Member Q&A Series: Ad Operations teams, flexibility, and ways of working to cope with lockdown

On September 23, 2021 Research & Resources

Since last year we’ve all become increasingly used to working through lockdowns here in Australia and have all had to evolve our working practices for both teams and as individuals so as to work more efficiently remotely, enable genuine flexibility and cope with increasing workloads in such unprecedented working environments.

The impact has been universal but is particularly keenly felt by Ad Operations teams, so the Standards & Guidelines council (who are largely made up from senior AdOps and TechOps specialists) are looking to provide some guidance and transparency on this topic from a personal perspective but also from their businesses and the teams they manage. We hope you find this useful…

Ben Murray, Director of Technology & Operations – Interplay Media

As a very busy team who are used to furiously interacting f2f but are now working remotely, how are you managing to ensure that all the operational day-to-day requirements can still be met as Interplay continues to grow?

It’s important to stay connected to your team. All throughout this year communications tools have been vital for working from home.

Google Hangouts and Zoom meetings can cause fatigue, and we have found success in connecting each morning briefly for 10-15 minutes, and essentially focusing on well-being predominantly. We then will have company WIP each Monday, but for the rest of the week the focus is on staff well-being as opposed to day-to-day activities, we leave that to the chat channels.

We’ve found communications tools like Slack to be invaluable in being able to stay connected and across different team requirements via the channel options this excellent solution offers. Interacting with sales versus editorial, or accounts is very easily managed. Prior to the Pandemic my main comms solution was email, now, undoubtedly it’s Slack. I’m honestly not sure how I’d have managed without it!

Do you have any recommendations or advice on how to ensure that you personally, and your team as a group, continue to maintain healthy levels of well-being as well as clear continued business focus?

I have used the following strategies to help staff navigate this season:

The first tip that I can recommend for maintaining a healthy mindset during lockdowns is to try and maintain as much of a routine as you would as if you were in the office or going about your daily business. For example, I always wear the clothes I would normally wear – even if I’m home, it sounds simple but it’s effective, I find myself more productive wearing the right attire.

Secondly, and this is a big one for people, try in communications to keep the subject matter away from Covid, Vaccines, Anti-Vaxxers, Vaccination rates, Protests etc. essentially any news that has nothing to do with your day-to-day or week-to-week tasks! I’ve found keeping clear of news and concentrating on the tasks in-hand helps keep a healthy mindset.

Thirdly, keep work and homelife balanced. We have tendency to work longer hours when working from home. How many of you have been guilty of regularly knocking off at eight or nine at night, when in an office you finish at five or six. Like the main point (routine) it’s important to balance homelife with work. Put a fixed time on the end of your day, and ensure all notifications etc will be answered tomorrow, instead of tonight!

Finally – we encouraged the team to have a reward focus for helping the business through this period. Some companies have offered extra day’s leave, others have offered cash incentives, we have offered staff a holiday incentive, in order for them to not only visualise the reward, but have also encouraged the sharing of ideas on what holiday they would like to take. This helps also with the focus of something to aim and look forward to and building a team culture too.

Jessica Campbell, Market HR Lead AUNZ – Google

How has Google sought to support their large workforce here in Australia through all the most recent lockdowns?

We recognise that it has been both a unique and challenging time for our Googler community. As a result, we’ve been asking ourselves a few important questions including: How can we make sure the health and safety of our employees remains our top priority? How can the transition to working from home not only be effective but also an environment where Googlers can continue to thrive? And how can we continually focus on our employees’ mental well-being and resilience?

What we have learned since the start of the pandemic is the imprtance of connecting with our teams, listening and understanding the challenges faced by them – and not only listening but taking action. A great example of this was during lockdowns and school closures, a time when many Googlers were trying to juggle work and family commitments. To support we globally offered extended Carer’s Leave which included up to 14 weeks of paid leave so Googlers had the flexibility and choice to continue taking care of their loved ones as needed.

We also know that pressures not only extend to those with carers’ needs, beyond this lockdown can be isolating, especially for those away from families, living on their own or unable to connect with friends and colleagues. Here our Culture Clubs stepped up to lead activities for Googlers – keeping them entertained, connected, and informed. Culture Clubs organised initiatives such as Mental Health Month, open conversations on wellbeing and resilience, visual team step challenges and visual team get-togethers with our favourite Google snacks sourced from local businesses.

We also continue to offer resources and tips to help Googlers manage stress and build their resilience as we navigate the global impact of the virus, including self-care while working from home and access to professional counseling and mental health resources.

For example, no meeting weeks – essentially here teams are encouraged to have no meetings scheduled to allow time to focus and reduce the mental load that comes with numerous meetings throughout the day. This gives Googlers space to focus on independent work. While of course, there are exceptions for teams that are working to hit hard deadlines or supporting critical work, team leads are encouraged to move or reschedule no meeting weeks to a time that works best for the team.

How has this approach helped you and your teams in terms of both performance and client service, but also in terms of well-being?

What I love about Google is that we build plans for everyone. This means being sensitive to the fact that whilst there are many shared experiences for us during this pandemic, there are also many unique situations and individual circumstances impacting us all. (i.e. for some it’s about being a caregiver or parent, for others it’s about coping living alone, managing a health concern or even trying to build a career whilst never having stepped foot into an office). All of these situations are of equal importance and need to be considered.

What we have seen is that Googlers did an extraordinary job of adapting to working remotely. We know now that while there may have been struggles and pain points at the beginning, we’ve also learned that many employees really value the flexibility they became familiar with throughout the pandemic with our adjusted policies (i.e Carer’s Leave or Global Day Offs). They value when a company and team are constantly demonstrating support throughout this challenging time – whether that’s more regular check-ins from managers or opportunities to connect with colleagues.

We’ve seen more teams organising well-being sessions and safe spaces for employees to share their experiences. These programs and policies go a long way to making our employees feel supported.

Archanah Lingam, Strategic Partner Manager AUNZ – Google

How has this approach helped you and your teams in terms of both performance and client service, but also in terms of well-being?

Personally, having the extended carers leave option and the well-being days off has been so helpful to cope with stress related to managing a full-time workload and life with a toddler, especially recently when the daycare centre had to shut down due to a Covid case. When you are feeling refreshed and recharged you are able to perform at your best and when everyone around you is doing the same, it becomes the norm so you don’t feel guilty for taking time out.

Taking the extra days off or working shorter hours did not mean our workload had reduced but it has taught us to better manage our time at work and prioritise tasks that are really important for our clients and team.

Nathan Farrugia, Technical Operations Specialist – REA Group

Have you noticed any unintended consequences of flexible working, both positive and negative, that are impacting you personally and/or your team?

REA have always been ahead of the curb in relation to flex working. I personally see mostly positives consequences of having the choice to work from home or in the office. A good split between office and home allows us to get the best of both worlds. I would traditionally spend almost 3 hours commuting to work and now having the flexibility to work from home is great (when the office opens again).

Working from home allows for a much greater opportunity to get into deep focus with minimal distractions and get the tasks at hand done quickly and efficiently.

What initiatives have REA been rolling out to help continue support their people through these recent lockdowns?

The health and safety of REA Group’s people has remained the number one priority throughout the pandemic.

REA was able to move seamlessly into a virtual working environment when lockdowns were first announced. Our well established flexible and agile workplace practices helped maintain trust with our employees when the need to quickly adapt arose.

They strive to create a culture that balances flexibility with meaningful connection. It’s been over nine months now since we started working in a hybrid mode at scale. A future of work model the people help create. They are consistently listening, testing, learning and re-iterating the way we work to ensure it balances business needs, flexibility for the people and REA’s unique culture.

To help support people throughout the pandemic REA adopted additional measures including:

o The ability to access uncapped personal leave for home schooling, caring for children, undertaking critical activities, getting vaccinated, or mental well-being.
o A strong focus on mental health and work/life balance with Zoom free hours, office-wide shutdowns, summer Friday hours and up-skilling members of our P&C team with mental health first aid training.

Open and honest communication channels are key to the success of maintaining employee engagement throughout lockdown periods and hybrid working:

o REA have an emphasis on keeping us connected which led to the introduction of a weekly CEO-hosted virtual townhall throughout most of 2020 (this is now monthly).
o REA posed a pulse survey question over 14 weeks: “I believe REA Group is effectively managing the current challenges to secure our future” with an average of 92% of employees strongly agreeing.
o Tools such as Zoom, Slack and Sharepoint helped keep communication channels and collaboration spaces open.

REA was also committed to retaining jobs and throughout the pandemic they worked with our people on the ‘give and the get’. Staff were asked to take a few extra-long weekends throughout lockdown periods which helped reduce annual leave balances, but also gave us the chance to recharge during a stressful period.

This balance of the ‘give and the get’ is important to REA’s culture.

Paul Luckett, Head of Commercial Ad Technology – News Corp

Have you noticed a different impact on the well-being of your teams through these more recent lockdowns?

Last year’s lockdown was a huge change in our professional lives, every business being forced to become accustomed to a fully remote working operational model, it was a challenge and it definitely impacted productivity for a time. With last year being such a shock to the system there was a strong effort from everyone to stay connected to colleagues, friends and family which really helped everyone get through that difficult time. I have fond memories of many late nights at our ‘Virtual Aurora’, or playing Playstation with my colleagues until 3am on a Friday night. So while it was professionally challenging, it was probably less so on a personal level.

This time around it’s the opposite, the work aspect of things are great, we’ve now fully adapted to flexible remote working and productivity hasn’t been affected, but I think on a personal level we are all tired, we all miss our friends and family, I think it’s been much more draining mentally, and we are just ready for this to be over. I also believe that while Australia was able to avoid much of the tragedy that the rest of the world endured, watching our friends and family in other countries get back to normal and sharing their travels online – while we are stuck in a lockdown – has been difficult.

This year we’ve had much more of a focus on mental well-being and work life balance, and encouraging people to make sure they aren’t working too much and are able to step away from their screens, as well as taking time off here and there to recharge and change up their schedule.

Have you noticed any noteworthy ramifications as a result of the ongoing flexible and remote working environments (both positive and negative) that are impacting your teams or you personally?

There has definitely been a lot of learnings from these past 18 months! Too many for a paragraph or two. On the positive side, the obvious flexibility in the options people have for where and when they do their work, being able to plan work around your life and still succeed at both, the opportunity to work and still see more of your kids, this is a great step forward. I know I’ve really enjoyed spending more time with my dogs in the past year than ever before!

On the negative, I think it’s had a large impact on how you build culture. You know how some roles or companies just feel ‘special’, there’s something about the time you spend there that is different, life changing even, and you walk away with friends for life. I think the answer is community. Every time I’ve experienced this in my career it’s been at companies where there’s been a very strong, positive and inclusive community where you really feel like you are part of something. We have such an amazing community of people at News, but the move to remote working has meant we’ve had to find new ways to foster and maintain that, which has been difficult.

It’s more challenging to maintain a community of people who haven’t been in the same room as each other for months on end, and we definitely noticed a big difference in morale as soon as we were able to get people in the office together again.