An open letter to my team amidst COVID

Rich Chapman, CEO at Bastion Effect and Bastion China, looks at how COVID-19 has impacted work/life balance at the agency and the longterm changes he hopes the pandemic will have on work culture.

I recently reflected on an email I sent my team back in May as COVID-19 started to impact our business.

Six months later and all I want to do is bring the team together in person here in Melbourne, fly up to see our Sydney crew, grab a bite of lunch with a client, go to an event or function, bounce ideas off each other in the office, bunker down in a meeting room and pull together a new business presentation or just sit around and enjoy a drink or two on a Friday afternoon to celebrate the week just gone.

We have experienced a lot of firsts during this time – we have pitched for new business over Teams or Zoom, we have onboarded new team members who we have never met in person, we have adapted our ways of working with our clients and agency partners, we have said goodbye to others without a fitting farewell, there are new dogs, new partners and even a new baby on the way and it’s all those things that we would normally experience together that we have had to tackle often individually and in a very different way.

The team have all been rock stars – they have rolled up their sleeves through the tough times and delivered way beyond expectation during the last six months and I can’t wait to hopefully see everyone in person and thank them all for their hard work and commitment.

We are a stronger and more connected team across both our offices than before and the work we have delivered is better than ever, so I am excited to see what the next chapter in our working lives will bring as we return to some form of workplace normality and hopefully that is not too far off.

Hi Guys,

I thought I would share some insights and learnings I have gleaned during the COVID-19 crisis.

For most of my working life, I have worked 8.30am to 6.30pm in the office. I always felt bad leaving work early and wondered what people would think or say. I have struggled to work from home as that was never really an option and I always thought I needed to be in the office so my peers and bosses could see “how hard” I was working. There was also a feeling that they wouldn’t trust me to work from home anyway.

During my early working years, the later you stayed at work the harder apparently you were working and there was a culture where you were meant to stay in the office until your boss left. For those of you who weren’t working during the GFC that was a pretty career-defining time as well. I was running two agencies that I founded with another guy and at that time we had both a PR and Experiential agency in Melbourne and Sydney. My business partner left the business just prior to the financial crash, we had clients shutting down budgets and cancelling jobs, I had to shut our PR office in Sydney and halve the team in Melbourne. It was a really dire time but we bunkered down, worked hard for the clients we had and chased down new opportunities in industries that were still thriving.

We came out the other side rebuilt the team and reopened our Sydney office.

Fast forward to 2020 and COVID-19 has forced us all to work remotely, self-isolate and collaborate together and with our clients on platforms like Teams. The thing I am most proud of is how you guys have all adapted to this new world and not missed a beat in the work we a delivering and the client service we are providing. The best thing is how we are now working as one team across both offices.

There is a trust amongst the teams that hasn’t existed before and people are communicating better than ever, giving each other the respect and the time to help brief new colleagues or work together to get the desired outcome/result.

The industry we are in has always been one that involves long hours, weekend work and unrealistic deadlines.

I am working as hard as I have but have managed to juggle my time better to ensure I have more time for my family and myself.

For me personally, I have never spent as much time with my family as I am right now. Typically I am late home and miss family mealtime except for weekends. Our relationship as a family and the time we spend together is so much better – we are exercising together, have more meals together and I am getting to spend more one-on-one time with each of my kids helping them with school work or just hanging out.

I want that to continue this moving forward as I now realise how important that family time is and how I can make time to fit work in around my family not the other way around, how it was before. You can make time for the things that are important to you and if you do you will feel better when you make it happen. Exercise is important to me and I am going to make sure I continue to fit that into my working life either before, during or after work.

When people often asked me how I was, I would reply – “I am so busy” and with that mindset, I have realised that it never let me see what I could also be doing as I was so focussed on work.

I am going to reset the way I work and we have been exploring what working life looks like when our working lives return to some sort of normal. I am hoping that we can all negotiate more flexibility into our lives moving forward.

We are going to explore a number of options including 10am – 4pm core meeting hours (dedicated time for meetings), flexible start and finish times to allow people to start early or finish late and continuing the remote working.

I am keen to hear your thoughts here and any other ideas you guys have that allow us to create new ways of working. Please call me or email me any ideas you have or if you want to look at different options for yourself next financial year.

Each year I set a number of goals both from a business perspective and personally. These goals help keep me focussed and on the right trajectory to get through the year and achieve what I want by the timelines I set. Moving forward it would be great to see how as a team we can set our goals together and we can all help each other achieve them.

We will get back to a normal working week but right now we aren’t sure when and what the office will look like as we move back in while still maintaining appropriate social distancing.

Understanding how people want their working lives to look is what we want to better understand so we can create a new blueprint for the best ways of working in the future and to create a workplace that we want to come to and have fun doing what we do.

I am looking forward to discussing this with you all in the next week or so.



Rich Chapman is CEO at Bastion Effect and Bastion China 


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