Thought Leadership

“Our culture is and has always been driven by our values”

Born Social’s Charlotte Hamill explains how the agency has adapted to post-pandemic ways of working

Charlotte Hamill

COO & Partner

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Like most agencies, we were in the office every day and it was an energetic, creative and intimate environment. I’d be lying if I said sometimes I didn’t miss the intensity of it. Luckily we always knew all that simply being together wasn't culture. Our culture is and has always been driven by our values. It’s how we think, communicate, deliver, develop and impact the world. Having solid foundations in these areas helped us see that our office was temporary. If the office was our body, our culture was our spirit. 

So we quickly accepted that Born Social’s home was going to look different and that we needed to turn this challenge into an opportunity. Immediately we understood that embracing a remote-first culture with hybrid working habits was far more inclusive and unlocked so many benefits; access to a more diverse talent pool, better work life balance and wellbeing, higher productivity, lower cost of living to name only a few.

If the office was our body, our culture was our spirit

Charlotte Hamill COO & Partner at Born Social

So we set upon agreeing and implementing the key changes we needed to make.

Office optimisation

The pre-pandemic office was majority assigned desk space and storage. Team polling suggested people wanted to spend 50% of their week in the office and that deep work was to be done at home. So we needed an office that facilitated 50% of the team at a desk and was optimised for creative collaboration. This meant hot desks, meeting rooms - bigger and more of them, better video conference facilities, breakout spaces with screens and extra phone booths.

Direction with flexibility 

With core hours already in place, extra freedom around location felt complicated and confusing. The consideration of what should be virtual, what should be in-person, what could be hybrid and how to facilitate that was exhausting and at odds with productivity but we had to remember that gains happen through getting uncomfortable. We focussed on sharing a few core principles to follow; two office days a week of your choice, prioritising creative ideation, bigger meetings needing discussion and personal development meetings. This directive is given with trust. Beyond monitoring office use to cater for lunch, we are not policing this and trust people to make the right decisions for them and their work. 

Create virtual community  

Like most agencies, we were concerned about the immeasurable value of the chatter in the kitchen, on the way to and from meetings, at our desks in between tasks. We all struggled to articulate it but we knew it provided a level of necessary stimulation and closeness. Already users of Slack, we rehomed this small talk to a plethora of channels. Ranging from #general, a channel for need-to-know agency wide updates only, to the background hum of #almondjarchat referencing our once physical snack bar, to the more niche #ratemyplate. The key has been to make sure there are guidelines for engagement etiquette so people feel comfortable with how to participate. Now we just watch our Slack culture evolve to fill its own needs organically; such as self set statuses (featuring playful emojis) to communicate core hours, annual leave or illness, deep work, meetings, lunch breaks and more. 

Tent pole socials

As soon as it was safe to socialise again we pivoted our social strategy. On a weekly and monthly basis we focus on virtual or hybrid events, occasionally playing in small neighbourhood groups that we formed during the pandemic, always with an inclusive virtual group for those who want or need to dial in. Then we go big every six months with our global Summer and Winter parties, which follow a full company off site afternoon. For now this gives us maximum inclusion with the right dose of in person bonding and fun to get us feeling connected all year through.

Test and learn

A good feedback loop is how we innovate in all areas at Born and it’s embedded in our values. In recent times we’ve placed extra emphasis on collecting feedback about remote and hybrid working. Initially we ran anonymous surveys, alongside collecting informal anecdotal insights through conversation, on the appetite for office time, the desired frequency and the tasks people thought suited remote, hybrid or office working. Additionally through our quarterly cultural surveys and ongoing tracking of utilisation we’ve gathered regular feedback and data on productivity and wellbeing so can objectively see we’re heading in the right direction.

We aren’t racing to a final destination, instead we’re focussed on continuous improvement and doing our best work in a way that is best for our people. I am really proud of how we’ve turned this big challenge into opportunities and I hope sharing some of what we’ve done will help other businesses put the hard work in to do things differently and better than before. 

Guest Author

Charlotte Hamill

COO & Partner, Born Social

About

Charlotte Hamill is the COO & Partner at Born Social; a global social media agency bringing social-first thinking to the brands of tomorrow, like Guinness, Nando’s & Uber. She joined the founding team and has scaled their values-driven culture into an agency of 100 people across London, Paris, Madrid, Lisbon and Berlin. Charlotte transitioned Born Social from full-time office-centric working to a remote-first culture embracing hybrid working and she is currently leading Born Social through their B Corp certification. Named as one of Forbes 30 under 30 and Women In Marketing's One To Watch, Charlotte is passionate about agency success being measured not just by logos and awards but by the health and happiness of their people. She is ever exploring new ways to do business and is on a mission to make Born Social the home of career highlights.

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