A borderless way of working

Vicky T. Chen, Head of Strategy for Virtue Northern Europe shares the agency’s approach to borderless working; how it is in being flexible, rather than in being big, that the agency hopes to weather this storm.

Vicky T. Chen

Head of Strategy VIRTUE


Difficult. Uncertain. Unprecedented. We read these words again and again to describe the current state of affairs. COVID-19 has shaken up the world in a big way, economically, socially, psychologically, impacting every industry including our own. While many changes have not been for the better, one positive outtake is that it's been a catalyst to Virtue's borderless way of working.

Virtue is an independent creative agency within VICE Media Group. Our place in such esteemed company as VICE Studios, VICE News and Refinery29 gives us direct access to a wealth of cultural and consumer insight, as well as the ability to make all sorts of different outputs. That means we can help our partners find new ways to matter in a world where brands are easier than ever to ignore.

A large part of that depends on our footprint: we have people in 27 countries, all working together under one P&L, giving us a global perspective with cultural nuance. If you want to make stuff that matters, you have to be able to see outside your little bubble so when a client brief drops, we work as a global team and cherry pick the best talent to answer that specific brief. Account lead could sit in London, with strategists feeding in thinking from Berlin and Copenhagen, and creatives in Zurich and New York concepting. It's a borderless way of working that leads to faster action by tapping into available resources no matter the office location, richer insights and stronger creative by leveraging those who have local knowledge and/or experience in the client sector.

It's a borderless way of working that leads to faster action by tapping into available resources no matter the office location.

Vicky T. Chen

We also apply this process to internal initiatives, and in light of the pandemic our ethos and ways of working have amplified like never before. When most of Virtue began working remotely back in mid-March, we kicked off a project called VIBE: Virtue Initiatives for the Benefit of Everyone. It's an open brief to apply our strategic & creative minds to the challenges we’re all facing, so we can work fast and work together as one collective entity to find solutions.

VIBE has been met with overwhelming enthusiasm and the internal reviews held weekly on Thursdays have seen Virtue staff dialing in from all over the world to share their thinking and huddle together to push ideas further. The reviews are led by Virtue's global CEO Rob Newlan, global CSO Caroline Collinson-Jones and ECDs from around the world, with guest judges varying from managing directors of different regions to VICE Media Group's CEO Nancy Dubuc.

We now have a handful of ideas sitting with client partners, awaiting to get made and released into the world. One idea is for a colored hand wash that would help people wash their hands more thoroughly by illuminating the parts they've missed while washing. Another idea is developing a chat tool to mimic the coffee machine conversation with random colleagues that we're all missing right now. This kind of proactive, do-good energy is precisely what motivates people to work for and with Virtue, and it's this kind of process that lead to multi-award winning projects such as Q, the first AI genderless voice, and aDRESS_THE_FUTURE, the world's first ever digital clothing collection. We're already making plans to continue initiatives such as VIBE well after the pandemic is over. For now VIBE is about our contribution during this crisis, and later it will continue as a way for us to keep striving to make the world around us better.

It is in being flexible, rather than in being big, that we hope to weather this storm.

Vicky T. Chen

In these interesting times, Virtue hasn't had the need to drastically change how we work. We've always embraced borderless creativity; COVID-19 simply amplified it and has encouraged us to focus on three key things which can be great takeaways for all businesses especially those in the marketing sector:

  1. Think like a global collective. Collaborate with each other regardless of geography, time zones, job titles. Everyone is WFH anyway and location is a non-issue!
  2. Move fast and experiment. Don't wait until it's perfect to get it started.
  3. Make things. Create solutions instead of talking theory, all the while giving people an opportunity to work together, shut down barriers and work towards the same goal.

As the world changes around us, the ability to adapt requires a fluid workforce. It is in being flexible, rather than in being big, that we hope to weather this storm.

Guest Author

Vicky T. Chen

Head of Strategy VIRTUE


Vicky T. Chen is Head of Strategy for VIRTUE Northern Europe. She started her Adland career at Naked Communications in NYC. Moved to Amsterdam to grow Sid Lee’s European HQ. Joined AKQA in San Francisco to learn “digital”, did freelance work with startups. Joined VICE in Copenhagen and built out a strategy team when none existed.

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