Grace Dawson is a brand consultant, client partner and reputation builder who believes that the “best work comes from collaboration and that creativity has the power—and obligation—to change the world”. Apart from her role as a Director of Brand at Jones Knowles Ritchie, she was a jury member for some prominent awards and currently working as a teaching assistant for the Masters of Branding program at the School of Visual Arts and volunteers her time as a mentor and lecturer for D&AD’s New Blood Shift program. During this time of remote work, we were very interested to pick her brain on how a global agency manages remote work as a team and how we can stay motivated while working from home.
Read on to get some insights from Grace on how her team collaborates on projects, how to best manage the work/life balance and suggestions for staying connected, inspired and healthy during this pandemic.
Jones Knowles Ritchie is spread across several cities around the world—London, New York, Shanghai and Singapore. How do the different teams collaborate remotely on projects?
The great part of being a 30-year-old independent agency, is collectively, we collaborate how we want to! Each studio has its own clients and projects and we don’t always work globally on each one, but we certainly share a number of the biggest and best clients in the world, with differing focuses depending on the market. We’re huge proponents of creating culturally driven conversations with our clients, so our global community of talent is really important to tap into for that—we’re no strangers to open briefs (when we send a brief to all staff globally), informational interviews (we do a lot of “what does X brand mean to you” questions to tap into different sentiments) and multi office workshops on designated client briefs, looking to use the power of 400+ people to solve a creative challenge.
Back when travel was a thing, we also had moments throughout the year where our teams from each office come together to share the state of the studio and give creative updates, or to attend design festivals, which means we know what’s going on in each other’s studios and markets.
Right now, I spend a lot of time checking in with my global colleagues on Slack—seeing what they’re up to—sending them things I found of interest and spitballing ideas with them. I love getting the vibes from different markets—as a Brit in New York I like to think I have somewhat of a split cultural view and I’m always hungry to keep that relevant and informed.
A steady flow of communication, inquisitive nature and an open virtual door really helps collaboration.
How can we optimize working from home and stay both focused and motivated?
A lot of this has been said before, but it’s about boundary setting and creating a routine, with some flexibility baked in. At the beginning of New York On Pause I thought I had this down—I could trust my own self-discipline. Absolutely not. I ended up not eating lunch, working straight through, not really shutting off at the end of the day and that just simply wasn’t sustainable—I could feel it quickly affecting my mood.
So, I had to manage myself—this is what I did:
In the downtime, I play around on my Ukulele, I read, I probably spend too much time with my plants, I’m talking to my friends in LA, NYC and London and my family constantly (my sister is an NHS Doctor, AKA a superhero so getting a dose of reality from her is very important). The essential worker applause at 7pm is a marker of my day—a visceral reminder of why we’re staying home.
The perspective of those both in and out of the industry is really a good balance to keep inspired but keep grounded at the same time.
But that’s just me—everyone works differently and has different ways of learning and being inspired. The key takeaway is making sure you know what your boundaries are, keeping them in place and actively notice what is bringing your most creative moments and satisfaction, then structure them into your day. Be kind to yourself and others. This is unprecedented. There is no right or wrong way to be creative during a pandemic.
What tips do you have for staying connected, inspired and healthy as a remote team?
You can’t force creativity and inspiration—but you can certainly make the environment you’re in more hospitable for them to appear.
Do you use any collaboration tools at Jones Knowles Ritchie while working remotely?
Luckily, a lot of the tools we’re using now, we’ve been using for a while so the learning curve has been pretty minimal. What we have focused on though is guidance for each platform. Email is for external comms and anything official. Slack is a massive boon and we have put various “slack etiquettes” into place—hours of silence pre 8am and post 7pm, what channel is used for Jones Knowles Ritchie comms vs where your memes should go.
Zoom has been a solid staple of our continued collaboration while WFH. We are experts at and fans of Google docs and shared Keynotes already. My team specifically uses Trello—the global component of my colleagues means I can keep up with how things are going by checking out the Trello boards so I don’t have to send those “how’s that project going?” messages that I’m sure make everyone’s eyes roll.
How does a global agency keep running while everyone is working remotely?
Phenomenal people are what is keeping us running—leadership teams in each office, our diligent IT team, brave clients, the studio jokesters. Everyone has a part to play. We had a Global Zoom with hundreds of people this week and René Chen, our Managing Director for the Shanghai studio spoke to us—which was illuminating and heartwarming. Sharing the experience of the Chinese team—how creativity and productivity has actually increased during this time, how patience, accountability and respect has been key—it really helped to hear. Realistically, this isn’t easy. It is scary and challenging and no one has been through this before, but reminding ourselves it’s about three things—the people, the work and our clients—keeps us moving.
Anything else you wish to add?
My main advice remains the same, with the addition of stay home, stay safe—stay curious.
I spend a lot of time in classrooms and with students talking about design, strategy and branding.
Use and support each other, reach out to people if you need help, have questions, or just want to know more information on something. That can be a peer, a professor, or someone who’s work you admire. A quick email with a question can open a lot of pathways.
Be humble, be kind, but know that knowledge is power, and in a time where it feels like we’ve lost a lot of control, I find the connectivity of seeking and sharing knowledge, even more empowering.
We’ve hosted some of the world’s top creatives, design studios and advertising agencies at Shillington. Check out more interviews from industry leaders.
Header image design by #ShilloNY teacher Jimmy Muldoon.