Sabine Zetteler on helping colleagues and clients in a crisis

This week we’re speaking with creatives to find out how they’re coping with the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. Here, Sabine Zetteler, founder of creative PR agency Zetteler, talks to CR about supporting a team and being useful to clients in uncertain times

For PR agency Zetteler, March is normally spent planning for Milan Design Week – liaising with clients who are putting the finishing touches to exhibitions or planning to launch new products and prototypes at one of the biggest events in the design calendar. This year, however, things are looking a little different. As of this week, Zetteler’s team has been working from home in makeshift offices set up in kitchens and living rooms, or in spare rooms of family homes. Milan Design Week has been postponed, exhibitions and launches are being called off, and clients are having to rethink their plans for the next few months.

Zetteler decided to send her team home on Thursday last week, after visiting Norway and seeing the drastic measures being taken there to limit the spread of Covid-19. (The Norwegian government announced on Thursday that it would be closing its borders to foreign visitors and shutting down nurseries, schools and universities, as well as banning public events.) She spent a day planning with her team and discussing what equipment or tools they needed to work, before sending everyone home in a taxi along with their desktop computers – and in some cases, office furniture.

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So this is the culprit. Such a small and unassuming thing to look at, and yet so much disruption! ???? In the face of conflicting international health advice and information, we have decided to introduce a number of preventative measures designed to minimise our role in the spread of #covid19. This is pragmatism; not paranoia. We quit the hugs and handshakes a couple of weeks back, but now, after an inspiring week in Oslo with @doganorway, we are following the example of the Nordic nations, who have quickly, efficiently and calmly ceased public events, closed public workspaces and have encouraged those who can to work independently from their homes. So, as of Monday, Zetteler will be operating a little differently. We had our first online team meeting today as a test and it was just as inspiring, organised, noisy and collaborative as usual (although the lack of pastries was a blow, admittedly) ???? If we’re to keep doing great work, stay productive, healthy and happy, we need to take care of each other. And at the moment, the simplest, most effective thing we can do is to keep our distance. Our non-stop conversation with clients, media and all our faves will continue, but virtually. Let us know your preference: Facetime, Zoom, Skype, Hangouts? We’re up for it. The hours of travel time each week now present more opportunity for conversation. In the meantime, stay clean and stay healthy! ???????????????????? ???? @natureismetal, via @rehview ???? #covid19 #coronavirus #zetteler #wfh

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“I didn’t want people – especially if they live in rented accommodation where the furniture isn’t that great – to be trying to concentrate for seven hours a day in a chair that doesn’t do anything for your body … so we made sure everyone had what they needed, and they could take their desk plants, their lamps, chairs, computers and any other magazines or books or stationery they might need,” explains Zetteler. The team arranged temporary workspaces in their flats over the weekend and by Monday morning, they were ready to start work.

So far, meetings have carried on as usual – the team has been able to do daily stand ups and meetings via Google Hangouts – and Zetteler says she is trying to maintain as much normality and routine as is possible under the circumstances. But there are some aspects of work life that can’t be replicated, from social gatherings to spontaneous conversations with colleagues or the satisfaction that comes from being in a building that has been designed with its staff in mind.

I think little extras are going to mean a lot over the next few months … The value of work is that you have a little family of people around you that you have something in common with

To help lift colleagues’ spirits, Zetteler has sent all of the team a care package of things they might miss from the office – from packets of herbal tea, biscuits, ground coffee and jam from a local deli, along with candles, soaps, postcards and stamps so teams can write to each other if they want to.

“I think little extras are going to mean a lot over the next few months, because we’ll definitely be able to get our work done, and we’ll definitely be able to call each other with questions, but a massive part of enjoying our work is doing things like birthday lunches, or a pub quiz at Broadway Market, or having lunch together in Victoria Park on a sunny day. The value of work is that you have a little family of people around you that you have something in common with, and I think people are more nervous of losing that aspect of their lives than not being able to focus and get their work done, so that’s on my mind more than I thought it would be.”

As Zetteler points out, not all team members will have roommates or partners they can interact with in between work hours, or friends living close by who are on hand to help if they get ill, so there’s a need to think of other ways that people can feel looked after and connected to people, beyond having a 30 minute video call or a team Slack group.

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes