How are agencies in SG coping with the return of WFH?

Last Friday, the Singapore government announced plans to tighten movement within the nation state as community COVID-19 cases saw a spike. These measures would see implementation from May 16 to June 13 2021.

While not deemed as a full on "circuit breaker" by the government, workforces in Singapore are now encouraged to shift back to working from home as a default. This comes not too long after the government announced that more employees could shift to working from the office in April where 75% of the workforce were then allowed to be back in office premises. 

Nonetheless the passing of the new rules is not new to us and agency heads MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to shared some of their biggest learning lessons from the 2020 circuit breaker. Here are some of the takeaways.

(Read also: Suits out, PJs in: Agency heads share their WFH stations, challenges and comforts)

 

Rowena Bhagchandani, CEO and co-founder of BLKJ

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We know that we can trust our people to do their best even in the worst of situations. We’ve done this before and we can power through this again. It’s always about the fine balance in time management, taking the time to stay connected and being up to speed, yet equally important to disconnect and wind down - for the work and for ourselves.

We care deeply about the mental well-being of everyone. So we implemented a regular town hall sharing updates with everyone so we are all connected, getting new crew members to introduce themselves to all so they get to meet everyone even if it is not face to face, ensuring people get personal time (dedicating time for lunch or not doing meetings after 7pm amongst others). We have been doing WFH all the way since last year’s lockdown. These are just a couple of ways. Again, we will keep refining this with suggestions from our agency collectively.

 

Anand A Vathiyar, managing director of Cheil Singapore

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Last year's lockdown was unprecedented and there was an uneasy brew of uncertainty and kancheong-ness on both the clients and agency side. There was definite PTSD and reliving it this around might be more stressful.

There was no playbook so we tried our best to focus on being kind and considerate.

We planned pockets of time where we checked in on each other and NOT talk about work. We sent lunch, dessert, booze over (not on company expense) and had team lunches/catch ups via Zoom. We took silly pictures and enjoyed the laughter, kindness and consideration. And we shouldn't need a pandemic or lockdown to implement them.

 

Jeff Cheong, deputy chief executive officer of DDB Singapore 

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Since the first circuit breaker, most of our staff continued to work remotely. When news of the mini circuit breaker was announced, we had the muscle memory to make the switch quickly. My biggest concern is for the caregivers and parents with children doing home-based learning and the younger ones that needs more attention. During circuit breaker, we implemented a 2-hours protected time during lunch to allow them to attend to their family. We will continue to do so.

 

Fiona Bartholomeusz, managing director at Formul8

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I guess the key word would have to be “adaptability” - we all get used to a regimen and way of working and it was only through this pandemic and the need to enforce WFH that we realised how we could pivot and learn new ways to work together - albeit remotely.

At the same time however, it also made us realise (and appreciate) the innate human desire to connect with people and how some individuals flourish in this environment and some others become borderline clinically depressed.

The reality is that we didn’t really need to implement much, everyone instinctively came together and it was rather wonderful to see the team pull together to help each other out and with a common purpose of getting work done. We also are working on a fair amount of COVID-19 related PSA work and still are, so it was imperative that it was still “business as usual” and to keep running a tight ship regardless of where the work was being done.

Seeing the team work made me realise how resilient we can all be as a team.

 

Joanne Theseira, managing director at Publicis Singapore

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We discovered right away that working from home was, in reality, endless back-to-back meetings, then late nights up to catch up on actual work. It was also an especially challenging time for those with kids on home-based learning. So we protected blocks of time in the day - to give teams time to be creatives, thinkers, do-ers, mums, dads, and caregivers. That meant strictly no meetings at lunchtime or after 6.30pm; no weekend shoots; and short, fixed creative briefing hours that freed up time in the day.

When resources got tight, we managed the crunch through Publicis Bench - a Groupe initiative - that gave us access to talent around the region with capacity. Many of the policies have remained since we came back to the office and will make the switch back to WFH now a little easier.

 

Avery Akkineni, head of VaynerMedia APAC

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We learned A LOT during the first circuit breaker period; and our Singapore operations have been default WFH since March 2020. From a project management perspective, we became much more efficient with digital communication, and we developed systems and processes that allowed us to go from idea to execution, without being in the same room. The silver lining of these challenges have been that we've figured out a way to be much more flexible with our staff, and their preferred ways of working.

Related articles: 
Suits out, PJs in: Agency heads share their WFH stations, challenges and comforts
Preparing for 2021: What SG agency heads are focusing on