Business Unusual: Onboarding Remotely - AML's experience
Continuing our Business Unusual series we look at how new team members can be welcomed into a business under lockdown.
It may seem untimely, tactless even, to be talking about hiring new staff when so many agencies and other firms are laying people off because of the global pandemic. But sometimes, through accident or need, it happens. Ian Henderson, CEO of AML Group, talks us through their recent experience.
We’re a few weeks in to the new normal of remote working. The move to working from home was a double jolt to AML, having just moved into a shiny new space at the Tea Building in Shoreditch then moving out again a couple of days later. It was just long enough to find the nearest coffee shop, bag the best locker and make sure the new tech was working.
Fortunately, it worked beautifully thanks to our excellent IT support team. Virtual server access, new phone setup and everyone on Microsoft Teams meant we were ready for the crisis even before it happened. Working with clients around the world meant videoconferencing was nothing new; and we even managed our first remote pitch during the few hours we were in the new building.
Our new FD, Sheena Shah, joined AML from Fallon only a few days before. Sheena just about had time to learn peoples’ names before being plunged into full crisis management mode, looking at smart ways to protect the business and look after our people, while giving our clients the service they are still needing from us.
AML does simple ideas for complicated businesses – advertising, content and digital strategies for organisations in finance, technology, government, professional services. These tend to be sectors where the current crisis demands more communication, not less; we know we are very fortunate to be less exposed to sectors like travel or events. It means we’ve had a busy few weeks – so busy, in fact, we decided to go ahead with a senior creative hire despite every instinct saying the opposite.
Starting a new job at home in a global pandemic feels pretty surreal, especially when your first brief is a pitch!
Creative director Ross Garden and I met Dan Wright, a senior creative writer who had spent some years working at Lida and M&C Saatchi, a week or so before the crisis. We liked him, and his track record seemed exactly right for us. We have a terrific ‘family’ of freelancers who often work with AML but we felt strengthening our in-house team would make client continuity easier while working remotely; plus we didn’t want to lose Dan, so we went ahead with the hire.
Dan himself was surprised – he’d thought the lockdown would change things and only started believing it would happen when AML MD Tim Lloyd turned up on his doorstep with a brand new laptop – leaving it a safe distance away, obviously. The next day Dan was using it to join the all-hands morning meeting on Teams video – feeling very foolish and still wondering if it was some April Fool’s Day prank.
It wasn’t – an hour later he was being briefed on a pitch, and soon found working as half of a creative team over video link just as productive as being across the same desk. Dan tells us he always feels anxious during a pitch, and that was the same; and there were inevitable glitches in communication – working apart meant Dan couldn’t have the same degree of control over every aspect of the work as he was used to and some things couldn’t be fixed by walking across the office for a chat.
The pitch went well and everyone was buzzing afterwards – including Dan, who said the experience felt good but mentally exhausting. The agency knocked off early for Easter with a visit to the AML Arms, our virtual pub where everyone gets together for a gossip over a drink. We announced a couple of well-deserved promotions, Dan and Sheena joining in the congratulations as fully-fledged members of the team - even though Dan had never physically met anyone. But maybe that’s just normal, in the new normal.
You can read Dan's thoughts on starting a new role under lockdown at https://www.advertisingweek360.com/starting-my-new-creative-job-during-a-global-pandemic/.
Ian Henderson is CEO of AML Group