Voices

A flexible approach to being ‘on the brink’

Government restrictions are now hopefully a thing of the past. Be very careful to not replace them with restrictions of your own, writes Media Bounty’s Jake Dubbins.

Jake Dubbins, CAN and Media Bounty

Co-Chair and Managing Director

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So here we are. The first full week of relative freedom from Covid measures. Hopefully that will be the end of government restrictions for the foreseeable future. The question that presents itself now to business leaders is: How many restrictions and rules will we now impose on our colleagues, teams and indeed ourselves?

We now have a choice. Are we going to ask everyone to come back to the office? For 5 days? For 3 days? Are we going to be fully remote? Or are we going to go totally flexible?

In launching a new ‘Talent Taskforce’ last week at RENEW, the Advertising Association’s new president Alessandra Bellini said: “From the moment I joined the association last autumn, talent retention has come up time and time again as a common challenge we are all facing.”

Last week. Creativebrief’s Editorial Director Nicola Kemp wrote very powerfully in Mediatel that ‘many working parents are on the brink.’

Some would have you believe that the only option for the world of work is for everyone to return to the office. The Mail on Sunday reported that Boris Johnson is pushing for an end to the working-from-home culture in Whitehall, presumably so that he can have more ‘work parties’ with suitcases of wine.

I think this is nonsense and would like to make the case for running a totally flexible agency, not just for working parents like me, but for all.

A few former employees of Media Bounty reading this may call me a total hypocrite. They would be right. Ten years’ ago I approached things very differently and, quite frankly, badly.

We asked for people to be in the office every day at 9am sharp. One of our senior team was always late - hardly ever more than 20 minutes, but regularly 10 or 15 minutes late. I would summon him into our meeting room and wearily tell him that if he was late then it would mean that the whole team would think that it was ok to be late. He’d agree but we both knew that things were not going to change. The thing was he was brilliant. He delivered fantastic work, on budget and on time. He was a fantastic mentor to our team and a joy to work alongside.

Looking back at that time now, it is almost embarrassing. What a total waste of time and energy. That sort of culture was beaten into me in a previous role at another agency. You had to be on time otherwise there was a very real risk of being fired. The culture was toxic. A lot of shouting and screaming, shaming behaviour and intolerance. One colleague got fired on the spot by my boss for simply doing some research about a prospective client on one of the office computers. He hadn’t asked permission.

As the pandemic hopefully starts to enter a new phase, we have an opportunity to remake the future of work.

Working from home full time has presented its challenges to working parents. I will never forget my 6-year-old arriving next to me and in full view as I presented to the UN Forum for Business and Human Rights on Zoom. I paused and turned to her. ‘What’s your favourite colour?’ she asked. ‘Turquoise’ I said, fully expecting her to potter off downstairs. ‘Daddy’ she said, ‘What is your second favourite colour?’ Fortunately, we didn’t get to my third favourite colour. I’m not sure I have one!

Many working parents had it much worse than the odd interruption and still do. But also as restrictions have eased, many working parents are enjoying the freedom to drop their kids off at school and pick them up without the stress of commuting and wondering if the train will be cancelled or the traffic gridlocked.

It’s not just working parents who have been on the brink. Lots of the younger talent in the industry have found it difficult working in their bedrooms as housemates do video calls from the shared living room. But some have enjoyed the freedom of not having to turn up to an office every day if they are having a bit of a difficult time personally.  It can be difficult to have to come into a busy office if you are struggling with your mental health even if the work culture is supportive.

We want to help people feel psychologically safe and comfortable in their choices and not feel prejudiced or penalised about not being “present”. The industry’s pre-Covid culture of presenteeism forced many talented people out of the industry when they had to make choices between work and family or work and their mental health

Jake Dubbins, Managing Director at Media Bounty and Co-Chair of the Conscious Advertising Network

At Media Bounty, we had already introduced time-shifted days and remote working prior to the pandemic as well as giving people time to attend school performances, time for further education and volunteering. We had already road-tested a flexible approach.

In the middle of last year, we asked the whole team what they wanted to do – work in the office 3 to 4 times a week, 1 to 2 times a week, 1 to 2 times a month or not at all. The results came back as an almost exact 25% split for each option!

So, we said yes to everyone.

We want to help people feel psychologically safe and comfortable in their choices and not feel prejudiced or penalised about not being “present”. The industry’s pre-Covid culture of presenteeism forced many talented people out of the industry when they had to make choices between work and family or work and their mental health. No one should have to sacrifice their career or be penalised for wanting to be available (physically and mentally) for their children, ageing parents, pets or indeed themselves in times of need. Along the way the industry has created a scenario of false choices when actually, if we approach the way we run agencies like the way we plan campaigns (human-first based on needs), we’d all be a lot happier.

How are we going to solve the talent retention challenge and attract the best people from diverse backgrounds into the industry if we immediately lock them down into working patterns that don’t work for them?

Jake Dubbins, Managing Director at Media Bounty and Co-Chair of the Conscious Advertising Network

 

Going fully flexible is working for us. Our team (past and present) have been absolutely incredible over these last two years. In our last employee engagement survey, 100% of the team said they were satisfied by our flexible working arrangement, with 77% strongly agreeing. 100% of the team agreed that employees treat each other with respect, 95% were happy with the culture of the agency and 91% agreed that senior management and employees trust each other.

We are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but the flexible working and trust we have built at Media Bounty is helping us in other areas too. We are much more open minded about where our awesome team lives and works. 

For example one of our team is currently working from Argentina, having extended a stay visiting family and friends; others have worked from Italy, France and Russia. The approach also helps with recruitment. We recently hired someone super talented, who is currently based in Liverpool. We also believe it is benefiting the commercial performance of the business. Whisper it, but our revenue was up by 63% last year.

Government restrictions are now hopefully a thing of the past. Be very careful to not replace them with restrictions of your own.

How are we going to solve the talent retention challenge and attract the best people from diverse backgrounds into the industry if we immediately lock them down into working patterns that don’t work for them?

Guest Author

Jake Dubbins, CAN and Media Bounty

Co-Chair and Managing Director

About

Jake is Co-chair of the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN), a cross industry group that believe that the ethics must now catch up with the technology of modern advertising. As well as being Co-founder and managing director of Media Bounty, a creative social media agency with a conscience. Advising clients as diverse as Bodyform, method, ecover and The Meatless Farm on using social to drive long-term brand growth. Jake is a passionate advocate of business as driver of social good. Media Bounty has funded the purchase of nearly 700 acres of critically threatened habitat through World Land Trust and the agency team volunteer for environmental, homeless and social cohesion charities.

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