#WFH Diaries: Ashley Cooksley of The Social Element

As folks continue to self-isolate in most parts of the world, we're checking in with creative people to see how they're faring. Here's an update from Ashley Cooksley of marketing firm The Social Element.

Give us a one-line bio of yourself.

I'm the managing director and chief client officer for The Social Element, where I've worked for the past 12 years. It's hard to believe that I've been in this business for almost a quarter of a century!

Where are you living right now, and who's with you?

I'm living in Carolina Beach, N.C. Our small town is like an oasis during this time, despite closing all the beaches. I live with my husband and my two young-ish daughters, and we thankfully have the benefit of having a great outdoor space. We also used this opportunity to replace the trampoline that flew into our neighbor's yard during Hurricane Florence.

What's your work situation like at the moment?

I'm lucky that my agency has been operating on a distributed model since, well, forever. I've been working from home since I started here in 2008, so I have a specific home office that is now doubling as my gym (and also triples as my husband's music room). These days however, with two kids at home all day, our video calls can sometimes get pixelated. "Get off of the WiFi!!" is often yelled a dozen times in the house.

Describe your socializing strategy.

We are usually very involved in our community. Carolina Beach is a small town filled with families with kids the same age as ours, so we used to always be at each others' houses on weekends, or having happy hour on the beach, especially at this time of year. Adjusting has been tricky, but we just started using Houseparty, and our kids are living on FaceTime with their friends. We also just spent last summer traveling cross country in a camper, so being alone isn't that foreign to us, thankfully. We're actually pretty happy together!

At work, many of our colleagues have used this time to turn their passions into group social activities. We have producers leading yoga sessions, account managers organizing Drawful competitions, and daily Zoom sessions with our CEO. We all seem to hang out longer in our video meetings just to chat.

How are you dealing with childcare?

I'm grateful to have kids that are old enough to take care of a lot of things themselves, but homeschooling is certainly an adventure. I also find that while we focussed a lot on adjusting from a logistical standpoint, kids just need us to be there for them right now. I try to spend as much time as possible one on one with my daughters, to provide them with undivided attention and just hug them, tell them it's all going to be alright, or learn a TikTok dance together. I asked my team to think very critically about meetings right now, and label anything that's not absolutely necessary as "optional." This gives us all permission to sometimes skip a meeting and spend time with our kids throughout the day when they need it.

What are you reading?

I just finished Call of the Wild (I somehow missed that one during high school), and am getting ready to read Comfortable With Uncertainty by Pema Chodran. I don't think I can concentrate on a long novel, and this has short teachings that I hope will help me handle the current situation a bit more.

What are you watching?

Making the Cut on Amazon Prime (since Project Runway's season is over), and I also just finished watching Sunderland 'Til I Die on Netflix about the Sunderland Football Club in England. It's excruciating and heartbreaking, but fascinating even if you aren't a soccer fan.

What are you listening to?

I have a workout playlist on Spotify with Arcade Fire and Beastie Boys that I'm playing a lot now that my office is doubling as a gym.

How are you staying fit?

Gone are my early morning bootcamp sessions at the gym. I have group training sessions three times a week on Zoom, and I'm getting a lot of mileage on the Peloton.

Have you taken up a hobby?

My kids and I have been painting happy trees by watching Bob Ross videos, and I just doubled my garden in the hopes of being able to actually grow a vegetable this year.

Any tips for getting necessities?

I was the crazy lady that made sure we stocked up right at the beginning of Covid-19, and fortunately our lovely local restaurants are still doing curbside pickup. Shout-outs to Flaming Amy's and Shuckin' Shack!)

An awkward moment since all this started.

Having to say "no" to playdates, even early on before we had a lockdown. It's hard to deny your kids seeing their friends, but it was the right thing to do.

Best work email you got since all this started.

Not so much emails, but certainly the unexpected chat messages of encouragement have been amazing. I work with incredibly kind and supportive people at The Social Element. We've even had new people join the agency in the middle of this craziness, and they've all noticed how supportive and flexible we are.

An aha! moment since all this started.

That it won't be hard to explain why we have a distributed work model again to new clients. It's great that they are seeing how this works first hand, and that people can be trusted and amazing at their jobs even if they aren't in an office.

What's your theory on how this is going to play out?

I wish I knew what the world will be like in a few months' time, but it's going to be different. The workforce model will certainly be changed forever, and trust levels with colleagues will surely increase. Generally, we'll all appreciate our fellow humans even more after this, and all the amazing work our nurses, doctors and first responders have done to keep us safe. And if you have a school-age child that you're homeschooling, you'll most definitely appreciate what teachers do!

See the full #WFH Diaries series here.

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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