TED happened this week in Vancouver. We will spend a lot of our spare time watching many of the talks in 18 minute gaps in our schedules over the next months and years.

At Cineworld on Tuesday you could watch the not quite so simul, simulcast which platformed the opening speakers intro-ed by Chris from TED all within the TED2016 theme of ‘DREAM’.

Talks included: Astro Teller, the Head of Google’s research lab, X; Biotech Pioneer, Riccardo Sabatini; and Humanitarian Activist, Dan Pallotta. These talks were accompanied by a haunting musical interlude from A.R. Rahman and poignant exhausting dance piece from 64 year old Bill. T Jones. One talk, which stood, out, not only for its polished presentation but also for its content, was Shonda Rhimes monologue entitled: ‘My Year of Saying Yes to Everything’.

The long and the short of it is:

  • She is a workaholic and loves it, a self confessed Titan of her industry
  • She is a writer and is responsible for the programming of 70 hours of network television, every season, working on 3-4 TV shows at a time (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder) with massive budget responsibility.
  • She is a mum to 3 girls
  • She decided to say yes to things, which scare her, for one full year. This included saying yes to playing with her kids when they asked, even though she was headed somewhere for work. She confessed that she likes work more than play. Her honesty is admirable.

Shonda Rhimes

She said:

“I work a lot. Too much- much too much. And I love it. When I am hard at work, when I am deep in it, there is no other feeling…. I love working… and what makes it all so good is the hum… The hum sounds like an open road and I could drive it forever…. The hum is a drug, the hum is music… the hum is more than writing, the hum is action and activity, the hum is God’s whisper right in my ear… And when you have a hum like that, you can’t help but strive for greatness.”

But then a couple of years ago she realised that she had lost that hum:

“What do you do when the thing you do, the work you love, tastes like dust?”

Then she explains that saying yes to her little girl when she wanted to play, embracing the ‘scary’, saved her, and helped her realise that

“Work doesn’t work without play.” She “said ‘yes’ to less work and more play.” 

And voilà: She found her hum again. But this was different, the work hum was a replacement for the real hum, she realised what that real hum was:

“The real hum is love”. “The real hum is joy”.

It made me think.

We are now a nation of workaholics. We may not work 15 hour days, like Shonda, but this world of social media, expectation, networking opportunities, deadlines, pressure, ‘being contactable’, ‘being eager’, ‘being relied upon’, the 9pm thought of: ‘oh I’ll just do this now cause it’ll save me time tomorrow”…. It means that work life has slowly started to eat into our personal lives.

The previously obvious lines are now quite blurred.

And then it made me think how Material is trying to help with those pressures.

Our collective and individual wellbeing is paramount. Not only for our families, our partners, our brains, but also for our work, our creativity, our clients.

Work life seeping into home life, and home life seeping into work life is inevitable. Material understands the need to be agile, this industry is ‘always on’, and our clients know that there is always someone there for them at a time of need, but Material has recognised a need for alignment. Aligning of personal and professional goals. Aligning of environments: work and home.

Now that we are 13 years old we have realised a few things:

  • Open plan is nice but sometimes it isn’t the best for productivity.
  • Team working is great and helps with bonding but sometimes you don’t need to sit within that team, ALL the time.
  • You wanna be connected to the chat in the office but maybe not at midnight…
  • Working in a bright, colourful, friendly, sometimes bustling, office, is awesome, but sometimes you need a lot of quiet and focus, to hit a deadline.
  • 9.30am-6pm is great cause it is a little later for traffic and for sleepy heads but it doesn’t suit everyone, especially parents.
  • Late nights just come with the territory but that doesn’t mean all your workmates are/ need to work late too.
  • Sometimes when deep into a project it’s difficult to think of the bigger picture, get a rest, get out your own head or get inspired.

So, here’s what we do:

Mentor groups: Everyone sits in a mentor group rather than a line managed team. It encourages cross team working and expands the social circles. It also encourages you to get up and walk round the office when you want to ask a fellow project partner a question. We are all for the micro breaks.

Individualised spaces: We have delineated the office using open shelving to mark out zones and territories for the different agencies. Not to exclude, but to encourage a sense of team/ teamwork.

Working from home/ flexible hours: Our flexible working policy coupled with requests to work from home have been favourably received. Particularly appealing to those who commute from Edinburgh and that increasing band of Materialites who keep popping out babies. But all requests will be heard no matter what that person’s situation is. Introducing the flexibility between physical and virtual working, helps reduce pressure.

Slack/email: Slack helps us stay connected and encourages collaborative project working but its “Do Not Disturb” mode is also very handy for non-working hours. Or if you are working late, but a colleague isn’t, then save that email to your drafts folder until the morning so they don’t feel pressure to respond when it’s received.

Inspiration, Volunteering and Duvet Days: Want to take a day off to visit a Gallery? Want to donate some time to elderly patients? Want to hide under the covers for a day? You can.

Our offices: Quiet areas, break out zones, colour/ no colour, coffee, plants, whiteboards, cork-boards, our motto of ‘Everyday’s a School Day’ on the wall as a reminder. We are not perfect, a little messy, bad at hoarding unnecessary paperwork but it is a work in progress and generally we have anything you could possibly need to be a productive member of staff.

We work hard every day and, like Ms. Rhimes, we recognise that it’s all about the balance: that happiness, that hum. That’s what’s important.

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