Leadership from your living room

illustration of people listening to a violin player

I recently joined tms (formerly The Marketing Store), a business I’ve admired from afar for many years as I developed my career at similar creative and integrated agencies including This is BD, DLKW Lowe (as it was then) and Mr. President.

Coffee in hand, my first day emotions were a mix of excitement and anticipation as I buzzed the door to my new work home at 16 Hatfields. The usual new starter protocols kicked in the minute I arrived: a personalized greeting card and welcome pack, a well-planned induction schedule, an office walk-a-round, the all essential IT introduction and of course, a new suite of tech devices.

Then, on my second day in the role, life—as we know it—changed forever.

In response to the escalating Covid-19 pandemic, our entire office switched to remote working. This presented me with an interesting challenge as a member of the leadership team eager to cement team, client and peer relationships. Suddenly, the only way I could interact with my colleagues was via Microsoft Teams.

The prospect of leading a business from my living room was initially daunting, but I was comforted by the fact that the work from home pivot was something affecting everyone. Honing your video conference ‘A game’, balancing work with home-schooling or caring for dependents, sharing domestic workspaces with housemates or children, pushing your broadband connection to the limit—this was new for all of us.

If anything, the shared camaraderie actually accelerated my settling in period. By the end of week one I genuinely felt like I’d been with tms (formerly The Marketing Store) for a year. I was ready to tackle this new challenge head on and champion the new normal. For me, that meant building a workday schedule with my husband that allowed us to balance home-schooling our 9 and 5 year old girls, whilst still giving each other the space needed to take important calls and focus on delivering for our clients. It’s been a challenge at times, but we’ve got through it with coffee (lots of coffee), an endless supply of snacks and wine, if the wheels fall off that day!

Fast forward three months and I’m amazed by what I’ve learned and what we, as a business, have achieved working remotely. From inductions with senior clients over a video call to leading a remote pitch, onboarding fellow new hires remotely to creating a sense of togetherness within a team I’ve never physically met, I’ve found new ways to communicate, to prioritize, to give direction and to drive growth in my organization.

I recently chaired a She Says Who’s Yr Momma virtual mentor session on ‘getting the best out of your team and clients remotely’ to share some practical tips and advice for others in a similar situation. Here are a few outtakes from that session that resonated with my own experience:

Be kind.  This is a challenging time for everyone. Nobody’s situation is the same so be patient, be open minded and be ready to adapt.

Be clear. Manage expectations by truly understanding what you, your team and clients can achieve within a given timeframe.

Be organized. You may need to accommodate new working schedules internally and externally. Build this into your plans to ensure flexibility.

Communicate. Honest, open dialogue is essential. Better informed = better prepared.

Remember balance. Working from home can blur the lines between your professional and personal life. Find time for yourself to reset and whatever your thing is, make it part of your weekly routine. Encourage your team to do the same.

Despite the distance, I feel that bonds are almost easier to forge in these strange times. The pandemic has brought us greater empathy, consideration and patience with our colleagues. There’s a shared understanding that although our circumstances vary massively, each of us is juggling something. Seeing people in their home environments, perhaps with a child popping up on camera or a cat walking across the keyboard, eases any tension or awkwardness and brings you closer somehow.

As a working mum, and a strong advocate for the progression of women, I am optimistic that this shared understanding will change our industry for the better. We’ve proven that truly flexible working is not only possible, but sustainable long term. If this approach can last, we’ll see more women continue their careers post children, bringing a new dimension to future leadership teams. This can only be a good thing.

Lockdown was forced upon us. How we decide to come out of it is a choice we all should feel empowered to make.

This article originally appeared on the CreativeBrief website.