Founding an agency in 2020: Emily Jeffrey-Barrett
Emily Jeffrey-Barrett is Founder of Among Equals, the new kids on the agency block, here to make more than just money. In Summer 2020, in what she describes as a ‘potentially mad move’, she quit her great, stable job at a brilliant agency to set up Among Equals. Read her thoughts on starting a business during a pandemic…
- What has lockdown been like for you as a team leader?
Painful in some ways as I love collaborating closely and being around people, and that’s obviously limited. But there have been some elements of good. The most notable is that it gave us all the gift of extra time, and I used that time to set up Among Equals. It’s been a long time coming, but lockdown meant I had no nice distractions like pubs or holidays, so I got to spend evenings and weekends making it happen. We’re an agency that only works with people who want to make more than just money – every project we take on has some element of good in it. Since launching in September 2020 we’ve built up an amazing client base, and we’re now working with over 10 organisations ranging from global giants like Mars to NGOs like The Girls’ Network to startups like Second Nature. We’re a small team but growing rapidly, which is challenging, scary and massively exciting all at the same time!
- Have you noticed any changes to your team culture?
Well, it’s an interesting one because starting mid-pandemic means my team has always worked remotely. I won’t go into the challenges – everyone’s intimately familiar with and bored of them by now. The best bit about the remote working is the talent it opens up. Free of the expectations that people need to be in the office to collaborate effectively, we’re working with clients, designers and strategists across the world from Portugal to Dubai, New York to California. I’m just gutted I’m missing out on travel!
- How have you and your team stayed connected over the past months?
With clients we use whatever they’re using: Slack, Teams, Zoom, email. I do a LOT of whatsapping with clients, but I’m the anomaly in the team. I like that things have got a bit more casual – you don’t always need to put a big presentation together and send it via email. You can just chat.
With the team, we’ve pretty much used the usual tools – Google docs/slides, Slack, phone, text. But we’ve made a massive effort to see each other as much as possible/appropriate. Loads of walks around London, beer gardens, the odd business lunch. Technology means connecting and collaborating is pretty seamless, but it’s not the same as just wheeling over to a desk or making terrible in-jokes... Collaborating’s easy. Culture’s harder.
- Has it been manageable overseeing creative work whilst at home?
Yeah, totally. Everyone on the team is amazing, and I’ve never been a micro-manager (I hope they’d agree with that!)
Remote working has forced me to take even more of a step back and trust the team 100%.
I’ve worked with most of them for quite a long time now at past jobs, which helps – we understand each other, know how everyone works, respect each other’s strengths. I’ve invested more time in briefing, then left people to it. It’s paid off – the quality of the work has been really strong.
I learned a long time ago that if you give people space, freedom and ownership the work is so much better.
Otherwise it’s all just limited by how good you/your own ideas are, which is such a shame.
- Have you worked longer hours as a result of working from home?
I’ve always loved a late night – my worst nightmare is not being busy – but it’s definitely gone a bit wild since I started Among Equals.
Mates say, ‘let’s talk over lunch’ and I laugh – love that people think I have a lunchbreak.
I think/hope I’m pretty good about not passing it onto the rest of the team though. It’s my choice to work like mad, I don’t think it’s fair to expect the same of others.
- If you knew you had to work from home for another year, would you be happy?
Ha! No. I’m definitely way more productive, and I’m not getting through as many chocolate bars/popping to Nisa every hour, but I really miss being around people.
The goal is to find a suitable office and move into it ASAP, but I'll still offer the chance to stay home if you want to.
flexibility, trust, working across continents will always be part of our culture
- What do you miss about not being in the studio?
My friends! My absolute top skill is forcing colleagues to be my mates – and a lot of my best friends in the world are people I met through work. There’s nothing like working every day with people you really connect with and enjoy being around – that kind of relationship is so critical to great ideas, easy collaboration…
- What is one positive that has arisen from the past few months?
One enormous positive for me is, of course, the business.
I was on auto-pilot before - busy at the weekends, going out every evening. Lockdown forced me to re-evaluate everything. I had the time to stop, think and finally give myself the push I needed. (Also when you’re literally living through the plot of a horror movie, setting up a business doesn’t seem quite as scary). But this year also allowed me to readjust my thinking. My mindset had been so narrow before: ‘I want to set up a business, but I have to have an office, and a team based in London…’ Now it’s like ‘I just need great people, some interesting projects and a lot of drive and energy’, so it’s all worked out super well.
- Will you be changing the manner in which you work in the future? I.e. split between home and existing studio, finding smaller space for part time working, or short term lets even?
Despite remote working being normalised, I still want to find an office. If I only had myself to consider I would be in office 4, maybe (whisper it) 5, days a week. But everyone’s different and I don’t want to force people to work in an office just because I like it – we’ll get a place, and people can come in as and when they want to/feel comfortable doing so.
Resuming face-to-face meetings will probably be the first step – they take more time with travel etc, but there’s just no replacement for that human connection you get in-person.
Also I have clients I’ve worked with for months that I haven’t met yet, which is still so strange. So really looking forward to that!
You can learn more about Emily, Among Equals and their fantastic work here.