Finding personal responsibility: Andrew Derrick
Andrew Derrick is Creative Director of Socrates, an international brand and communications agency that needs little introduction. Throughout the year Andrew has kept a close eye on the unique nuances that the pandemic has cultivated within his team. In our latest Gabriele Talks… he discusses his experiences of lockdown, personal responsibility and the importance of off-the-cuff conversations.
What has lockdown been like for you as a team leader?
The first formal lockdown was universal. It was the same for clients and agencies alike.
There was a “we’re all in it together” mentality and everyone simply made it work. There was a novelty, a challenge and very much a collective spirit. In response, we also introduced a variety of initiatives to try and ensure that no one fell off the grid and everyone continued to feel part of a company. There was no playbook – we had to make it up intuitively.
The weirder half-and-half lockdown throughout the rest of the year has proved much more complex and challenging.
Now, we’re largely working on a purely voluntary basis: 50% from home and 50% from the office. Trying to keep geographically split teams consistently fully informed is a nightmare. Working with clients who are all working from home is a nightmare and the team are now pretty exhausted emotionally and intellectually.
Huge discipline is required to keep everyone in the same loop.
And there is occasionally a convenient head-in-the-sand attitude, that working from home might suit the individual but certainly does not always suit the company or clients.
It has also been difficult to stay focused on the whole issue of home working whilst many are sitting next to you in the office. People's home conditions are incredibly different and understanding the emotional effect of this year on everyone remains critically important. I believe it is underestimated.
Have you noticed any changes to your team culture?
Creating a strong culture when everyone is working remotely is tricky - as it’s something we’ve never been confronted with before.
We have people who have joined during the pandemic and are yet to meet the whole team, some don’t know anything other than remote meetings.
Many of the regular team events have not been possible and whilst we have adapted and introduced alternatives, it is not particularly satisfactory. Creating remote corporate cultures is an exciting prospect.
But there are a lot of silly woke CEOs, who were pontificating from their ivory towers in Gloucestershire earlier in the year about closing all their offices, who I imagine are now reviewing such virtue signalling.
The workplace is a supportive, creative and productive community – hard to replicate on screen.
Strong cultures are critical to successful businesses – universal lockdown was not a backdrop against which to make any future plans and this period has been a major test of that culture.
The success or failure of universal lockdown was a tribute to a company’s corporate culture.
How have you and your team stayed connected over the past months?
We introduced Teams just prior to lockdown in anticipation and, to my surprise, was immediately and enthusiastically adopted by all.
Have you noticed any changes in behaviour within your team – good or adverse, but some people thrive working from home, others definitely do not?
During the 1st lockdown, working from home was a novelty. It was a collective experience – a collective learning curve.
Nobody was revelling in it but we survived, some survived better than others: for example, those with a spare bedroom or even office space were obviously better off than those who were confined in their own bedroom.
But as a generalisation, I would say that people found some types of work easier without the distractions of a busy office, others suffered from a lack of informal discussion, fast answers and exhaustion from the endless, endless Zoom, Teams et al calls.
I also think there was the comfort and attractions of home working for some which probably ended up working better for them than for the company.
Younger team members in particular simply don’t learn without the positive interactive environment of the office and studio.
Has it been manageable overseeing creative work whilst at home?
Inevitably it is less successful. The inevitable formality of creative reviews when all are working from home is a good thing but much more difficult for unsuccessful rabbit holes to be spotted before huge amounts of time have been committed. It kind of works but it is time-consuming and consequently, a profitability issue begins to rear its head.
What do you miss about not being in the studio?
I miss the serendipity of an off-the-cuff conversation which sparks a bigger idea – sitting round the table brainstorming can’t happen online.
I miss seeing the kernels of great ideas and the ability to put the immediate breaks on less successful ones. Good ideas can’t be scheduled into a diary. The organic nature ideas is harder to harness remotely – actually pretty impossible.
What is one positive that has arisen from the past few months?
We have been lucky with our clients and pitches and that is the major positive, but if I had to pick one: I would have to say the extraordinary commitment, work ethic and resilience of the team.
The team have been utterly brilliant.
But saying this, it has been incredibly hard work for them. People are becoming emotionally exhausted. It’s been a bizarre year and the Christmas break can’t come fast enough.
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?
A couple of years from now do I think we will all be working from home? No, I don’t.
A creative agency requires collaboration.
We will be considerably more accommodating towards remote working, and certain tasks are better done outside the bustle and noise of the office. We have taken on more space in order to create different areas, some phone-free, to allow a less formal structure to suit different types of work. We have planted a rain forest and biophilia has become central to our working environment. This year has caused us to think carefully about where we work and what people want from their workspace – so in a perverse way, the pandemic has probably made us a better and stronger company.
Find out about Andrew Derrick, Socrates and their amazing work here.