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For the most part, organizations can’t control the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. They can, however, control the way their teams respond to it. It’s now critical for companies to tighten operations and develop work-from-home protocols that meet their businesses’ and workers’ needs with the nuances of virtual communication in mind. To understand how brands are adapting to this new normal, vice president of operations at Ayzenberg Jon Simon shares insight into how the a.network is staying organized, maintaining communication and re-creating office culture while teleworking.

What are some of the challenges that Ayzenberg is facing right now as a result of working from home?

For our business, our needs are exactly as we started: the core of communication and collaboration for the purpose of creation. Because this process optimizes the ability to make a connection and build something really beautiful, effective and impactful, the biggest challenge as a result of teleworking has been to shift our mindset and our practices of how we collaborate and how we communicate with each other. You can’t put a price on human to human connection and so right now we’re figuring out how to leverage technology to maintain the same integrity of communication.

What are some tools the teams at Ayzenberg are using while working from home?

The core of our operation is built on Microsoft products, specifically Outlook for email and calendar management, Microsoft Office for productivity and documentation, Excel for everything from budget management to accounting and operation and PowerPoint for presentation of the content. So even before the coronavirus pandemic, the core was already there for us to accomplish a lot of our goals.

We actually had started using Slack during its early days of launch as an additional communications platform and soon realized that we already had integrated Teams into our ecosystem. We were able to make a very easy transition because we found that Teams was able to carry the majority, if not all, of the functionality that Slack had and integrate into the system. So integration is a key aspect here.

Asana and Trello specifically as it relates to project management allow us to lay out actual project and creative briefs so that everyone is working towards the same goals and against the same requirements.

Additionally, Workamajig, which ties together our project management, resource management and accounting needs for the business, is another key platform that represents a majority of what every employee is having touch points with multiple times a day. 

Workamajig and Paycom also work very much in concert, bringing together human resources, payroll and agency operations. Time entry helps inform the business to the performance of the teams, which helps us look for opportunities where added support is needed or adjustments to the best business is necessary to accommodate the work that we have in front of us now as well as projected opportunities.

Our teams are using a number of other platforms which fill specialty needs, such as Wiredrive for large file transfers; for creativity, the Adobe Creative Cloud and the virtual Whiteboard built into Teams; Autodesk or C4D, which are very specific to the computer graphics and animation work that goes into a lot of the content through which brands tell their stories.

How can teams ensure they’re making the most out of these tools while teleworking?

Most people are probably only using 10 or 20 percent of what these tools have to offer. I encourage a lot of curiosity to experiment with the tools, which could result in new ways to use features that perhaps even the developers didn’t imagine people would use.

While Teams was already at the core of what we were using for both short form communication like video conferencing and screen sharing, we definitely have encouraged deeper learning and have shared information and guides.

Are there any tools Ayzenberg has adopted only recently as a result of the pandemic?

While we were prepared for COVID-19 and the impact it would have on our business as well as the entire world, no one can truly prepare for that massive of a shift in the way everybody’s working.

Before coronavirus a good number of our staff was actively working off site and remotely due to the amount of live activations we work on. We’re also moving into a culture where new generations are challenging the status quo of the way we’ve always thought of work. A lot of the traditions and the norms are being broken down and looked at in new ways.

The area we saw change and impact directly as a result of coronavirus is the depth of which we use these tools. As a result we’ve dug deeper into the full functionality of what these tools have to offer, which strengthens our use and ability to be productive.

Overcommunication in the time of coronavirus is critical not just on the brand to consumer side but also within an organization. Other than overcommunication, is there anything teams should be doing to make the most out of their teleworking situations?

What some don’t realize is the serendipity that happens within a physical work setting—the random interactions that you may have with other employees while away from your desk. Those random interactions can have a butterfly effect to an idea that might end up becoming a tentpole for the business for the next six months.

Working from home has made it a lot more difficult to have those in-person interactions so what you need to encourage is more of that group interaction in a digital space, even if it’s not for the purpose of a meeting.

We have teams that are creating virtual common spaces where they go to while taking a break or as they’re working through some of their either administrative tasks. This way they can keep a live open dialogue in the same way that they would if they were sitting in the same area of the office together. This open sharing mentality is a new habit to develop. Human interaction is so integral that you need to shift your mindset and be intentional about creating those types of environments. 

I have a firm belief that this shift in the way we work is going to result in a beautiful increase in the way that a company like ours will tell stories or a company like retail business will deliver end products to their customers.

Has Ayzenberg implemented any other new protocols since the onset of the pandemic?

The first would have to do with security. We have a responsibility to protect our clients’ IP, which is so valuable to what they offer to the marketplace. That’s very easy to control in a closed environment where you can mitigate all risk on any outside access to those servers. That no longer becomes an option once your employees work remotely.

So thinking about the products you use and making sure that they meet the security requirements for the needs of your business is paramount. While that’s always been a practice we’ve done pre-COVID-19, we are making an extra effort to remain a secure and effective partner.

The other aspect is encouraging communication and check-ins. We actually have our teams maintaining the same pace of check-ins because I think it’s part of what makes an environment that’s as agile and as collaborative as ours succeed. A constant flow of communication and visibility helps us maintain pace, effective management and support for everything that our workforce is attempting to do.

Do you think when the pandemic is over organizations could continue working from home full-time and still maintain efficiency?

Without question. If you ask anyone who works from home before all this, they’ll tell you they were able to be equally, if not more, productive. Now 100 percent of our workforce has experienced that for themselves. Exposure to this experience together opens our eyes to a brave new world, which is one where the physical and the virtual can coexist.
In addition to our North American offices, we’re operating with several global offices in Europe and Asia that help to service our clients and our partners. We now have this mindset that we’re operating with multiple local offices. Creating all these local offices increases the productivity and creativity and comfort of our staff. Beyond the business aspects, that equates to health and wellness benefits. The pandemic has made it so people can personalize the way they work in the same way one would personalize their social media page.