The WFH Diaries - Sally Harley at littleBIG Marketing

By AdNews | 16 June 2020

AdNews brings the stories of those working from home (WFH) in the advertising and media industry during the coronavirus crisis.

Sally Harley is founder and director at littleBIG Marketing.

How are you dealing with the silence?
With two boys under five at home there hasn't been much silence! We've been transitioning back to small groups in the office however and a couple of days ago I found myself in a small group of one in our Abbotsford office. It was the first time in months I've been able to focus on bigger picture stuff - delve into lots of industry reading and connect with people on a less reactive or tactical level. It was really disconcerting not having the day punctuated by work chats with my husband/our creative director (plus others) and kids begging for snacks, and inbound calls and emails were really quiet that day so the relative silence of our usually buzzing agency life (beyond the four walls of the office) felt more stark than usual being alone in the office.

What’s the upside?
The sense that we're all in this together bonded us even tighter with clients. We've always been a collaborative agency but facing COVID-19 together takes things to another level. And in fact, I'd say that video calls actually facilitate an intimacy and vulnerability that wasn't there before. We've been comparing indoor plants, swapping schooling-at-home war stories, meeting pets and conversing in a more relaxed way, in more relaxed clothing. This has made for more raw, honest and authentic collective decision-making and some absolutely epic ideas that have seen some great cut through in this cluttered and confused comms landscape.

Seeing our team become more resourceful and creative is a source of pride. With our senior staff having to focus on structural and client scope and strategic adaptation, we put faith in the rest of the team to run with things more - sink or swim stuff. In the vast majority they (hence we) have swam like Thorpy. It's been awesome to see and a lesson for me around encouraging more freedom. It's particularly warming to see the more introverted members of the team really shine. The quiet and the ability to self-direct areas of focus more freely really brings out the best in introverts. I've seen creativity and confidence I didn't even know existed. That's been great.

Our whole team really banded together very well and have displayed great teamwork and work ethic. It solidified our pre-COVID feeling that we're currently running with the most well-balanced, clever, cohesive and supportive team in our 13 year history.

Discovering how well this WFH, or more accurately a hybrid office/WFH, model can really work. I truly hope we'll be a more wholey well society if we can keep up this better balance and focus on what truly matters to us all as individuals.

The downside?
The constantly changing and uncertain environment in the first few weeks was absolutely exhausting as a business owner, in terms of admin, commercials and HR comms. Given we work in communications, essentially all of our staff were faced with this constant, hectic flood of assessment and decision-making from a brand comms perspective - social media content and community management plans changing daily, urgent PR comms/plan changes, campaign spend redirection, product/event re-imagining, new creative required constantly. I know I've never felt more busy or work-tired than I did in late March and April this year.

The flip side to more individual independence is some of those time-honed processes in place to ensure consistency, quality and efficiency across teams wobbled a bit. Once our seniors were free from constant high level decision making and communication we got straight onto straightening some of those internal things up again and we have to maintain that vigilance which is a time drain.

It's much harder to provide guidance to junior staff remotely. You can't necessarily pick up on the subtle cues that more guidance is needed through (predominantly) group video calls. And quick, in-the-moment deskside feedback chats aren't a thing at the moment. We're working hard to do just that via phone/video but it's not quite the same. We've implemented some more frequent check-ins and development tasks to try and address this. The same goes for new staff come to think of it. Can you imagine being our new dude who started in February?! He's had more time working outside of the office than in it.

And obviously the big one - revenue drop. What a killer. Start spending again please world!

How are you using the commuting time saved?
I used to be up at 5:40am to be home from yoga in time for the kids getting up and the whole rush to childcare and work thing commenced. I now get more sleep, we don't rush in the mornings or after work and I've got the energy to do yoga at home after the kids are in bed. So I guess the time saved in commuting has gone into slower, more enjoyable breakfast and dinner time with the family. A huge upside.

I am looking forward to being back in the office because…
Incidental conversation (or even overhearing conversations!) can be gold for identifying new opportunities for clients and inspiring ideas across the business.

There's no better way for junior staff to flourish than to observe their managers doing their thang, and soak up all that agency buzz.

Our people are awesome and I miss them.

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