What advertising CEOs get up to when working from home

Chris Pash
By Chris Pash | 26 June 2020
Getty

The AdNews series The WFH Diaries told the many stories of individuals and how they’ve made remote working their own.

We asked industry leaders, Jens Monsees at WPP, Justin Graham at M&C Saatchi, Brendon Hill, at Bauer Media, Willie Pang at MediaCom, Imogen Hewitt at Spark Foundry, Nickie Scriven at Zenith and Richard Brett at opr about their time in lockdown.

For Jens Monsees, CEO of WPP AUNZ, working from home is a good experience.

“When I worked for seven years at Google, we always worked quite remotely,” he says. “My manager was in Silicon Valley. I was in Munich.

“Now many Australian businesses have had to adopt remote working across their entire organisation, and it is likely to have a lasting impact,” he says.

At WPP AUNZ, he sees it working to bring people even closer together.

“The teams were coming together in their brands or within a campus. Now we can bring teams together around the client, no matter where they are located. That’s a key part of our client-first strategy,” he says.

He sees challenges but more opportunity.

“When I came here, I knew I would be the CEO of an ASX-listed business. But of course it’s so much more. We are on a transformation process and focused on guiding our people, our clients and the business successfully through this crisis.

“Personally, reducing the time spent commuting from the northern beaches has given me back two hours each day.”

He can use those two hours efficiently and also have more time for his three children, the oldest 12, the youngest seven and another squeezed in the middle.

“As leaders we have to be very adaptive and sensible to the individual needs of our employees,” he told AdNews. “Especially for younger employees, their team mates are a bit like a family. So we need to ensure in the future a hybrid model where teams can physically meet while also offering the opportunity to collaborate virtually when working remotely.”

Justin Graham, the new CEO of M&C Saatchi ANZ, notes a monotony to lockdown. “It is challenging but everyone's in that space,” he told AdNews. 

Graham, with three children under ten years old, and his wife had homeschooling duties during lockdown.

The previous owners of his house had taken the doors away from an area that looked like a study. So, he ordered two doors, stipulating that they must be sound proof.

“These awful brown doors turned up a week later, which I've since painted,” he says.

“The work life balance is challenging. The days start early, they finish late. I'm connected very much with our people in New York and the UK in particular, and those time frames are challenging.

“Personally, I'm looking forward to the change of cadence for what a day looks like in terms of physical interaction, as no doubt are many others that are in the same boat.”

Peter Horgan, CEO of Omnicom Media Group ANZ, has been going into the office on a bike.

And when he’s at home, and needs at attend a Zoom meeting, he slips into one of his teenage children’s bedrooms “at great personal risk.”

“It’s a bit lonely in Pyrmont and am looking forward to catching up with all the team,” he says.

Brendon Hill, CEO, Bauer Media, used the bedroom as his home office.

“The three kids were downstairs homeschooling,” he says.

The office is open to staff who need to come in but no general return to work has been planned.

“Staff come first and with the new South Wales Government still recommending you work from home when you can, that's what I'm recommending,” he says.

“We'll be looking at that in three or four weeks and get that started with plenty of notice to make sure it's really safe.”

Willie Pang, CEO of MediaCom ANZ, found working remotely difficult at first.

“I'm one of those hyper-extroverted types. I enjoy having people around. So I was randomly calling people, saying: Let's just chat.”

However, he settled into a rhythm. When eventually he had to go into the office for the first time since lockdown began, he had to fight the traffic. “I realised that, in my heart, as I was driving, that I didn’t miss this.”

Imogen Hewitt, CEO, Spark Foundry, maintained her “going to work” routines. Outfit, makeup, shoes.

“Sounds simple but pyjamas do not lend themselves to my best work,” she says.

She took over the sunroom/kids playroom as an office.

“Not only is it full of natural light, it’s freezing which keeps me on my toes,” she says. “The added benefit is being surrounded by paint, artistic creations, craft supplies, soft toys, slime making kits … plenty of inspiration for what has been a period of intense lateral thinking.”

She found it all too easy to be on calls all day long in a way that would never happen in an office environment.

Her tip: Make sure you get up and walk away, even if you need to schedule it.

“Mitigate against loss of connection with your team by not making every call about work,” she says.

“Some levity and some laughs have been our saving grace at times.

“Got kids on your lap? Got naked flatmates wandering around? Got a cat that likes to lick your laptop camera? Got to Zoom from your unmade bed? Own it and just keep going.

“We are all doing our best. Give yourself and your colleagues and clients permission to be human.

“Make friends with a good chiropractor/physio or massage therapist, or train up and start your side hustle as one, because business is going to boom.”

And Hewitt is looking forward to moving into beautiful new offices. “I’ve missed the people. I’ve missed the corridor chat. I’ve missed the random ideas. I’ve missed high heels (I’m undeniably short).”

Nickie Scriven, CEO, Zenith, has more than anything made sure she has stayed close to the team even if it’s from an office space in the spare bedroom. “It has a lovely outlook onto our street, so I’m really enjoying the view and the environment.”

She connects with the executive team every day.

“I’ve also set up weekly all staff meetings to keep our people informed on how we are tracking as an agency, and to answer any questions or concerns they have,” she says.

“I’ve found that regular and transparent communication has been really important throughout this period to help keep agency morale and culture high, but also to reassure the team.

“I actually feel like I’m more connected to my people in each market than I am when I am travelling interstate, as I have dedicated time with everyone.”

On a personal level, she has enjoyed working from home. “I’ve had much more time with my family, and I’m definitely getting more sleep and more exercise due to the time I save in commuting.”

But she does miss the banter and interaction with the team. “I genuinely enjoy their company. We have a lot of fun together and while we have continued the banter on calls, there’s nothing quite like working together in the physical space.”

Her tips:

  • Try to take some short breaks throughout the day to get away from the desk. If I have a few calls to make, I take my dog for a walk and do my calls then. It’s another 30 mins of fresh air and exercise and it's super productive.
  • I’d like to say – give yourself a time to finish up for the day... but I haven’t quite mastered that myself yet.
  • Don’t feel guilty for taking some time out if you need it. Working from home gives us all the opportunity to work flexibly, so if you can get out for some exercise in the middle of the day – do it. You’d be surprised how much more productive you are when you get back.
  • Lock the pantry!


Richard Brett, CEO of opr, has found time goes fast and each day is the same.

He and his partner live in Newtown in a typical inner west house. A second bedroom is his office and his partner sets up on the kitchen table.

He recommends breaking up the routine with a change of scene.

“We have two large dogs (Hungarian Vizslas) so they have really helped as they force me to get out and about at least twice a day and break up the routine,” he says.

“One of the dogs (Dexter) is older and I have had him since he was a puppy, so he is very easy and well-behaved.

“But we have only had our other dog (Cleo) for a year as she is a rescue, and is completely crazy and a terror on her lead. She will bark at everything (and I mean everything - she is particularly loud when she sees a cyclist, a runner, cars, someone in hi-vis, a skateboard, also children, a person walking, other dogs, cats, birds…), so although I enjoy getting out and about, walking can be quite stressful.”

He was worried everyone would all hate each other after a few weeks.

“Actually we all seem to be getting on very well, and the dogs especially love the fact that we are at home all the time,” he says.

Tips:

  • Get out and about. I am out every morning around 6am walking the dogs for about two hours which helps set me up for the day. There is something about walking which really helps settle and clear the mind. With no gym I have also been running more.
  • Routine and boundaries. I always try and be at my desk by 8.30am – 9am and will tend to work later into the evening, probably until 7pm.
  • Switch off before bed. I will also try and get into an email routine, so I check emails and the Microsoft Teams app one final time around 9pm and then try not to look at them again. I also try and read before bed and not look at my phone ( I don’t always succeed) which helps me sleep. I just finished Philip Pullman’s The Secret Commonwealth which was amazing for switching off as it takes the reader to a completely and utterly different fictional world.

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop us a line at adnews@yaffa.com.au

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