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It’s on agency owners to build an environment in which creatives want to work

While suspended upside down on my inversion machine the other morning, well before both the sun and my kids awoke, a tweet from Entrepreneur magazine I’d recently read filtered down to my brain. 

 

“What’s the hardest part of working for yourself?” @Entrepreneur had asked its 3.3 million followers.

 

It’s a question I’ve often mulled over. And judging by the rapid rate of response to Entrepreneur’s question, so have a lot of others. While many respondents shared that finding and keeping talent was among their biggest issues, others griped that the hardest part of being self-employed is never giving yourself a day off. But it was achieving balance in all aspects of life that resonated to my core.

 

After having worked for a decade in the all-too-often cut-throat agency environment, my goal in establishing IN GOOD CO three years ago was — and remains — to create the work culture that I’d always wished to find in previous roles. We need to create an industry that attracts the best-and-brightest talent. 

 

But, we’re not. 

 

It’s hard to pick up an industry publication and not be faced with the cruel reality that advertising still has a talent crisis. I’m determined to do my part to create an environment that accounts for the needs and desires of experience-seeking, free-spirited talent. You know, the demo who wants to work their butts off and then play with similar enthusiasm while they are fit and able, not just when they reach their golden years? 

 

With just 15 minutes left to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of my inversion machine before whipping up my daughter’s daily “hungry girl” breakfast, my thoughts darted to an employee struggling with IVF. My small team worked to erect a cone of protection around her recently and stepped in to handle all client asks. Thankfully, she let us. After all, it was this employee who played zone defense a few months prior when another team member took the trip of a lifetime.

 

It’s on agency owners to create an environment in which we want to work. But how we ensure we are creating that environment and how we safeguard it sometimes keeps me up at night.

 

On many fronts, we’ve nailed it. Because our collective of designers, creators, strategists, thinkers, and makers also wholeheartedly believe that how we work forms a direct line to the quality of work we deliver.

 

We can’t always dart off for days to someplace warm and remote, but we can create and prioritize moments that are imperative to us as humans. I marvel that so many agencies don’t consider their troops productive if they are not sitting at their desks. I, admittedly, can’t fully function in a pen situation with people too close for comfort.

 

That’s why my consultancy doesn’t have a home office. Our full-time staffers work remotely from the places that inspire them, whether it’s the Soho House, the corner coffee shop, or their laundry room. 

 

We provide three months paid parental leave and offer uninterrupted medical coverage and unlimited vacation. Seriously. Our Monday morning meetings are more like group therapy sessions, clearing the cerebral cobwebs for the work ahead. We encourage total unplugging when out of the office. And I mean total. That way our workers come back — yes, our company and clients will survive — more inspired. 

 

A Deloitte study found that 94% of executives and 88% of employees think a distinct workplace culture is important to business success, and that there is a strong correlation between employees who say they are happy and feel valued at work and those who say their organization has a “clearly articulated and lived” culture.

 

Happy workers mean productive workers. And nurtured, inspired talent leads to inspired campaigns.

 

But if workplace culture starts from the top down, I, as founder and president, must lead by example. I, like the entire staff, do what is necessary to clear my head and stay focused on the work ahead, which means spending the majority of my mornings at the gym and carving out enough cuddle time with my kids. 

 

“Company culture” has indeed become the new buzz phrase. Google’s Walkout for Real Change, which began as a protest against the tech giant’s mishandling of sexual harassment allegations, became a massive walkout by employees demanding fair treatment for all workers, especially women and minorities. Although Google made some changes in the way it handles sexual harassment claims, protest organizers vowed to keep up the pressure for a “truly equitable culture.”

 

Company culture is not just a motto or a memo. It must be our North Star, our business-as-usual. 

 

As I enjoyed my long-life cocktail of psyllium husk and raw cranberry (it’s delicious, I swear) before perusing my enormous to-do list with a freshly brewed tea, I took a moment of pride in building a company culture that could serve as a model for a badly needed industry-wide overhaul. 

 

And take note: clients are coming. Safeguarding that culture as we scale up is our next big challenge. The 24/7 work week just doesn’t work. Everyone needs to have time to be as fully vested in their lives as they are at work. It’s a modern-day business imperative.

Kirsten Ludwig is founder and president of IN GOOD CO

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