#WFH Diaries: Jennifer Black of Havas London

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the globe, we're checking in with people in the creative industry to see how they're doing. Here's an update from Jennifer Black of Havas London.

Give us a one-line bio of yourself.

Managing director of Havas London, full-time mum and temporary teacher. 

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

I'm holed up with my husband Mark and our 5-year-old son Senan in our house in Surrey. I have never been more grateful that we have a garden. 

What's your work situation like at the moment?

In a word, manic! As MD, my most important role right now is to make sure all our people are OK, to keep everyone together and our culture stimulated. Doing that from home is a different kettle of fish to being in the office, but I'm so proud of the resilience, flexibility and positivity everyone is showing at such a challenging time. I'm most proud of everyone's collective kindness—we've never felt more like a big family, and that's on every single member of staff. Another eye is obviously on the financials, but we're still putting through a huge volume of work, both planned and quick turnaround. While that comes with its own unique challenges right now, working remotely hasn't particularly been one of them in itself.

Describe your socializing strategy.

My first reaction to this question was: You're having a laugh! Actually, it's fair to say my work, home and social lives have all blended into one. Catch-ups with my team have become social calls as much as work ones, plus we're doing a lot that are explicitly the former—like casual breakfast meetings and a virtual Friday drinks trolley. Sometimes it's just a chance to have a chat. Often, my son joins in. Everyone's looking out for each other. 

How are you dealing with childcare?

It's difficult, no doubt, and I'd question anyone that claims otherwise. You're essentially doing two full-time jobs at the same time—one being the "day job," the other being keeping a 5-year-old busy, active, fed, happy and home-schooled. Did I say two full-time jobs? Make that three. I've never had more respect for our teachers—that is one tough gig. Thankfully, everyone—even those who don't have kids—has been incredibly understanding of those challenges. I include clients in that—they're in the same boat.  

What are you reading?

Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her autobiography. It's beautifully written but so, so sad, so perhaps not the best isolation reading. 

What are you watching?

Bake Off. And re-runs of Friends. Look, I don't want to be challenged by my TV right now, I want to switch off. The latter especially is proving a bit of a comfort blanket, taking me back to when I first watched it.

What are you listening to?

Claudia Winkleman's brilliant and searingly honest parenting podcast, How Did We Get Here. Courtesy of Senan, I am also listening to a lot of Dua Lipa, and Macklemore's "Can't Hold Us"—he's obsessed with that song at the moment. Impressive music taste for 5 years old! 

How are you staying fit?

Joe Wicks' virtual PE lessons are brilliant to do with my son, even if he is currently finding it easier to get through than I am. It also helps differentiate weekdays from the weekend, which is valuable for a young kid who's lost his normal routine almost overnight. Right now, we're about to go and play football in the garden. He's better than me at that, too.

Have you taken up a hobby?

Right, this time you really are having a laugh.

Any tips for getting necessities?

I would say corner shops, but have you tried to keep two meters apart from everyone else in a corner shop? They're just not set up for it. Saying that, supermarkets aren't much better. So perhaps "as infrequently as possible."

An awkward moment since all this started.

Awkward, no; humanizing, yes. Although my husband, who also works at Havas, did have a conference call the other day that coincided with our son urgently needing to go to the toilet. But these things are going to happen.  

Best work email you got since all this started.

This one's easy. For my birthday last week, and unbeknown to me, the guys at Havas recorded a happy birthday montage for me from all their respective isolations. It made me cry, laugh and be mortified in equal measure, and is definitely worth the wider share.

An aha! moment since all this started.

It's less of an aha! moment and more a vindication of our approach, but I love how strong our culture is proving. We intentionally take quite a hands-off role, ensuring we aren't ever a block to culture but also not trying to dictate how that looks from the top down. We trust everyone, and they're repaying that trust in spades.

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

All I will say is that I'd hate for us to end up in a situation where we just return to "business as usual." That would be a such missed opportunity to use what we're learning (and unlearning) in this period to change how we work for the better.

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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