Time well spent

Gareth Davies, Managing Director of Leagas Delaney on how the shift to remote working has forced agencies to focus on how they actually spend their time.

Gareth Davies

Managing Director Leagas Delaney


We’ve not been short on articles examining the strengths and weaknesses of virtual working over the last few months. And perhaps rightly so. Whilst many industries have had to make the shift to a virtual world, not many can claim that their industry is as profoundly built around face-to-face interaction as ours. A brief examination of our teams, processes, ways of working and indeed, our commercial models, reveals an industry that has woven face-to-face interaction into every part of its fabric. So, perhaps it’s no surprise then that we’re all so keen to read through these articles in the hope of finding some sort of roadmap for the weeks and months ahead.

But as we all try to look forward, what of looking back? After all, for all the challenges that we’ve faced this year, there have been some important lessons learnt too. For a number of agencies, there’s been a real sense of people pulling together, with talk of tighter cultures and greater purpose. Is this though just an inevitable by-product of challenging times or is it perhaps something more fundamental? 

One argument is that 2020 has required us to find new ways to work together, to value each other, and our time, more. And whilst many of us will point to the fact that we actually have less time now, running contrary to the view that WFH frees up countless non-commuting hours, few would disagree that how our time is used is certainly very different to pre-COVID norms. So, what’s changed in how we use our time? And what, if anything, of this ‘new normal’ way of working should we hold on to?

Whilst we all patiently wait our turn; we’re being forced to listen more. And for an industry that talks for a living, it’s a noticeable change.

Gareth Davies

We’re all listening now 

Before this year, dialling someone into a meeting almost always resulted in the person on the end of the line struggling to keep up with those in the physical room, ending up being out of sync with the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, human interactions that dictate the flow of any meeting.

In 2020, the very basics of how we engage has changed. It’s certainly hard to talk over anyone on Zoom. Instead, most Zoom calls are the communication equivalent of a baton-pass, where one person hands over the ownership of the conversation to the next. But it strikes me that something more significant is going on here. Whilst we all patiently wait our turn; we’re being forced to listen more. And for an industry that talks for a living, it’s a noticeable change. 

But, at Leagas Delaney at least, we’ve also found that it has had a significant impact on how we work. We hear each other out more and, as a result, we’re starting to consider new and different perspectives, from a broader range of voices. And so, whilst the act of baton passing itself may require more time, it’s hard to believe that the work won’t be fuller and more rounded for it.

Time dedicated to better outcomes 

Whilst the benefits of collaboration are obvious enough, it’s not an answer in itself. You can stick as many people in a room as you like but the best outcomes are always linked to the best inputs. And in that sense, our virtual existence has helped us.

Prior to this year, I’d lost count of the number of times when someone had said to me that they were going to work from home, to “get some actual work done”. However, time to focus on a singular task has quite often felt like a luxury in an industry commercially modelled around our collective ability to spin multiple plates simultaneously. Virtual working has changed some of that. Being away from the shiny distractions of the office environment has helped the magpies amongst us, of which I consider myself one, to temporarily forget everything else and to focus on doing one thing well.

After all, great ideas don’t come from anywhere, they come from application to a task, discipline and having the time to filter out of those half-baked early thoughts. Of course, not every creative person wants or needs to be in the office to do that, nor do they necessarily want to be working from home. But show me someone who doesn’t want the time to go through that process. To have the space to look around the problem, to seek inspiration from unusual places and to do justice, and then some, to the brief. 

All of that comes from having time and space to think. That ideal, and the pursuit of it, is nothing new. We all take ourselves off to quiet spaces to work, whether that’s in the office, on set or at home. As such, the answer isn’t always found at our desks. In fact, it’s quite often found remotely. And in that sense at least, the way we’ve been working recently is kind of an extension of the way things have been heading anyway.

For all the positives of a virtual working environment, we work in an industry that is at its best when a little bit of chaos is thrown in amongst the order.

Gareth Davies

Making our time count 

For those of us who have sat in meetings in the past wondering why the hell we’re there, the last six months have been nothing short of a revelation. A Zoom call means being on time, having an agenda, getting to an agreement and then leaving, on time. By and large, it’s pretty effective. So, why meet up face-to-face at all? Lockdowns allowing, why make the commute in? 

Because, of course, for all the positives of a virtual working environment, we work in an industry that is at its best when a little bit of chaos is thrown in amongst the order. And sparking ideas in a disorderly fashion can be hard to do over Teams. For those moments and meetings that really matter, not much comes close to seeing people up close and personal.

Now in full disclosure, we left our office some months ago, albeit not permanently, but that doesn’t mean we see any less value in that personal interaction. Quite the reverse. When we do meet up, we do it deliberately and with greater purpose, and arguably energy, than before. Nothing is taken for granted. We’ve found that we almost subconsciously value those sessions out more, putting pressure on ourselves to make the time count. 

And surely that points to the answer. It is not actually about how much time we’re together, nor is it really about how much time we’re apart. Instead, it is how much consideration we give to how we spend any of our time.

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