Agency Culture is Dead.
So What Does Team Building Look Like In A Remote World?
March 3, 2022
The maxim goes, people quit people, not jobs. But what makes them stay? Or better yet, what intrigues them to join a company in the first place? It’s these burning questions that wake agency leaders in a cold sweat, nightmares of two-week notices and talent running for the freelance hills dancing in their heads. But the answer isn’t scary, or even hard.
The answer is culture.
According to Psychology Today, pre-pandemic, the psychological contract between employee and employer was largely transactional, each party focused on their own interests. Now, amidst the Great Resignation, employees have leverage to ask for more—and they are, demanding the flexibility and empathy of a more balanced, relational contract. In other words, the work culture revolution is underway.
Our industry is uniquely challenged; we’re built on a work hard, play hard ethos. And without the play, the camaraderie, the dumb deskside jokes and coffee walks and the special sort of bonding that can only come 400 revisions deep, staring at each other in a darkened edit suite and wondering where it all went wrong—I digress—our agencies are primed for prolonged burnout. So how does one foster culture when it’s almost impossible to get a team together in the same city, let alone room?
You stop thinking about culture as something that springs forth from foosball tables and pizza parties and virtual drinks, and start seeing it for what it should be: a mindset intrinsic to every facet of your company.
A few considerations:
- Culture is personal. The expectation has shifted from “work for” to “work with.” Not only are talent looking for companies that align with personal values and beliefs, they’re in search of leaders who will have their back and fight for their best interests with the verve of a work bestie. Which leads to my second point.
- Culture is action. It’s showing up. It’s listening. It’s being honest when you’ve messed up and respectful of others’ time and contribution. It’s doing. Examples pop up daily on social feeds: organization-wide weeks off, no-meeting days, stat holiday swaps that allow employees to celebrate according to their culture and beliefs versus the government’s calendar. This isn’t suggesting that everything boils down to more time off, but rather that these acts signal empathy. They infer that if you work here, you can confidently expect to be treated like a human being. Culture is as much about fostering good times inside the agency as it is about protecting the lives going on outside.
- Culture is inclusive. Creativity thrives when we collaborate with those who see and experience the world differently from ourselves. Varied perspectives make for better work. The more inclusive your space, the more people will feel comfortable showing up as their authentic selves—and the richer and more interesting your work environment will be.
- Culture doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Listen, summer parties are rad. And old-fashioned team building will always have its place. But sometimes culture isn’t built brick by brick, but tiny Lego by Lego. A simple check-in, a simple “you’re doing great,” a simple “you sound like you’re having a day Kate, why don’t you take the afternoon off for one of those cry walks you keep telling me about”—theoretically speaking—can be all it takes to make an employee feel seen and valued.
And that’s the crux of it. Good, healthy culture gives employees a sense that you’re glad they’re here. It may sound obvious and a bit twee, but let’s remember, imposter syndrome runs rampant in our industry. Positive reinforcement goes a hell of a lot further than negative. If you invest in people’s wellbeing—in the whole person, not just the creative brain—you’ll foster a community of diligent workers, people who will push the work of their own volition. People who want to stick around. And if you don’t, you’ll get people who work just hard enough—and are probably building their freelance portfolio as you read this.
So, advertising industry, let’s embrace this shift. Find what makes sense for your company, your team, and take the leap. Let’s work hard, but play a little nicer.
Kate Roland is a writer and creative director not terribly qualified to tell anyone how to run their business, though decades of experience as an empathy-minded human has given her an idea or two. She currently works with the good people at One Twenty Three West to whom she’s grateful for being open and supportive of her millennial dreams to make this industry a better place.