#WFH Diaries: Claire Whigham of McGarrah Jessee

Even as parts of the world begin to open up amid the pandemic, most folks are still working from home. We're checking in with creative people to see how they're faring. Here's an update from Claire Whigham, CCO at Austin agency McGarrah Jessee.

Give us a one-line bio of yourself.

I'm the chief creative officer at McGarrah Jessee, and when this pandemic hit, I was only four months into the job.

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

I moved from L.A. for this position, so my husband and I, along with our two kids (Jack, 4, and June, 2), were all stuffed in an Airbnb in Austin when Covid-19 hit. We moved into our house a month later, so now we've got a little more space but a lot more boxes.

What's your work situation like at the moment, and how is it evolving?

Every week seems to bring a new theme. Unfortunately and understandably, a few weeks ago we had several people going through mental health challenges. We're talking openly about the effect isolation is having on us all, and we have been offering more resources for support and simply more time off.

This past week, we've all been grappling with how to process our anger and sadness around the racial injustice that so blatantly exists in our country. We're also talking honestly about the big job to be done in terms of diversity in our own company, our own industry, and within the work we create.

If you generally work in an office, when you do you expect to return to it?

We don't imagine "returning" or "going back to the same way it was before." We're looking forward to a future where we think differently about our building and space. It's a historic Austin building sitting among downtown skyscrapers, and it's a gem we hold dear. We plan on using it to gather as a group, which we certainly miss, and to work in large groups when that is safe again. But this pandemic has us using all kinds of new tools to collaborate, and we plan on keeping all of that in place.

Describe your socializing strategy.

We still kick off every week all together with a bit of inspiration, just like we did before. We've done everything from a Slack race to name random objects in our office to a peek behind the curtain at our first production after the virus hit. We've got Thirsty Thursday still, complete with games made for Zoom, but we see the most benefit from smaller groups getting together after a particularly long day, just like we did in the office, but now over Zoom. Less formality has been the key for us—the formalized social stuff was adding pressure that wasn't helpful.

How are you dealing with childcare?

Like most parents, I'm just trying to survive. My husband is with our kids during the day, and there's no way I could do my job without him doing that very important job. I've let go of worrying about my kids crashing my Zooms. "Tag, you're it, Mommy" or "June took Mighty Marshall and won't give him back" or, my favorite, "Here's your coffee, Mama" as it's spilling all over the floor.

What are you reading?

Searching for Whitopia, recommended by an old friend after the recent events sparked by the death of George Floyd. 

What are you watching?

The Last Dance. After spending all day finding ways to rally fans for our brands, it's fascinating to watch the story of the cult of Michael Jordan and the Bulls, especially since many of my extended family were devout members. And I'm just a sucker for a good competition story.

What are you listening to?

Texas thunderstorms. I was "too busy" for them before this—I usually ended up trying to drive in them, instead of listen to them—but man are they a powerful way to relax. 

How are you staying fit?

Teaching Jack to ride a bike. The better he gets, the more I run. 

Have you taken up a hobby?

A few times a week, I put June on my bike and cruise around town. It reminds me of biking around Amsterdam, earlier in my career, thinking I could never have kids and work in this industry. I'm glad I was wrong. Being a parent has given me a perspective that I think is incredibly important in this industry.

An awkward moment since all this started.

Embracing uncomfortable moments is part of my job description. This morning  (June 1) we held an open forum to talk specifically about race. It started out awkward and quiet, but grew into an emotional and honest conversation. That doesn't replace the work to be done, but I'm glad the conversation has begun and action can be next.

An aha! moment since all this started.

I think we can all agree we should have been allowing to-go alcohol long ago. The summer beverage game in Austin is still strong, and I'm happy to be experiencing it via pickup.

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

We're about to see a surge of creativity like we've never seen before. Our whole country has been at home, thinking, tinkering, pivoting, learning and reconnecting with what matters most to them. I think the period of invention and entrepreneurship that we're entering will be unlike any other. I'm seeing it already within McJ and I'm so excited for the things we're going to get after in the next year.

See the full #WFH Diaries series here.

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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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