Coordinate’s Emma Macdonald on HerCanberra’s COVID pivots

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Author: Coordinate

When you are a creative services agency, driven by curiosity and powered by communication and close collaboration, how do work-from-home rules and recommendations work?

Because even in 2022, we look very far away from ever returning to the well-worn routines of office life.

Rather than slow down during the pandemic, which split up the Coordinate team—in effect isolating the creative engine’s moving parts—the company had to think, act and work differently.

But the result has been we’ve never been busier, nor more connected.

The final instalment in this three part-series sees Coordinate team members ponder the new realities of work, home, productivity and how they’ve kept the Coordinate brand of curiosity and creativity alive during lockdown.

Emma Macdonald, Associate Editor HerCanberra

How did HerCanberra handle the first lockdown?

With a sense of clear and present dread. Our online media company spends a large proportion of time and energy promoting what’s going on in our city. Suddenly the city ground to a standstill.

Advertising revenue fell through the floor, we had to let staff go and cancel printing our beloved Magazine. Our founder Amanda Whitley made the difficult decision to take an outside job in ACT Government COVID Communications in order to save the rest of us, and somehow our tiny team had to dig deep and keep going.

How did the company evolve?

We pivoted like prima ballerinas, drawing our audience in close, writing to their fears, helping them stay positive, providing a lot of practical information, tirelessly supporting local business and really expanding our online presence to be there for our tribe when they needed us.

Corona-Time Cooking, cocktail making sessions, virtual book clubs, articles on what was keeping us sane, exercise tutorials, and the odd wry meme helped us stay connected, and in fact, our audience has grown substantially over this period.

It might surprise people to know that there were just two writers running the entire website over much of 2020/2021.

How did things change by the second lockdown, and were you more prepared?

We were! Our merge with Coordinate had been bedded in well and we knew immediately what had to happen. We also had Amanda back in the fold (praise be!).

The second lockdown has been far more methodical and organised in terms of morning WIPs, communication with the wider team and some, dare I say it, fun stuff like virtual drinks on a Friday afternoon.

It felt far less panic-stricken, and we knew we could survive—and even thrive—during it.

What have you learnt about yourself during the pandemic?

I’ve learned that I am not suited to teaching children, particularly my own. Homeschooling has been a really hard slog and often traumatic experience in our household (and that’s just me talking, you should hear how bad it was for my kids!).

I’ve learned that I have limits to the demands that can be made on my time, that there are only so many hours in the day, and that burnout is real.

I have learned that women have taken on the lion’s share of domestic labour and childcare responsibilities during the pandemic (here’s an article on it) and I believe many of us will carry some psychological scarring from this.

Have there been any silver linings?

I have fully submitted to the fact that I am a night owl and I have learned to use my natural productivity rhythms to their best advantage. (I am writing these responses at 2 am btw…).

I love the freedom of working from home in that I can fit so much more into my days. Being chained to a desk in an office for a journalist means a lot of empty space in the day when you are not actively productive.

Meanwhile, the whole 9-5 model does not allow you to engage with your children, or take a walk in the fresh air (which allows you to nut out article ideas or restore your energy levels). It doesn’t allow you to put a beautiful meal on the table for your family in order to come together at the end of the day, feel gratitude, and reward yourself for working hard.

It doesn’t give you the opportunity to sneak in household chores between interviews so that when something urgent needs to be written on the weekend you don’t have a backload of laundry to juggle. My life has become infinitely more productive on every single level and more enjoyable as I have been able to control what I do and when.

I’ve propelled myself to work harder because I feel trusted to do the right thing and to ultimately deliver the goods.

What’s the downside of working from home?

My boundaries between work and home are completely blurred. There is no off switch. I didn’t even put a Christmas holiday notification in my emails because I like to keep a constant eye on things.

While this is fine for me personally as I have never considered HerCanberra ‘work’ and genuinely love what I do, I can understand WFH may not be for everyone. Also, I work from a particular chair in a particular room in our house. I used to love that chair as it signalled reading for pleasure and quiet cups of tea.

Now I look at the chair every day with a little bit of anxiety as I know I will be trapped on it into the wee hours (usually drinking coffee). Did I mention there are not enough hours in the day?

Will you ever be an office-dweller again?

I love our team and miss the crazy antics we used to get up to each day, but if I am honest, writing is a solitary vocation, and I am not even sure I could finish an article in a busy office.

I think my future working week will be divided into some social time with the team to align priorities and spark new ideas, and then I will be back to my chair at night to translate them into the written word. To each, her own.