When — and how — will media and entertainment companies get employees and talent back into the workplace amid COVID-19? And what have industry leaders learned so far in managing work-from-home teams?
Those were the front-burner topics for the kickoff episode of Variety Streaming Room’s new virtual series, sponsored by PwC and Ad Council, “Rebooting the Entertainment Industry.” The panel featured PwC Workforce of the Future principal Jean Lee, WarnerMedia CTO Jeremy Legg and Verizon Media CTO Rathi Murthy, in a discussion moderated by Variety digital editor Todd Spangler.
With U.S. companies now two months into quarantine, the industry execs addressed issues involved in reopening offices and resuming on-site productions. Lee, Legg and Murthy also discussed the pros and cons of working remotely, strategies for leading virtual teams, and the importance of empathy in dealing with employees. (Watch the session in full below or at this link.)
PwC’s Lee has found that since starting to work from home, employees are actually working harder than before.
“Early on we saw a trend of people working more and not really understanding how to balance the time that they were spending at work,” Lee said. “There was a whole lot more leadership and manager-type initiatives needed to be very deliberate about saying, ‘Listen, take a break.'”
To combat this trend, Murthy said she’s encouraged her team to lead with empathy as opposed to emphasizing productivity. “People are teaching their families, teaching their children, taking care of their pets and working. It’s a very big, extraordinary time,” Murthy said. “So, one of the first things was to be there for them. Productivity will continue to happen, but predominantly it was to be there to support our teams.”
With WarnerMedia two weeks away from launching HBO Max on May 27, Legg said that working from home has taught his company the important lesson that pulling off large scale projects remotely is possible.
“We’re using this as an opportunity to really rethink our roles in their entirety,” Legg said. “There are a lot of things that over the years people told me could never be done remotely, and now all of a sudden they’re being done remotely. So whether it’s on-air graphics on television, or other kind of things – editing and post production – those are being done remotely.”
It seems that remote working, to some extent, will become the new normal for the near future at least. All three panelists agreed that the reopening of offices will happen very slowly and in phases, and is not truly realistic until COVID-19 is fully under control.
“Many [companies] are not going to go back at all this year,” Lee said. “And in fact, that might even continue into next year.”
Personally, Legg said, he does not believe people will feel safe returning to work until there is a vaccine and thus a full return of normal life.
“Until there’s a vaccine and/or people feel safe going out let alone to work, we’re going to be more tilted in the direction of full remote working which is going to have some implications,” Legg said. “While some employees I think really enjoy it, with other employees it begins to affect mental health. It begins to affect their families with their kids out of school. There’s so many extenuating things that surround this, like how do you send everybody back to work when the schools aren’t open?”
However, Lee contended that some organizations and employees see workplace interaction as an important part of their day-to-day work flow, which is also a factor that needs to be considered when considering reopening offices.
“A lot of what I’m hearing from leaders is, there’s just some things you can’t replicate in a remote environment, and that’s the level of engagement and getting to know people,” Lee said. “Can you really do without that? I’m not sure.”
Verizon Media’s Murthy outlined “Five Cs” that she uses as a guide for leading work-from-home teams: connect (e.g., through daily meetings); collaborate; create (i.e. innovate for changing conditions); culture (“to keep it fun”); and community (“we’ve got to win together, by also helping and serving our community”).
Watch the full seminar below: