everyone and for some, the proverbial wheels on the bus had to keep going ‘round and ‘round.

One such bus is the fast-paced advertising and marketing industry, more so the digital aspect of the trade. Thanks to some insight from the inside, here’s what we’ve learnt from the most challenging time in the advertising industry.

Lesson 1: Communication

Communication is a vital part of any organization because apart from the old saying “no man’s an island”, the advertising and marketing industry is one that is built on teamwork, collaborative effort, critique and feedback. The lockdown caused a major shift in the dynamics surrounding communication as some of the things we took for granted became precious.

On the technical side of communication, employees battled to complete the most basic of tasks like finding the mute button and the unreliable network infrastructure in the country. Besides the technical aspect, people felt less connected to their colleagues and less informed when working remotely. This is more prevalent in Gen Z and Millenials regardless of whether they are digital natives or not. The veterans, on the other hand, were more accepting of the virtual work environment; however, everyone struggled with the new, situationally imposed and evidently unsustainable 24-hour model.

To address this, you can avoid making the assumption that the younger generation will immediately gravitate to a virtual environment because they’re good with technology. Communicate well with them, remind them of the importance of how they are connected to the company, so that their contribution adds to the greater good. They must also feel that they are informed. But how? It’s quite simple really,

1. Ensure respect is always given and reciprocated – with the workload, short timelines and back to back meetings, it’s imperative that your team keeps the peace and speaks about problems in a solution-based way. Always speak how you wish to be spoken to.

2. Unified single-channel communication – with so much on the go and many stakeholders to liaise with, it’s easy to flood your talent with too much communication. Technology can fix this, instead of using ten different channels of communication, pick one, take advantage of it and ensure all talent are online at mutually agreed times.

“Brainstorming doesn’t slap the same when you’re doing it with a screen.”

– Sandile Hamilton (Senior Copywriter who’s also a millennial)

Lesson 2: Productivity

Workplace productivity relates to the amount of work that your talent can produce over a certain period. In other words, it’s the measure of the total output (goods and services) versus the total input (labour and costs). 

Your staff probably cringes at the word ‘productivity’ because it’s become a measurement of an employee’s value to the company; whereas the only thing this achieves is inflated and incorrect timesheet entries as employees dodge the ‘Idle’ entry which in turn creates a nightmare for billing and the finance department. 

sitting’ if they are just as invested in the success of the organisation as you are. If you’re worried about the team members slacking off, then you should start looking for a new team. Trust is given and received, once earned – it can’t be taken or given lightly.

It wouldn’t hurt to make sure there’s purpose in every conference call because as a wise and slightly annoyed employee once said, “this meeting could’ve been an email” [his name is not Rory Macrobert]. Productivity is not completing the meeting, productivity is completing the project. Establish the expectations of the project “check-ins” so that everyone who’s working at the office or virtually are on the same page – in turn, the suits can avoid being a pain in the neck by chasing after work and the creatives can actually get work done.

“When you give someone that sense of trust that says ‘I trust you, I rely on you, this can’t happen without you’ you empower them”.

Mama T (She’s beeeen in the game – 17 years to be exact)

Lesson 3: Processes

Processes are like the referees on a soccer field – they are there to maintain a standard that is needed to effectively deliver on performance and they help the team deal with an unforeseen ‘bump in the road’. The lockdown forced a lot of organisations to overuse and misuse pre-lockdown processes that were put in place to make our lives easier. The trick here is to remember that processes can always be optimized according to the environment in which they are delivered.

Remember that less is more and the fewer hoops your employees have to jump through, the happier and healthier your work environment becomes. Processes are not meant to confine creativity but rather foster it by allowing time to focus on the creativity as opposed to what needs to be done next. 

“I enjoyed working from home because a break from the in-office experience gave me the freedom to focus on my work.”

– Manisha (Digital Strategist on the rise)

Lesson 4: Culture

We now live in a virtual world and that’s not changing anytime soon. In that virtual world, we need to be able to transfer our culture as an organisation – not only to the in-person staff but to those connecting virtually as well.

For 8909, which doubled in size while other agencies were downsizing, the induction process had to be seamless, as it was done virtually. Maintaining our culture was a smooth transition from ‘business as usual’ to ‘business as usual’ from home and we owe this to our tight-knit team, who make it their business to make you feel welcome. The lesson here is that the manner in which you are treated on your first day will determine how you’ll treat your new colleagues. Every point of your onboarding process needs to be considered, stress-tested and optimized. Onboarding should not be slapstick as it implies your company operates in the same manner.

Whether it’s new staff or the same ol’ faces, remind your team that they are valued, that they are an important part of your organisation. Keep in mind that your employees are not part of a machine but are the machine itself. They are your brand custodians and cheerleaders. The more they feel valued, the more they will contribute, the more they feel supported, the more they’ll be able to move forward effectively within the organisation.

Working online is more than just a reliable internet connection, especially for the younger generations. It’s a combination of trust, responsibility and the occasional check-ins because no team’s meant to work in silos. Perhaps the future agency is one that practises Hybrid working for its flexibility. 

We have to embrace the fact that this is a whole new way of doing business for everybody, and nobody is going to get it right the first time… and there’s nothing wrong with that.

“We should focus on creating a company and a culture that is fit for the present and the future, not for the past.” 

– Kishana Naidoo (Brand builder)

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