"Famously effective" creative agency goes all in on “Borderless” collaboration for the win

Legendary creative agency Grey has been delighting clients since its 1917 inception in New York City—still its headquarters and now the center of a global network. As part of the WPP conglomerate of creative agencies, Grey serves one-fifth of the Fortune 500. For Grey, bringing cutting-edge ideas and first-class results to its clients meant supporting its multinational, multispecialty creatives with Microsoft Teams and related collaborative platforms. Teamwork is taking off in unexpected and productive ways.

As its tagline says, Grey is known and respected all over the world for its innovative, “Famously Effective” campaigns and a planet-spanning reach that is broader than ever. Long recognized as an innovator, Grey is all about setting the pace. It doesn’t follow trends. To keep creative teams around the globe in touch and on task, the firm found the collaboration solution it needed with Microsoft Teams. Clearly, when an iconic creative agency applies its inventive spirit to its own work processes, the result can be Famously Effective.

Accessing talent wherever it is

Grey has talent deployed all over the world. With more than 400 offices in 154 cities scattered across 96 countries, its creative specialists encircle the globe. Just as the firm accepts no limits on creativity, its leadership envisioned a new “Borderless Grey” to transcend the constraints of geography. Borderless Grey means that a specialized resource can collaborate with a team on the other side of the globe as easily and securely as if they were in the same office. But as Neil McPhedran, General Manager of Grey Vancouver, can attest, having a vision is one thing. Making it happen is another. He knows that when self-motivated, innovative staff need a solution, they don’t wait for leadership to mandate platforms. Solutions that offer short-term answers but long-term headaches can proliferate. And as more third-party solutions develop, the risk of multiple teams using mismatched apps that don’t support collaboration within a global environment grows.

Fortunately for McPhedran and his team, the Borderless Grey initiative was taking off with a move to the cloud and a Microsoft 365 implementation. Grey leadership knew that providing a common tool set was key to setting the stage for global collaboration. It needed to be a highly effective platform, with a low bar for entry. And dissolving the lines between the creative business and IT sides of the agency would be paramount to success. “Grey wanted to give its creative workforce tools they could use to be more effective,” explains Jess Nicholls, Engagement and Adoption Global Program Director at Grey, based in the London office. “These people are intelligent, creative, and passionate. We knew that if we provided tools that didn’t work for them, they’d push back. And we wanted to implement the tools as a program of interactive change rather than a mandatory requirement.”

Nicholls and her team are working with executives in offices around the world to create that borderless workplace. In a field that hinges on collaboration, Teams provides a common platform for sharing, communicating, and enhancing team spirit.

Supporting diverse teams

The creative industry relies on a mix of full-time staff and contractors to fulfill client visions. To take advantage of specialized skills, those teams are often composed of creatives from around the world—and that means bringing differing time zones, cultures, and workstyles into the mix. This leaves firms to balance the ever-changing makeup of their teams with the inevitable need for speed. “It is absolutely essential to our business to have tools we can use to meet our clients’ expectations that we deliver high-quality work and deliver it fast,” says Sjoerd Koopman, Chief Human Resources Officer and Head of Talent for Grey Europe, and Interim Managing Director of Grey London.

Along with the ebb and flow of team members comes geographic diversity—people with highly specialized skills and experience are scattered around the planet. Grey uses Teams to accelerate that global teamwork. In a Grey Canada office, the results are bearing fruit. “We’ve got people in production studios, people working from other offices anywhere in the world. Our team members use Teams to stay connected and productive without missing a beat,” says McPhedran. Regardless of time zones, travel, and changing schedules, team members can take their work with them.

As the head of one of Grey’s larger offices and the leader of Grey’s HR in Europe, Koopman is particularly sensitive about security. He understands the conundrum of modern business: more accessibility and flexibility mean more mobility. But with mobility can come risk. “The combination of Teams with OneDrive and SharePoint Online means that people can do their work from any computer, anywhere—and their work doesn’t live on that device. From a security standpoint, that gives me a great deal of confidence.”

Boosting business value with seamless communication

Even at this early stage of deployment, Grey is a testament to the power of frictionless communication to create real business value.

For busy executives like Koopman and McPhedran, email is a mixed bag. As invaluable as it is for more formal communications, email can lack the organic nature of human conversation. Key players can be unintentionally dropped from threads, and an attachment to 10 people will live in 10 separate file systems—and take on lives of their own. Multiple emails from players with separate responsibilities can mushroom into threads that take time to dig through.

Now, McPhedran’s team sets up a channel in Teams for each project, keeping conversations, files, media, and informal chat contained. “Teams has removed a lot of the friction we encounter when collaborating,” he says. “We’re deriving business value from immense efficiency gains. A lot of internal back and forth now happens in Teams.”

There are a lot of moving parts in building a social media campaign, says McPhedran, and a mistake could cost tens of thousands of dollars. With the visibility afforded by the template kept in the Teams channel for each project, everyone can stay proactive. “With Teams, transparency is much greater. I depend on my team; they depend on me. If someone goes away on holidays, we don’t worry that there is something in that person’s email that we don’t know about. We can all follow along from a process perspective, too,” says McPhedran.

Administration is easier, too. Once the bane of the creative team’s existence, docket numbers for tracking project time and expenses are now incorporated into each Teams channel. “We no longer have issues with missing or transcribed docket numbers,” says McPhedran. “It’s been a game-changer.”

Strengthening the bond that makes teams closer

Bringing on new employees is easier than ever before, says McPhedran. New hires and contractors with the Vancouver office easily come up to speed by reviewing materials on the relevant Teams channels. Koopman sees that easy knowledge transfer as something far greater than a team efficiency. “Obviously, one of the key performance indicators in our industry is that we create amazing work for our clients,” he says. “It’s essential that we find the right people and bring them onboard smoothly. But more importantly, it’s about a continued level of engagement from those people to keep them coming up with the great ideas that people associate with Grey.”

McPhedran appreciates the morale boost that comes with the flat, project-focused structure his projects adopt in Teams. “I find that everyone feels more involved when we work together in Teams,” he says. “We all celebrate and participate in wins without regard to seniority or position. It’s fantastic.”

Read Sjoerd Koopman’s blog post for more about how Grey promotes global engagement and protects its work culture.

For more about breaking down borders on the production side, read the blog post from Richard Hau, Technical Programme Director at Grey X London.

Find out more about Grey on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

We create amazing work for our clients….But more importantly, it’s about a continued level of engagement from those people to keep them coming up with the great ideas that people associate with Grey.
Sjoerd Koopman, Chief Human Resources Officer and Head of Talent, Interim Managing Director Grey Europe, Grey London


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