Working From Home: How 3AF Members Are Getting It All Done During COVID-19
The Asian American Advertising Federation, also known as 3AF, is the primary go-to resource when it comes to Asian advertising, Asian marketing, and the power of the Asian American consumer. During this pandemic, 3AF has put together a series of virtual webinars to create awareness, educate, and bring empowerment to Asian American consumers. All of the webinars are posted on 3AF.org/corona.
At the end of April, Cheryl Lee, Executive Director of Intertrend, and Javier Ortiz, General Sales Manager of KTSF-TV, discussed tips and strategies with Genny Hom-Franzen, Executive Director of the 3AF, for using technology while working from home, virtually managing clients, motivating internal teams, and finding the optimal balance of work and life.
While much has changed since the end of April in the state of the world, their tips and advice remain relevant. Here are some highlights extracted from the full conversation.
On the work experience before and after shelter-in-place
Cheryl Lee: Before the shelter-in-place, we spent more time together in the agency. In order to maintain a good agency culture, it's important to allow team members to engage, collaborate, and integrate. So face-to-face communication has always been important, since the agency culture is based on the people in the agency.
During this shelter-in-place, I have to say it's quite different, while not too painful, because we're pretty equipped when it comes to technology and the support we have. The very first few weeks were challenging for everyone, kind of chaotic, a lot of clients asked questions, we had to provide our POV and our response, whether that's making a recommendation on how to navigate through this unprecedented pandemic or to help the client to adjust their messaging strategy. Now, I would say that I have a better schedule, because I know the best routine for myself, trying to be as standardized as possible, and that keeps me focused.
Javier Ortiz: Before, it was 8–12 hours a day of communicating internally to assist the team, having one-on-ones with my sales people. Half my team is already remote, so I was somewhat more prepared for this.
You used to have work and then your normal routine of going to a gym afterwards to let out some stress and to take care of your health, and that's no longer a possibility right now, and then there used to be family time after work. Right now, it's really about maintaining your sanity. Because Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday - everyday can feel like the same day if you're not careful, and you're feeling like you're doing the same exact thing.
Now the full team is remote and that's the big difference for us. I'm not having those one-on-one interactions. So now it is just about being in the moment and being available for my staff and anyone that needs me. Sometimes I'll get one phone call and hang up and I'll get another phone call right after that. And I'm always available, so that hasn't really changed at all, but it is a different dynamic that we work in.
On tips and strategies for using technology
Cheryl Lee: It's very important to have great wifi. It's basic, but so important. Within the agency, we all had a laptop to begin with which made it easy for us to work remotely. Technology wise, our agency from the very beginning has had an internal Slack, a tech-based communication tool allowing the team to instant message and connect with people. So we have Slack channels that allow the agency to do updates, small team Slack channels, and fun random channels. It creates this office environment, but virtually.
And beyond that we also use Google Drive. It's important especially when we need to collaborate, develop, and create a proposal deck, for example. And the challenge, like I mentioned, is that we rely so much on face-to-face communication, which we still can, in a virtual way, but a lot of times it is required for the stimulation of ideas. So we're using different technologies to collaborate at the same time. We can see each other make updates, edit, drop notes, send notifications. It has been working out very well.
When there are so many technologies, it can get overwhelming. Everyday you're engaging by sitting in front of your computer, in front of your camera, so you get exhausted. So my strategy for balancing that is sometimes you don't have to rely on video conference calls. Traditional phone calls or emails can still work.
Javier Ortiz: It's really important to have a good laptop and have good wifi. That's key. Our engineering team has also set up what we call our VPN, our Virtual Private Network, because there are a lot of sensitive materials that go in and out of a TV station, so working with our news team, engineering team, and overall building on making sure we protect what's going on inside of our TV station and all the different communications that we want to get out.
Another thing is that there are more hackers out there than before because everyone's working from home. There have been fraudulent emails sent my way, phishing techniques where they're trying to grab information or take over your computer. That's something to let the team know about. If something doesn't look right, don't click on it.
On managing clients and motivating your team
Cheryl Lee: We have many out-of-state clients, so we're very used to working with clients virtually. Now, we need to continue engaging with them, but also put a little bit more consideration into understanding where they're at, because now our clients need to be staying home, they have kids running around in the background, so we need to be more sensitive. We try to navigate around clients' preferred schedules. They also have their preferred kinds of communication tools and security concerns, so we have to equip ourselves and navigate based on their preferences. Working with clients, I would say it's a continuation of what we have already been doing well.
Looking at our own team, who are all virtually working from home, we have to find a different way of engaging with them, to boost morale and to cultivate a culture. So how to do that? First of all, once we started shelter-in-place we started doing these daily check-ins. In the beginning it sounds daunting, like who wants a daily check-in. But in reality, when you think about it, before shelter-in-place, you actually speak with everyone in the office, whether it's on a water break or in the lunchroom, you engage people naturally. Now, you have to make that happen. We're bringing that light work environment virtually. The second thing we do is a lot of virtual team bonding, including virtual happy hour. We've also had team members showcase skills they never showed before. So for instance, a team member has baked cookies at home and then gave us a cooking tutorial.
Another tip is to keep spirits up, but be sensitive about their time as well. During the pandemic, we have to understand that people are going through a very difficult time. Reaching out to your colleagues is important. Even just a casual chit chat, five minutes, allowing them to know you care. I would say showing kindness right now is very important, continually building those relationships.
Javier Ortiz: Having a heart and caring. Empathy. I think that's one of the biggest things when it comes to managing our clients right now. Empathy, being flexible, being a true partner, sharing ideas, and having some community messages that they can put out there if they want to continue advertising on our air. If they have the funds for it and if they have the means for it, then we are going to put them in such a way that they are highlighted very positively to the community. We have different things that we've said like how to wash your hands better, how to avoid contracting COVID-19, different PSAs that our promotions team has done a really good job on. And we have also put some other things together called KTSF Family where we have different folks submit their videos to us of what they are doing to pass the time during COVID-19 and shelter-in-place and we've turned some of those into really nice pieces that we are promoting on air to change up the normal call and response advertising and branding we do.
Another big thing is to really let the team know, let our clients know, that we're all in this together. This COVID-19 thing is unprecedented. It's something that we've never seen before, and we have to really all do our part to keep each other safe.
As far as managing my team, I stay positive. I speak to different sales staff members every single day. I'm making sure I'm talking to them about their well being, about their family. Those are the kinds of conversations I'm having with a lot of them right now. They're dealing with multiple things in their lives and I understand that. I think you've just got to lead and guide them to help them find their success.
On balancing work and life
Cheryl Lee: It's important to define your boundaries. Defining the boundary to keep your life and your work as a focus, but prioritizing your mental health. We should really focus on that. These are the times for leaders to shine, showing compassion and empathy.
You deserve a proper lunch. I still remember the first one or two weeks of shelter-in-place. I didn't even find a break to have lunch because I felt obligated to be glued to my computer. We want to real time respond to all the requests and messages. We are very anxious. We're almost in a panic mode. But right now, understand that your mental health is crucially important. So keep that in mind, have a proper lunch, schedule some time for breaks. Balance between work and life is a thing you're allowed to have. In times like this, it's going to be very crucial for you to continue.
Lastly, I just want to focus on relationship building. No matter how you are building relationships, traditionally through phone calls or through video, anything to bring people closer, doing that. We shouldn't stop doing that, just because we are socially distancing. Emotionally we can engage with each other.
Javier Ortiz: I think for work life balance, one of the big things to look at is while you have to prioritize your work projects, you have to take the breaks and make sure you're not just working working working. It's super important for your overall mindset and how you handle the stress that comes with moving at such a fast pace sometimes. Some days are one call to the next or one project after the next, so I think it's really important to relax after you work. Read anything, do some crafts, do some puzzles, have fun.
I think staying active is important, riding bikes, visiting the park, walking your dog, spending time with your kids, eating healthy. All those different things have been very helpful for me to balance things out a bit, to make sure I'm getting my healthy side taken care of so I'm also focused on getting all my work done and being there for my entire team.
There's a quote by Sylvester Stallone I like, "No one will hit you harder than life itself. It doesn't matter how hard you hit back. It's about how much you can take and keep fighting, how much you can suffer and keep moving forward. That's how you win." And that's the biggest thing that I always try to tell my team, you know, we have to move forward.