Working differently at W+K London

We’ve just started something that I’m rather proud of (note: this is specifically a thing we’re trialling in the London office of Wieden+Kennedy).

A couple of weeks ago we announced a bunch of changes to the way we work, some of the most significant are:

  • We’ve asked people not to email in the evenings (between 7pm and 8am).
  • If we ask people to work evenings or weekends they can claim the time back.
  • You may now only book meetings can between 10am and 4pm. This means early birds can come in early, and night owls can stay later. And that everyone has at least a bit of their day completely free from meetings.

Depending on where you work these things may not look like much. But if you work in an ad agency (or similar company) they might seem pretty significant.

But so far it feels like everyone outside the company who’s asked me about it. or any comments that I’ve seen ‘out there’ have missed the point somewhat.

So, I’m going to have a go at explaining a couple of things. (This is by no means an exhaustive overview of the program, so please don’t take it as such).



As pointed out in Campaign, we do get called Weekend+Kennedy sometimes. Just as ‘72 and Sunny’ get called ‘72 and Sunday’ and BBH get called GBH. But there’s a reason these agencies, and others like them, have decent creative output. It’s because we work long and hard to get to the best work we can.

And let’s not forget lots of us enjoy it. These companies are amazing workplaces. We’re blessed with talented, curious, interesting people as colleagues. And the places we work are often nicer than our homes. So, for many of us, hanging out at work is hanging out with mates, in a nice place, and doing what we love. And we’re not taking that away from anyone!

So if the enemy isn’t hard work (and long hours) what is it? It’s pretty simple, the enemy is modern life. Specifically modern life lived through connected devices.

The same screen wakes us up in the morning, lulls us to sleep at the end of the day, AND delivers urgent tasks from an insomniac boss. This seems like a bad idea.

I honestly have never drawn a brain before – at least not that I can recall.

Always-on sounds a bit nicer than never-off. But they’re the same thing. And creative brains need time off.

I’m no neuroscientist, but from personal experience I know what it feels like when my brain’s exhausted and I’m whipping it, forcing it to think harder. That’s not when good ideas happen.

Although the brain isn’t a muscle, it might be useful to think of it like one sometimes. Yes, you need to exercise it. Give it problems to solve. Feed it good stuff. And stimulate it with culture and art (and, if you’re like me, trashy reality TV shows). But you also need to give it time off to recover. To figure stuff out.

I was reading a book recently (Wired to Create: Discover the 10 things great artists, writers and innovators do differently) and there was a big chunk about the creative brain’s need for solitude. A similar set of arguments also popped up again in this HufPo piece about Silence.

We need the time and space to be able to process the ideas and stimulation that are generated through the workday. Our days are filled with rampant collaboration and idea-generation. But most of us get far too few periods for silence and reflection.

It’s impossible to experience solitude when you’re connected to social media or email. We feel like we’re zoning out when we’re just browsing Instagram or whatever, but we’re not. We’re still hooked up to the big machines in the sky. And other people are liking stuff, and commenting and doing stuff to our virtual selves. You can never feel alone when that’s happening. (Which is the reason why it’s so addictive, but we’ll save that for another post).

So, if our work-life and our social-life are both crammed with stimulation and connectedness, when do our poor brains get a chance to chill-out?


In the shower or course. It’s one of the only places we’re disconnected. Where else in the day are all distractions shut off? Oddly, it was in the shower where I came up with this random thought: If the Internet had transformed physical work like it has mental work, what would happen?

Say my job was shifting big rocks from one pile to another. And a tool was invented that let me carry on moving rocks when I got home. From the comfort of my sofa! Would I do it? Of course not. I’d be sitting at home saying “f**k you! My arms are tired, my back hurts, and I need a rest”.

Or maybe I could do some rock shifting on the train in the morning? Again the suggestion would be met with a jolly “f**k you!”. But for some reason because it’s ‘just’ brain-work we seem to be OK with it.

We are in a business that’s almost entirely about brain work. So we need to make sure that we’re protecting our people’s minds. Buying a bunch of gym passes, hiring in a lunchtime Yogi, or putting a NutriBullet in the kitchen is all good. But we felt there was an opportunity to do something more fundamental.

Our changes hopefully show that we trust our people to be the bosses of their own brain-time and brain-space. And we’re removing practices that allow others to trample over them.

It’s only been a couple of weeks since we implemented this stuff. But, from personal experience, I can tell you already it’s having a big impact. The after-hours email embargo alone has made a massive difference to how I feel in the evening. I can do something on my computer (perhaps even something work-y), and I don’t feel the need to check email. I instinctively did check a few times on the first few evenings. But the habit dies pretty quick when no new mail appears.

So instead of feeling connected to the office in a state of permanent amber-alert. I can relax and let my mind wander to the place where good stuff is.

This whole thing isn’t about working less. Or not applying your brain to work outside work. This is about recognising that we need a healthy balance between being ‘on’ and being ‘off’. And sometimes that’s hard to achieve when confronted by modern-life. Especially in huge, vibrant, 24hr- cities like London.

My hope is that, through the changes we’ve made, those who need it will find more mental rest. And conversely the people who want more stimulation will have capacity for that too.

Both of these outcomes will, in theory, lead to brighter thinking and better work all round. Fingers crossed…

Like I said up top, this isn’t a comprehensive list of the things we’re doing, or the benefits we hope to see. If you want to keep track of what’s going on at the agency check the W+K London Blog: Welcome to Optimism

Never Ending Web Page

Here’s something we just did for Orange.

It’s one of my favourite things that we’ve done in a while. It’s a never ending webpage. Crammed full of fun stuff and lots of surprises. Some are online, some are mobile things. But all of them demonstrate the notion of ‘unlimited’.

Not sure I’m supposed to make this public, but people will find out soon enough anyway, there’s hundreds of wind-up phone chargers hidden in the site. I’m not saying what you have to do to find them, that bit is a secret…

I don’t want to say much more because it’s one of those sites which is really about exploration and experience. (We’re hoping that because it’s a never ending page we’ll manage to hit some record-breaking dwell times on the site).

O2 doesn’t support Macs, but does have the iPhone. Odd.


I wonder how that might change O2s policy on not supporting Apple Macs.

I had a very odd conversation with someone in O2 customer support the other day where they told me that they didn’t support Macs. Apparently, according to the lady I was speaking with, they only support Hewlett Packards. Which I thought was strangely cute.

So I actually wrote a letter (like on real paper!) to O2 pointing out that this might not be a clever thing if they’re going to be stocking the iPhone. But sure enough I got a reply back saying that they don’t ‘fully’ support Macs

we don't support macs

The letter was nice…


But in my experience the actual support people simply said, “no we don’t support macs” and that was the end of it.

It would seem a little odd to be making lots of noise about working with Apple and the iPhone, yet at the same time not supporting their products in the same way they support PCs…

If you want to see the full contents of their letter…

Page 1.

Page 2.

Why I Like This QR Code Poster

I like this QR code poster. Here’s the reason why:

  • It’s very big, so you can take a photo of it from across the road. Good usability.
  • It’s mulit-layered. If you don’t know what a QR code is, it doesn’t matter, it just looks like a big fucked up cyber-apocalyptic thing with a 28 Weeks Later logo in the middle – and you see the URL.

I’m guessing that given the location (Shoreditch High Street), 15% of the people who see the poster will know what a QR code is. 22% of that 15% will have a phone that can read QR codes. Of the remaining audience 19% will bother to photograph and read the QR code (because they’re hardcore nerds and they want to know what it does).

I’ve no idea what it does because my phone doesn’t have the right software. I still quite like it though…

Update: I now know what the poster says coz Antony told me in the comments and Greg from work also sorted it – when you decode the QR thingy it says “It’s back on DVD September 10th” in plain text, which is a little disappointing – they could have at least made a flesh eating zombie virus melt my phone or something ;-)

Work Naked

Whilst I’m all for working naked (or at the very least in underpants and socks). This ad struck me as rather odd.

Work Naked Vodafone poster

I’m cool with people working nude at home but I really don’t think we should be encouraging it out in public (using mobile broadband for laptops). In fact if there’s one argument for keeping broadband tethered, this is probably it.

Some More Thoughts On Twitter

From Ian Curry at frog design: Twitter: The Missing Messenger

He makes the connection between Twitter and Tumblelogs too. But there’s two bits in his post that I especially like.

basically blogging reduced to what the Russian linguist Mikhail Bakhtin
called “the phatic function.” Like saying “what’s up?” as you pass
someone in the hall when you have no intention of finding out what is
actually up, the phatic function is communication simply to indicate
that communication can occur.


Or is it, as one of my co-workers pithily put forth, merely “Dodgeball for people who don’t go out”.

Or is it both ;-)

QR Codes – There’s More

semacodes as branding device

Following earlier posts about QR codes (or Semacodes) – the barcodes that your phone can translate into cool stuff – thought I ought to post this from the MIT Advertising Lab on uses for QR codes.

I can’t help but think that the ones above look like some kind of freakomatic 60s Haight Ashbury throwback though.

Via IF from PSFK

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Semacode Update

Blogs are great. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I asked a question about semacodes on websites. Went to bed. Then I woke up and someone’s left me a great answer. It’s like a big huge collective brain that goes on thinking throughout the night ;-)

Anyway, thanks Roger for some great thoughts. In fact if this is a topic that interests you, you should head over to his blog ‘All About Mobile Life‘ – which incidentally is QR code enabled ;-)

He makes a great point about QR Codes being used like RSS feeds. You can just snap a picture of the code on a site and boom, you’ve got a subscription to the site on your phone. Or a ‘takaway’ version of the site. Or simply a bookmark. So yes, I can see the point of codes on websites now.

I guess I’m just a bit behind in my cross-device behaviour at the moment.

And James from Collaborate Marketing has chimed in with:

The codes are also used for promotional offers – like coupons. So maybe Nike are saying – take this along to a store or some other Nike event. Also, in Japan the phones have special readers to take the information from screens, posters or instore, which we don’t have yet. I understand Nokia are testing them on the N-series.

Also a very valid use for these codes.

I guess in both examples it’s about transportability. In the ‘olden days’ people would have printed stuff out, now your mobile is easier to carry about than piles of paper (for some of us).