Growing a ‘terrible’ beard, moving back in with your parents, and getting engaged: The joys and sleeplessness of lockdown

While media attention is often focused on C-suite level executives, it's those working for them who rely upon their empathy, decision-making, and leadership, especially as COVID-19 continues to gobble up jobs and strip back salaries. Mumbrella's Brittney Rigby asks four of the industry's brightest how they're doing, why they never feel "1,000% safe", and why now isn't the time to think "Look at so and so, they've baked 20 sourdough breads".

Charlotte Goodsir doesn’t know what she’s doing to fill the big and empty slabs of time we’ve come to know as ‘iso’. When I ask the question of The Monkeys’ 25-year-old social strategist, she mentions the 1993 film Groundhog Day when she replies: “I just kind of watch Netflix and eat dinner and then it’s time to go to bed.”

I wanted to speak with junior to mid-level professionals across the industry, to pick their brains on how they’re feeling and what they’re doing. After all, while everyone in the industry has been catapulted into the woolliness that is COVID-19, it’s those on the first few rungs of the ladder who are most relying on their leaders to protect and support them, and who are subject to the pay cuts, stand downs, redundancies, and work loads associated with a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

How is their mental health? What does their work-from-home set up look like? How are they differentiating between weekdays and weekends? And have they experienced moments of fulfilment and relaxation within a stretch of stressful mundanity?

Clockwise from top left: Goodsir, Calleja, Webb, and Davies

Mindshare strategist – and chairperson of Group M’s Young Leadership Committee – Tom Davies has mainly been “growing a terrible beard”, but also teaching himself how to code, participating in online courses, and writing. Group M’s Hannah Webb has been hiking in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and reading a mix of fiction and memoir.

And then there’s Isobar design director Dave Calleja, who decided that lockdown shouldn’t delay his plan to propose to his girlfriend of four years. He intended to pop the question over an Easter break in Perth, where his partner is from, until COVID-19 interfered.

“As the situation got progressively more dire, the plans had to keep changing and keep changing and keep changing,” he says, “to the point where I was like, ‘Well, literally, I can’t even go to a hotel and book a nice room. I can’t do anything.’ And I didn’t want to put off being able to do things like plan the wedding and make future plans.

Dave Calleja has gotten engaged during lockdown

“So I took her down to the beach and mortified her by proposing in the middle of the walking track as people walked past. She forgot what I said and just waited for me to stop talking and said yes. And then I had to repeat it to her later on. So it’s a great story for the future.

“Obviously we have to wait for things to calm down until we can have a proper celebration. But it’s official, at least.”

Spare rooms and parents’ houses: Working from home

Goodsir moved back into her parents’ place two weeks before the onset of COVID-19. It made sense because she’s saving to buy an apartment of her own, and it wasn’t like she’d see much of them.


“I was like ‘It’ll be fine, I’m never home anyway, I’m at work and going out, so it’s not going to be a lot’. And now, I’m stuck with my parents 24/7,” she says.

“It’s kind of like being 10-years-old again, I guess, but with more alcohol.”

She has more space for a mini-home office than she would have had in her share house though, including “my double screen, my laptop stand”.

Goodsir’s working from home set up

Head of Group M’s programmatic buying unit, Webb, also coincidentally moved back in with her parents just before lockdown began.

“We were super lucky, it turned out to be the best timing, which we could not have foreseen,” the 29-year-old explains.

“I think both of us working out of our one-bedroom apartment would have been quite a challenge. We’ve been really lucky here, we’ve been able to turn one of the spare rooms into our office, which is great.”

Webb’s working from home station in one of her parents’ spare rooms

It’s a coincidence that everyone I speak with has their own office space, of sorts, and they know it’s a luxury many in their position don’t have. Calleja, 37, has converted the spare bedroom of his two-bedroom apartment on the banks of the Yarra River – “I think we would have gone crazy a lot faster maybe, had we not had access to that space” – into an office, complete with a sit-stand desk.

Calleja’s home office

“At the start of it, people were posting photos of having to set up temporary workstations built out of boxes, and ironing boards,” he says, while Davies adds that he also noticed “four people sitting around a kitchen table all trying to avoid bumping each other with their elbows” on video calls.

“My fiance and I are both from Queensland, so we’re on Instagram seeing our friends from back home playing with their dog in the backyard of a four-bedroom house, it can feel like ours is a little bit poor by comparison,” Davies jokes, who’s also based out of the spare room in his two-bedroom apartment.

Davies at his desk

People are spending a lot of time at their new workstations, but colleagues are too, in a way, with video calls acting as small windows into a workmate’s most intimate spaces. We’re seeing glimpses of bookshelves and kitchens and home offices, flashes of a partner, snippets of a noisy baby. Suddenly, the people we see everyday are placed within a new context, one of their own lives.

“[We] get a one-dimensional view of our colleagues … now you’re getting a much more three-dimensional view of what these people are dealing with, whether that be kids or whether that be the environment they’re working in, and that’s been, for me definitely a really positive thing,” Calleja explains.

“It’s a lot easier to do the kind of collaborative work we do if we understand more about each other and we have more empathy for each other’s situation.”

“I probably haven’t had a good night’s sleep in the last month”: How to cope

Webb’s mental health is “pretty good in general”, but she notes that “the first weeks were quite challenging with everything constantly changing and evolving”. That sentiment is the thread that connects all four of my interviewees – they’re doing okay, navigating a pressing sense of uncertainty rather than avoiding it altogether.

Group M’s Webb

“I find that it manifests in a lot in insidious ways,” 27-year-old Davies admits. “I’m a life-long struggler of insomnia. I probably haven’t had a good night’s sleep in the last month because I know one of my biggest triggers of insomnia [is stress].

“It’s almost like your fight or flight response is slightly on all the time, which is really draining.

“Those little challenges and things that pop up in the course of a normal day can really easily be exacerbated.”

His biggest challenge is finding the stimulation he’d usually get from spontaneous office interactions.

“You don’t get anywhere near that same level of kind of serendipitous discovery that comes when you’re in the office, having a random chat with people around your desk pod, or making a cup of tea and bumping into people,” Davies muses.

“I think that discovery is a big energiser. So what I’m really finding is I have to find other ways to replace that.”

Professionally, that’s involved Mindshare recruiting someone new each day to send an all-staff email (featuring everything from a movie review to a 10-minute video starring a colleague’s family). And personally, it’s meant Pictionary. A lot of it.

“I think we’ve played more games of Pictionary in the last couple of weeks than I would have in the last 10 years,” he laughs.

“But at the same time, there’s really nice things happening. I’ve been involved in group video calls that absolutely would not have happened in a normal situation. And it’s been really nice and refreshing to connect with a group of friends in a different way.”

Calleja acknowledges that, while he’s doing well, “a lot of people are suffering”.

“Jetstar’s been a client of ours for a long, long time, so not only are the people impacted on those projects, but there’s also the clients that we have very strong, wonderful relationships with … people who we’ve worked closely with for a number of years are being impacted,” he says.

Calleja, Isobar’s design director

Goodsir adds that The Monkeys’ transparency has led to “nervous uncertainty” and “stressful feelings” transforming into “a little bit more calm”.

“At the start of this, we were hearing a whole bunch of agencies say, we’re cutting staff hours, and they’re only working five hours a day … That was something that always plays on your mind,” she notes.

“In the jobs that we’re in, with our time being charged out to clients, we always have that anxiety around if we lose a client, you could lose your job. That’s the reality of it. So I think you always kind of stick with that emotion, working in advertising, like no one is always 1,000% safe.”

Managing those feelings means sometimes resisting the pressure to be ‘productive’ during ‘down time’ (whatever that means during a pandemic that’s depleting our mental reserves).

“So many people are using this time to be like, ‘Oh, you should get Masterclass. You should learn a new skill, you should learn a language’,” Goodsir says.

“But you also need to remember, everyone’s coping with this differently. And it’s not the time now to be like, ‘Oh, look at so and so, they’ve baked 20 sourdough breads’. It’s a time to reflect and be like, ‘Okay, what can I personally do in this time if I’m feeling super anxious?’

“Maybe it’s just dealing with that anxiety. Maybe it’s not achieving all this stuff.”

“What happened to 2020?”: Clinging onto purpose

“I’ve heard anecdotally from a lot of people within my team and friends that they think that it would be a real struggle to go back to five days a week at the office straightaway,” Calleja says.

“Speaking to other leaders within the agencies, there’s a very abject acknowledgment that the fact of the matter is, we know that that’s the way things are going. Working from home and flexibility were goals that we had anyway. And so everyone probably doesn’t need a desk.”

According to Goodsir, advertising “has always had a problem with the working from home structure”.

“If you weren’t in the office, it was always like, ‘Oh, what do you mean, you’re going to be online but at home?’, because it is so collaborative,” she says.

“I hope, at the end of this, because everyone’s working from home now [and] everyone’s got into the swing of things, that advertising as a whole can be a little bit more agile.”

Webb isn’t focusing on when lockdown will end, but rather what she can carry with her when the world returns to ‘normal’: a focus on “slowing down and enjoying the little things”.


And Davies’ priority is ensuring that, despite the fact that “time has all melded together into this one big blob”, he maintains a sense of purpose. He cares about his work, and he doesn’t want to feel like he’s ‘lost’ a year, in some way.

“The nature of working from home and having businesses and social events be locked down is that we are going to lose a lot the markers that we would normally hang our hat off from a purpose point of view over the next six months,” he explains.

“I really want to avoid this three to six months, or however long it ends up being, feeling like a write off, whether that’s personally or professionally.

“I don’t want to get to October and look back and go, ‘What happened to 2020?’”

It’s a question we’re already asking ourselves, and each other. And it’s one which can send us spiralling (I’m sure it’s not just me). But, perhaps, by looking to people like Davies, Calleja, Goodsir, and Webb, our industry can grow, if not in revenue and ad spend (both of which continue to plummet), then in resilience and kindness and leadership. Perhaps, at the end of the year, we’ll have a chance to answer: “We showed up. We pushed through. We got better.”


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