Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

Starting a New Job When All You Have is Zoom (and a Picture of David Bowie)

Advertising Agency
London, UK
After returning home from Australia to the UK in lockdown, Brothers & Sisters Ella Rybacki joins the unique group of industry staff Starting From Home

Brothers & Sisters’ recently-joined Senior Account Director Ella Rybacki on WFH’s exciting lockdown sibling, SFH


If six months ago you had told me that I would be completing my first week in a new job having never met any of my colleagues face to face, I would have thought you’d gone insane. 

I work in advertising. It is all about people and chemistry. Surely it won’t work. 

A little bit of back story: after 18 months of travelling and working in Australia, I arrived back in the UK the day before the country went into nationwide lockdown, jet-lagged and jobless. 

The more I heard stories of furloughed staff and hiring freezes throughout the advertising industry, the more my hopes of finding my dream job dwindled.  

Until one day the advertising gods took pity on me and I was invited to interview for a role at creative agency Brothers & Sisters. Finally, the prospect of a job. And one I would want in real life. I just had to navigate how to sell myself on Zoom. 

I selected my best upper-half interview outfit (business on the top, pyjamas on the bottom), set up my laptop teetering on a pile of books so my camera was at face height and dialled into my first Zoom interview.

To my surprise – and delight - it was the most enjoyable interview I’ve ever had. 

 No need for a sweaty handshake after awkwardly sitting in reception - and fortunately, no dodgy internet connection either. It was actually more direct and focused and I wonder if both sides worked harder to get to know each other because of the circumstances. 

The only moment of paranoia came when I realised how quickly they clicked leave at the end. That immediate and fast ending is not what happens in real life. Was it too fast? Could they not wait to get rid of me?  

Thankfully I got the job, so now I  wouldn’t just be working from home but starting from home. Or SFH as no doubt it will be known in the history books. I am first SFH person in my family. 

The first few days have been a bit of a learning curve. Finding a suitably grown-up area with a nice-but-not-distracting background for my makeshift ‘office’ was a challenge (the modern plight of the MP/news correspondent). I spent less time figuring out what outfit to wear for my first day than propping my backdrop.

For the interview, I had a picture of David Bowie behind me. Was it ok to switch rooms and instead have some oriental art behind me? Should I bring Bowie with me, or would that be too much of a statement on day one? Was the covert reference to a Space Odyssey too ironic for my first virtual  week, would it feel like I really was Major Tom to Ground Control, sitting in a tin can high above the earth? Rather than Tunbridge Wells…

It soon became clear that everyone keeps their camera on all the time so there was no hiding behind blank screen with just my name on it. I went with oriental art. No regrets.

A lot of thought had gone into setting up separate  induction sessions on every Client. I think Zoom has required a lot more pre-planning and that has been great from my perspective and I have been able to absorb more information than I had imagined I could. 

The regimented aspect of committing to Zoom meetings seems to make everyone arrive on time and finish on time. Which is unheard of in my experience of agencies. Usually meetings rock ‘n’ roll backwards and forwards like a Portaloo at Glastonbury. Zoom seems to be brilliant at providing a more stable platform to getting your stuff done. 

There are downsides, though. Everything tech-related has taken 2.5 times as long to sort out, but the team has been 2.5 times more patient than is usual. 

I miss the promise of the ‘welcome coffee’, ‘welcome lunch’ and ‘welcome drinks’ to bond with the team. Production briefs now have an extra layer of complexity. I’m still not 100% Zoom-literate and at the time of writing I am yet to access the server. 

The positives have definitely outweighed the negatives. The culture seems to be able to survive even behind a screen and doesn’t need a welcome lunch to be established. I don’t miss the commute. I like wearing slippers to work. I like working outside and not feeling guilty about it. I’m relishing having structure to my day once again, interesting briefs to get stuck into and new clients to learn about. Finding innovative ways to not let the pandemic halt all production is a creative process I’m enjoying being part of. For an industry that relies so much on teamwork and in-person collaboration, it’s fascinating to witness the (relatively smooth) shift to be fully virtual. 

On Friday we are having our first virtual cocktail leaving drinks for a member of the team and everyone has chosen a drink to be delivered to their house ready-made. It would seem wrong to order an Old Fashioned… 

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