GOBACK

31st January 2022

10 UK digital agencies share how the pandemic impacted them

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on businesses around the globe. Whilst some businesses may have boomed, for others, it may have been the downfall of their entire operation. If there’s one thing for sure, it’s that the events of the last couple of years have changed the way we work forever.

As a digital agency, Pixel Kicks have continued to operate efficiently throughout the pandemic by adjusting the way we worked and adapting to whatever guidelines and restrictions came our way. So, it got us thinking – how have other digital agencies survived the pandemic?

We reached out to digital agencies across the UK to get their thoughts.

We asked them:

  • How did you navigate through the early months of the pandemic?
  • How have you adapted your agency to accommodate WFH?
  • Does your team prefer WFH? How do you strike a balance?
  • Have you noticed any differences in client communication?
  • Do your departments or teams work differently now?
  • How do you keep a team connected when they work more remotely?

And finally…

“How would you describe the lasting impact of the pandemic on digital agencies?”

Here’s what they had to say…

The team at Apadmi

How did you navigate through the early months of the pandemic?

“I knew things were going to change for Apadmi this year, but we didn’t expect to move to a company-wide remote-working approach, meet new clients via zoom and consume this much ‘alcohol’ via our hands. But, with careful planning and sharp decisions, we’ve come out the other side and are excited for what 2022 holds. – CEO and Co-Founder of Apadmi, Garry Partington

How have you adapted your agency to accommodate WFH?

“We’ve really come together this year,” “We’ve introduced mindfulness sessions, virtual yoga, and employee protection and health schemes to our offering. In a difficult year, we’ve managed to focus on the small things that make our people feel happy and comfortable at work.” – CEO and Co-Founder of Apadmi, Garry Partington

Does your team prefer WFH? How do you strike a balance?

“There’s no denying that there are great perks when working from home. I for one didn’t miss the daily traffic jams on my commute to and from Media City during lockdown… Across the team, there’s a shared view that a hybrid working model gives the perfect blend. Having the benefit of no distractions when writing an important piece of content, but also being able to share ideas and ask questions over the desk, are equally as important. Recently, my team has reduced working from home to three days a week and joining up the two days we’re all in the office – planning the majority of our meetings around these office days.” – Emma Casson, Head of Marketing at Apadmi

Have you noticed any differences in client communication?

“We’ve been used to using collaboration tools like Google Meet, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams for several years now, and this just became the natural extension of that. Where previously there were more people in the room than were on Teams, now there’s no one in the room and everyone is on Teams. That’s a difference we adapted to quite quickly.

“However, throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen a slight increase – employees no longer have travel concerns to worry about, and clients no longer require face-to-face meetings that can sometimes involve time-consuming journeys.” – CEO and Co-Founder of Apadmi, Garry Partington

Do your departments or teams work differently now?

“As the marketing function, it’s key for my team to interact with each of the different departments within Apadmi and clear communication is crucial. Since the start of the pandemic we’ve all had to adjust and tailor our approach, as popping over to someone’s desk just wasn’t possible. Although we’re now seeing more people return to the office, this can vary week to week and so the main difference to the way that we work now is that we’re using more communication channels than ever before.” – Emma Casson, Head of Marketing at Apadmi

How do you keep a team connected when they work more remotely?

“For starters we have a team ‘stand up’ meeting most mornings, whether we’re in the office or not, to ensure we’re all aligned and to eliminate any blockers. Then throughout the day, we utilise our Slack channel which is a great instant messaging platform for sharing updates, asking questions and sending those all-important, motivational GIFs.” – Emma Casson, Head of Marketing at Apadmi


Greg Miles, Founder & MD – Bumbl

How would you describe the lasting impact of the pandemic on digital agencies?

I think the pandemic has accelerated the rate at which many agencies have shifted their focus to working with brands that are digital at their core, such as e-commerce brands, apps and software companies. There were many agencies that specialised in industries like hospitality, which almost became a non-viable business model during lockdowns. The trend towards digital business was already on a steady trajectory up to 2020, but the pandemic poured fuel on that fire and many agencies were forced to adapt and pivot to working with digital-first brands quickly, in order to survive.

Besides this, remote work is the big change that we’ve seen. Now that both employers and employees in this space have seen that you can produce effective results with remote teams, this is something that will stay with the industry forever. Whether it’s a fully remote relationship or some kind of hybrid model, agencies that rely on 100% office-based teams are probably going to be rare.

zoom meeting

Angela Roche – Design By Day

How did you navigate through the early months of the pandemic?

Before I crack on with answering these questions – I should start by saying that Design By Day, the agency I ran for 12+ years, is no more. In September I called time on the company, not due to C19, although the Pando definitely played a part in the perfect storm of events in 2021 that lead to my decision.

I no longer have the amazing folk around me that made up DBD, but as they go on to do bigger and better things, I’m now exploring a new journey as a solo creative, operating as Love & Logic.

Back in the early Pando days, when panic hit, and before the word ‘Furlough’ was part of the national conversation, my priority was to keep all the team employed as long as we had money in the bank, we all even agreed that we’d prefer to all work part-time than lose a member of our tight-knit team if it came to it. Luckily that ‘Disaster Plan’ didn’t need to play out, and by Autumn it was business as usual.

I did however make some business decisions in the early days, that in hindsight, I now wouldn’t consider the right call. I heavily discounted a number of projects and took on work that wouldn’t normally have been our typical staple – which did impact us down the line.

On the other hand, the Pando did give us the opportunity to help people. We had the opportunity to donate our services to Thank the NHS and a couple of other projects for NHS professionals and non-profits.

How have you adapted your agency to accommodate WFH?

Some younger members of the team found WFH particularly difficult, especially since they lived on their own.

When the 2nd lockdown kicked in – our policy was to let the team decide for themselves if they wanted to come into the studio or to work from home. It was important to me that each individual made their own decisions around their own physical and mental health and balance what’s right for them.

Does your team prefer WFH? How do you strike a balance?

Fast-forward to summer 2021 and most of the team were working from home, with 2 full time in the studio, and myself in and out. The physical disconnect really started to take its toll on the team

The office chats and jokes that had gelled us together in the past had depleted, and the after-work drinks were no more. Everyone missed each other, and Slack / Skype / Zoom conversations didn’t cut it. Sadly, we didn’t hit a balance.

Have you noticed any differences in client communication?

Yes, comms became more focused, succinct and productive.

Do your departments or teams work differently now?

Even though DBD is no more, I still work with a few of the team that have decided to also go the freelance route. We work in a similar way with the usual remote comms tools and apps.

How do you keep a team connected when they work more remotely?

Before the final decision to close DBD, we were in the process of making plans to bring back the office vibe through regular events and socials. After vaccination – more members of the team made plans to return. Unfortunately, these plans didn’t come to pass as shortly after I made the decision to close.


Darren Ratcliffe, Founder – Digitl

For most agencies, the pandemic has enabled them to fully take advantage of the ability to apply flexibility to the way they operate their businesses on a day to day basis.

With Digitl we have opened a second office, allowing our staff to work from central Manchester or Oldham where the majority of our staff live. This cuts down on their travelling time and gives them the choice of where they choose to work.

When we were all originally asked to work from home, communication between the team was a real worry. What we have found is that by putting structured plans for communication together, we communicate much more effectively than we did before.


Danny Travis – Brown, Digital Marketing ConsultantDTB Digital Marketing Consultancy

How did you navigate through the early months of the pandemic?

We took precautions and moved to remote working early-on in the pandemic as a number of our team caught public transportation to our office in the city centre. We scaled back on our own personal marketing budgets and managed to re-negotiate our tenancy agreement on our office at the time to make some precautionary savings.

How have you adapted your agency to accommodate WFH?

At the start of the pandemic, we switched to Discord for team chat. It’s an awesome platform for team chat and can be sub-categorised into relevant channels like client campaigns, sales, admin and so on. We’ve also gradually moved now to an 80% WFH arrangement – we have one day a week in which the whole team gets together, and the rest of the week are free to come and go from the office as they please.

Does your team prefer WFH? How do you strike a balance?

Some team members seem to prefer it, others prefer coming into the office more regularly. By making the 80 / 20 split optional our team are free to strike their own balance and discuss days where it would be beneficial to come in and collaborate, and days when they’d prefer to WFH and get stuck into a project.

Have you noticed any differences in client communication?

There have obviously been fewer requests for face-to-face meets and client visits to our office, which has also been true of the sales process. Before we always liked to present our campaign plans and website analysis to clients on-location, but now with the mass-adopting of video calling platforms like Zoom & Microsoft Teams, almost every presentation and meeting takes place via video call & screen share.

Do your departments or teams work differently now?

Only in terms of communication. We split our teams into pods, so they’re able to set up private servers and chats using discord for questions and updates. We’ve also used screen recording software like Loom for simple video walk-throughs and stand-ups to share project progress.

How do you keep a team connected when they work more remotely?

We make time to have a weekly stand-up and stand-down by video call. We use live video conferencing to share each team member’s tasks for the week, and then finish each week with a closing stand-down call to discuss progress, wins and any obstacles that we may need to collaborate on to resolve.

Rather than write a standard article listing some of our own ideas, we’re reaching out to fellow agencies across the UK & Ireland with the aim of creating an in-depth collaborative piece.

I’m sure you’re very busy, but if possible please could you answer the following question, so we can include your agency in the article:

“How would you describe the lasting impact of the pandemic on digital agencies?”

I think agencies that didn’t have systems and software in place to accommodate remote working have been forced to adopt a new way of working, especially when it comes to communication. For agencies and clients alike, we’ve realised how viable a hybrid model of flexible remote working and 1-2 days of face-to-face office days creates a healthier and preferable working arrangement for staff.

hybrid working

Andy Thevarokiam, MD – Podium

How did you navigate through the early months of the pandemic?

The first few days of the pandemic were horrendous. I was scared to pick up my phone or look at my email as every time it rang or pinged it was one client after another – hospitality, travel, leisure etc cancelling their retainer. I honestly thought it was game over as I watched the accounts disappear under my eyes. Thankfully after the first few days of panic, things started to settle and it was obvious that there were certain clients that had to shut, but others who were going to ride the storm.

We were left with a shell of the former business but still a sustainable one. Thankfully, due to the good relationships we had, all of our clients that had to close are now back with us, as well as multiple client wins putting us in a better place than we were before the pandemic struck.

How have you adapted your agency to accommodate WFH?

We have always had a flexible working environment where you can choose when to work and where to work from. We even have unlimited holidays. Having said that, most of us did choose to work normal hours from the office for easy communication, and of course the banter. Switching to full time working from home has been strange, but overall, it works well for us and removes the costly office prices.

Does your team prefer WFH? How do you strike a balance?

Some of us do, some of us don’t, and I think it changes each day just like working in an office. At the moment, we have no choice as we no longer have an office so it’s full-time home working for us all, but still with the flexibility of working when you like. I think long term we will get some kind of hot-desking space but until we have the confidence to do that, things will remain as they are.

Have you noticed any differences in client communication?

Client communication hasn’t really changed. We have regular Zoom and Teams meetings with all of our clients and it works really well. In fact, it’s often more regular because there is no travel. I think communication is also more casual and personal today because we’ve all supported each other through the stress of the pandemic.

Do your departments or teams work differently now?

We all work relatively similar to before, just a lot more communication goes on via email, WhatsApp and phone. The lack of travel has really changed things meaning we are more efficient. There’s no more spending a day travelling to London for a one-hour meeting. That meeting is done in an hour and you can then be getting on with different things. I think everyone has realised how much more you can get done when you remove travel from the agenda.

How do you keep a team connected when they work more remotely?

We have regular work meetings and enjoy monthly socials paid for by the company. We are only a small team and all get on really well, both in and out of work, so that definitely helps!


Marcus Miller, SEO & PPC Consultant – Bowler Hat

How would you describe the lasting impact of the pandemic on digital agencies?

I am not sure we can accurately answer this question just yet as the pandemic is not over so things are still to some extent in flux.

Certainly, online meetings have been expedited by the pandemic, as has working-from-home. Both of these have pros and cons but overall, for digital agencies, this has likely just rapidly sped up things that were happening anyway.

Personally, I am conflicted regarding working from home. I would rather have the separation of work and home, but I appreciate that for some people, the additional flexibility can be a real boon. For my wife, when our children were young, her business was run from home and she would split her day by doing a bit of work very early, then the school run, then some work in the middle of the day, then the school run and possibly a bit more later. It allowed work to fit around life and that was hugely beneficial. Most jobs don’t work like this.

It also varies by the individual, there are no hard and fast rules. Some folks do well at home. Others not so much. Some jobs are easy at home. Others not so much. I do feel that more creative aspects and discussion are just not the same over video calls and it is the organic conversations in the office that often lead to some of the best ideas.

How will this play out in the long run? It is hard to say. I would like to think that this leads to more flexibility with regards to working practices and a better quality of life for us all.

Hybrid working and flexible hours – that is what I would like to see.


Sue Keogh – Sookio

How did you navigate through the early months of the pandemic?

The thing I’m really proud about is that our instinctive approach was to solve problems. Not to panic, or to pace the room wondering when the briefs would come in…because the thing was that clients weren’t able to make decisions because they were going through exactly the same turbulent period too. So we made sure we looked after our clients, focused on their goals and kept saying, look, we’ll still get you there. The route might have changed, but we’ll keep that in our sights. the way we pulled together behind the scenes but also looked after our clients too says a lot about us as an organisation.

How have you adapted your agency to accommodate WFH?

From day one we started having a daily Zoom call, which has acted as a safety net to help make up for all those chance or overheard conversations in the office being missed. We use Slack a lot, and check in regularly to make sure everyone’s got the right equipment. And also check in on mental health; everyone is in a very different situation and we need to be mindful of each other’s needs.
The hardest thing is being half in, half out. It’s been easier when we’re all remote or all in the office. Hybrid meetings are still not as frictionless as I’d like them to be.

Does your team prefer WFH? How do you strike a balance?

People do like being in the office. We love our workplace! Drives me nuts how much of the lease we’ve wasted during this period. A lot of people have reached a balance where they come in a few days a week but work from home more than they used to. Me included! We got a puppy during lockdown and I like having this mix where I’m still in the office a lot, but also having plenty of dog walks, which are good for stress levels.

Have you noticed any differences in client communication?

We’re able to do a lot more consultancy than we used to. Previously, it would be based around visits to the office whereas now we can hop on Zoom and have more continuous communication, which has been great for us, and them too I hope. We still love seeing people in person. We keep on getting over-excited and buying biscuits – only to find that they feel the same and have bought cake!

Do your departments or teams work differently now?

We’ve expanded during the pandemic period so this would have happened anyway. What’s interesting is that some people have only known this way of working at Sookio, so it feels normal anyway.

How do you keep a team connected when they work more remotely?

I’m a big fan of proactive communication. Hence the daily meetings rather than waiting for people to ask or volunteer information. We just have to keep an eye on Slack and make sure we’re not interrupting each other all the time. Now there are ten of us it can be a constant hum if we’re not careful. But we work in comms, we love communicating! We have a variety of Slack channels plus a WhatsApp group for more urgent essentials.

remote working communications

Craig Murphy – ALT Agency

How did you navigate through the early months of the pandemic?

The early months and specifically the first few weeks were pretty scary as we have never experienced anything like this before, so we were preparing for the first.

For us, it was all about open & honest communication with clients across many different areas such as strategy changes, staff resources/shortages and finances etc.
This honesty let everyone know exactly where they were and we believe that open communication helped us through the first few months and also helped make a very difficult period for some a little easier.

How have you adapted your agency to accommodate WFH?

At first, it was very difficult, not being able to sit in a room with people and get a better reading of situations and requirements etc, but Zoom took off pretty quickly and was a tool we already used so that made life a little easier.

Clients have also helped drive that as a lot of them are still and actually prefer working from home so it’s been part driven by that, if clients were demanding us back at their offices, we would be there but that hasn’t happened.

Does your team prefer WFH? How do you strike a balance?

Some do and some don’t. Some of the senior management and what you may consider “old school” team members think there’s nothing better than shaking hands and being in an office, but some of the younger staff prefer working from home.

For now, the balance is struck with only needing to go to the office for essential meetings which is pretty rare.

Have you noticed any differences in client communication?

Lots. Majority of it still stops at 5pm and around 1pm on a Friday as it did pre-pandemic, but Zoom meetings have made everything easier and quicker, even if it’s just 5 minutes here and there to catch up.

It all feels less stressed and less rushed now we don’t have to run to trains/taxis etc before and after meetings.

Do your departments or teams work differently now?

Yes, and in fact a lot better. The pressures of being late and travelling and rushing to be home all seem to be gone and people feel a lot more comfortable working from home.

We had to work a little harder on zoom at first and adjust our processes a little but we’ve now had almost 2 years to sort that so it’s all pretty normal feeling now.

How do you keep a team connected when they work more remotely?

That’s never been a problem and if anything we communicate more now as we have less distractions around us, are focused on zoom meetings a lot more and are not distracted or ready to run out of rooms to other meetings.

We probably have more quicker and focused meetings now than previously which helps make things a lot more flexible and easily adaptable.

How would you describe the lasting impact of the pandemic on digital agencies?

I think on one hand it has been very positive, there have been years upon years of technical advancements in just a few short months which has been great.

I think the days of 4 hours to and from London on a train are gone and replaced with the instant Zoom meeting but I do think face to face pitching like the “old days” will eventually come back when the time is right.

The industry is certainly booming now, businesses shifted online (where possible) during lockdown and that’s likely out the importance of digital at the forefront of business owners minds and this hue demand in work has certainly made the hiring market a lot more national and drove up demand for digital experts, but on the other hand for agencies, there’s the competition and remuneration side of things to balance.


Paul Barnes – MAP

MAP are not a digital agency, but specialise in working with them.

As the Finance Partner to so many digital agencies, MAP were, and remain, uniquely placed to see the many effects this pandemic has had on those agencies.

Some of these effects have been temporary, whilst others will change those businesses forever.

The overriding memory and hopefully long term effect, has been the need for every agency to be closer to their finance team. As the outsourced finance function we often only work within a set remit within the agency operation, but Covid meant that we often had to cover so much more and go much deeper into the business.

Payroll became more HR with Furlough claims and CJRS grants. Budgets and forecasting became more front of mind for so many agencies, as the line of sight on revenues came down to weeks rather than months for so many. Cash flow forecasting often became the number 1 board agenda, when often it has been much lower down the list of priorities.

We also found ourselves moving into the Advisory sector more, as agencies across all sectors required working capital and funding advice and a helping hand to work their way through the various government support schemes all the way through to M&A advice as agency owners questioned their desire to continue in the size and format they were, or even at all.

Agency owners needed to know that they were not facing these unprecedented challenges alone and MAP’s depth of experience in the sector gave comfort and value to so many.

As we work our way out of this pandemic then we look to see how those agencies will change on a permanent basis.

Cost reviews have been very popular from reviewing the pros and cons of hybrid / remote working through to utilities and operating costs reviews all the way to reinvesting in staff through benefit schemes, and specific programmes such as PAYE settlement agreements and MI schemes.

The role of the finance partner has undoubtedly changed and many agency owners now understand how achieving financial maturity will see their agency better placed to move forwards.


How has the pandemic impacted Pixel Kicks?

Chris Buckley, Founder & MD – Pixel Kicks 

How would you describe the lasting impact of the pandemic on digital agencies?

I don’t think anyone will say the last couple of years has been a good experience, but one thing for sure is that it’s forced us to make fast and swift changes at Pixel Kicks.

We’ve implemented permanent changes in the business to allow all members of the team the option of working two days from home each week, with the remaining three spent in the office. These days are flexible for each person, though we do ask that ideally, the days are the same week in week out, so we have a degree of consistency.

Prior to the pandemic, we used video conferencing sparingly, only when required, but now it’s a multiple times per day occurrence for everyone, and that won’t change.

The advantages this offers is that we now have more frequent but often shorter meetings with clients. Previously where we might have a longer monthly catch-up meeting face-to-face, these are now split into shorter and probably more effective calls.

Communication has always been something we pride ourselves highly on, and I think this is one area that has improved as a result of covid.

For us, it’s important that we maintain our daily ritual of a 9am stand-up call which the whole team is required to be on. It’s relatively quick and usually over in 10 minutes, but it forms a good starting point for the day, keeps us feeling closer, and makes sure everyone is up and ready to go.

We were already using a full softphone solution in early 2019, so this hasn’t changed, though we now use Zoom as a single VOIP and video calling solution. The whole team has headsets that allow us to answer calls fluidly whilst working on our computers, and the fact that our phone calls come through the same app as video calls means that routine communication internally or with clients is a simple process.

Speaking openly as someone who’s worked from home for a few years as well as being office-based, I’m firmly of the opinion that a balance is required.

Working remotely 100% of the time can work for some, but from speaking individually with our team, they much prefer to come into the office. For days where more focus is required, working from home is a perfect solution, away from the louder and distracting aspects of the office – particularly an open plan one like ours.

When I look back to when I was younger and just starting out in my career, having mentors around me, taking part in the daily social rigours and banter of the office, and just travelling to and from work gives you long-standing lessons and helps you grow as a person.

To miss out on this I think would be a shame.

 

By Emma Clure

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