One Optimistic Step At a Time: Khumo du Toit, Wunderman Thompson South Africa

von Dasha Ovsyannikova

Wunderman Thompson
Johannesburg, Südafrika
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Khumo du Toit
Learning and Development Manager Wunderman Thompson South Africa

Since employees have transitioned to working from home, how has the agency been helping them to adapt?

It goes without saying that the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic were a stressful and uncertain time for all. Wunderman Thompson South Africa is fortunate to have at the helm a leadership team who has been extremely proactive in their response to global developments and in supporting our teams for the transition to remote working. We were fortunate to begin this transition prior to the announcement of a national lockdown, which meant we could accommodate a variety of requirements for this transition and iron out any issues timeously to allow our staff to prepare.

Over and above equipping our employees with wifi devices and the necessary equipment to work effectively from home, our leadership team has done brilliantly at keeping everyone informed as far as possible to minimize the anxiety or uncertainty during this time. 

We’ve noticed the blurred line between work life and home life and want to help our staff manage their health and wellbeing. Apart from offering them a day off to have some time out, we’ve also encouraged them to take regular breaks and limit working out of office hours and over weekends. In addition, we’ve also encouraged our staff to continue making use of our existing wellness program as part of their self-care.


How are the attitudes of employees evolving as the crisis continues?

We’ve been learning to navigate this curious period one optimistic step (and, at times, several leaps) at a time. Our teams have gone from being anxious and fearful of the unknown to quietly cautious in their outlook as things have begun to settle in their new ways. For a sign of the times, all one has to do is observe the chat section in a company-wide meeting, team catch-up, or departmental townhall - I’m pleased to see that our collective sense of humor whenever we’re gathered (virtually, of course), has not been lost. 


What has been the most challenging part of working from home for team members?

The isolation that can often come with working remotely is not something to be taken lightly. For many, the human element of bumping into someone at the water cooler or connecting over a cup of coffee allowed us to build connections with colleagues and feel part of a broader community. The already delicate work-life balance has become a trickier one to maintain during this time. Making the distinction between personal time and working hours is a challenge that many people have had to learn to define for themselves.


Have there been any changes made within your agency to ease the process?

We’ve put much effort into supporting our teams with the right resources to navigate this time. Both practically – in ensuring that teams can connect and deliver on our mission to inspire growth for ambitious brands, and more personally – in ensuring we’re all able to stay afloat.

A focus on our staff's mental health and general well-being has been the utmost priority during this time. Our People Team put together a schedule of regular Wunderman Thompson Wellness Wednesday sessions, where each week, we would gain insight from a guest speaker on various topics of wellness – from mental health, physical wellbeing and financial fitness – while encouraging our teams to make use of resources like our employee assistance programme where professional support is needed. Earlier this year, we declared an Unplugged Day, where all our employees were given a Friday off to rest, recharge, and spend time maintaining that balance in their lives. Our Unplugged Day was communicated with all our clients to ensure that employees wouldn’t continue to receive calls or messages during their downtime. 


Has anything been done to try and preserve the office culture? How has the reception been internally?

We have made every effort to ensure our teams stay connected through regular events like our monthly group staff meeting (WTF! – Wunderman Thompson Fridays), which we’ve evolved into a fun virtual gathering, which allows us to keep up-to-date with happenings and updates across the business and now includes a virtual nod to our Friday ‘tools down’ culture by having an internal DJ in these sessions, as a space for us to enjoy a virtual drink together as a team. Regular events like our monthly induction for new recruits and monthly appreciation program have made a seamless transition to being hosted in the virtual world. They have helped us maintain a sense of continuity. Pub quizzes, virtual dance classes, cooking tutorials, and virtual happy hours have also given teams a reason to connect outside of the day-to-day of our client deliverables.


Are you planning to return to the office? Is there a plan to make some of the initiatives started during the pandemic?

We have begun to open our offices at limited capacity on a voluntary basis, while our employees navigate the changes to their personal lives. This is a great alternative for those still faced with challenges of working remotely or are needing a change of scenery. We will continue to have the office available where face-to-face meetings are required for small groups, as we’re able to control and adhere to the correct sanitization and physical distancing requirements. 


What are some common mistakes you’ve seen from agencies transitioning to working from home? Do you have any tips?

We’ve found our biggest learning in the transition to remote working to emphasize clear, timeous, and transparent communication. Putting our people at the center of our business means that all our decisions are made with their best interests in mind.