Virtual Quizzes, Happy Hours & Talent Shows: Siobhan Brunwin, MullenLowe Group UK

da Dasha Ovsyannikova

MullenLowe Group
Advertising/Full Service/Integrata
London, Regno Unito
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Siobhan Brunwin
People Director MullenLowe Group UK

Since employees have transitioned to working from home, how has the agency been helping them to adapt?

In March, we shut the agency quite suddenly as we had a suspected case in the office. Thankfully it was a scare, and everyone was healthy and well. Although the transition to working from home (WFH) was sudden, we had done some extensive planning in the weeks before to prepare. 

As soon as we started working from home, we set up a daily call with the broader leadership team to ensure we had a space to work out together how to best manage the agency through this and share what was working and what wasn’t. 

Fortunately, we have an incredibly hardworking and patient I.T team who have kept us going and who now have a personal understanding (/hatred) of everyone’s home wi-fi situation. 

My team started sending daily emails to everyone with supportive tips on various things, including how to WFH effectively, how to look after your mental health, and suggestions on how to spend the weekend indoors. 

Our facilities team did a fantastic job of couriering out chairs, laptop raisers, monitors, etc., to help us all create better working spaces at home. 

In May, we released “The little book of mental health” to support everyone through this tricky time. Recently, we have introduced a concept called ‘The Reset’ – to try and help us set better boundaries between work and home. When we first started WFH, people got themselves into a routine, but the longer this has continued, and with the nights drawing in, we wanted to give everyone some principles to help reboot themselves for the last few weeks of the year. This has included reintroducing the digital detox lunchtimes, only allowing emails to be sent during specific times, Headspace membership for all and inspiration afternoons – the opportunity to take some time off to get away from our screens and do something to develop yourself (a book/ taking photos/ trying a new recipe etc.) and share it with your team. 


How are the attitudes of employees evolving as the crisis continues?

Ronan Keating’s legendary song ‘Life is a Roller-coaster’ couldn’t be more apt for 2020. Lows feel low, and highs feel high, but it changes week to week. I think in general, our people have become even kinder, more empathetic to one another, they are more patient, and we have seen that shift in clients too. MullenLowe Group has always had a reputation as the ‘nice agency’ – but until now, that’s not always been considered a strength. Being nice – and we hope to be an agency that puts kindness and empathy at the heart of how it wants to operate – has been crucial to our success this year. 


What has been the most challenging part of working from home for team members?

If this pandemic had occurred even ten years ago, it would have been so much harder, but with the help of today's technology, our business has pretty much continued as usual. We’ve fortunately still been able to create and produce brilliant work for clients. However, nothing makes up for face-to-face human interaction. The joy of being in a room, bouncing ideas off each other, just doesn’t seem as magical via Teams. For certain teams, the virtual world has been especially challenging. Our production team has done such a heroic job, completely changing the way they work to ensure we are producing work safely but still to a very high standard. We have done our very best to support our 50 new starters with all sorts of virtual inductions; however, for them, it’s really not easy to join and navigate a new organization when you join virtually. 


Have there been any changes made within your agency to ease the process?

Of course, every team has changed how they operate and how they communicate. We’ve probably gone way over the top with meetings, but that’s because, in all honesty, nothing can replicate the watercooler chats. A lot of teams have put in social meetings – a space to talk about non-work-related things. We have started a virtual internship in our creative department called Suckers, which has been brilliant. It was essential for this to be a genuinely inclusive and non-biased program therefore, application was based solely on candidate’s response to the brief. We were able to have a lot more people involved in the interview process as its all run much more informally virtually. 


Has anything been done to try and preserve the office culture? How has the reception been internally?

We have done as much as we can to ensure we keep our culture alive in the digital world. 

We’ve hosted virtual quizzes, happy hours and talent shows. Charity initiatives and fitness competitions are still running. Teams were all given a budget to do a proper social together, virtually taking advantage of meal kits or virtual escape rooms to explore together. Every month we’ve hosted all agency meetings where we update everyone on the agency’s acitivites. This way, everyone feels connected and stays in the know about their colleagues’ ongoings even whilst we’re apart.

We’ve sent a shed load of surveys out to understand what people want to see happening. We’ve still been running a huge amount of training for people. We have had a great response and have regularly heard that we have gone above and beyond and couldn’t have done more. As I said earlier, our culture is very much based on thoughtfulness and that is what we’ve tried to show repeatedly with everything we’ve done this year, every decision we’ve made – putting people’s wellbeing at the heart of it. 


Are you planning to return to the office? Is there a plan to make some of the initiatives started during the pandemic?

We have had our office open since September for those that want to use it. Our facilities team has done an incredible job making sure it safe for us all to work in. We have a desk booking system in place, and numbers are very limited to ensure we comply with social distancing requirements. 

Everything has been on a voluntary basis; no one has been asked to come back to the office or feel pressured to meet their teams in person. We know though that having the office open has been very important to our people's mental well-being, we have spent so many months living in the one work/home space, it’s important to give people a different environment to come and do their work in. 

We will definitely be applying a hybrid, flexible approach in 2021. There have been many positives in working this way, and we want to give people control to work in a way that suits them and our clients. For us, we want people to feel safe about coming back to the office before we apply rules for which days we are in the office versus at home. 

That will all come in time, and I’m not sure a blanket approach will work for everyone or every team, but we are holding focus groups and getting everyone’s thoughts on how we make it work. 


What are some common mistakes you’ve seen from agencies transitioning to working from home? Do you have any tips?

This is a tricky one to answer as I think we have all got it wrong at some point. It’s a fine balance between communicating too much or too little, keeping everyone engaged and motivated while the world feels so out of control. I think everyone has tried their best & as long as people learn from what has worked and what hasn’t, that’s the best we can ask.