#WFH Diaries: Michael Whelan and Dean Ryan of JWT Folk

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the world, we're checking in with people in the creative industry to see how they're doing. Here's an update from Michael Whelan amd Dean Ryan of JWT Folk in Dublin, Ireland.

Give us a one-line bio of yourself.

Michael: I'm a copywriter at JWT Folk in Dublin.

Dean: I'm an art director at JWT Folk in Dublin, with a thirst for creative and a passion for sneakers.

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

Michael: I'm in my flat in Smithfield, Dublin, with my girlfriend, Hélène, and our cat, Bobbie.

Dean: Currently living with my fiancée who is a copywriter at another agency, making for an interesting home dynamic. I have my office downstairs and she has hers upstairs. We meet in the kitchen for lunch.

What's your work situation like at the moment?

Michael: Although the whole agency is working from home, nothing much else has changed. The guys in the agency did a great job at transitioning everything and making sure that we're fully operational. Dean and I try to recreate our office working routine as much as possible and will usually spend hours on the same Slack call, even if we're working in silence on different jobs. This way we can just chat about ideas or suggestions, or who's innocent or guilty in Tiger King or whatever. The wider team are also encouraged to jump on video chats as much as possible, even if it's for a couple of seconds—kind of like dropping by someone's desk. It's working so far, and I think people have settled into it. It's been busy too, which is also good.

Dean: We have tried to replicate the creative dynamic that we would normally have in the office. Michael and I are on a continuous Slack call for the most part of the day. Sometimes that means an hour of silence, but it's important for us to keep the lines of communication open and bring it to our home/work lives. I think we have all been thrown a curve ball and each need to figure out what the new normal is.

Describe your socializing strategy.

Michael: We try to check in as often as possible as a creative team and as an agency. We have the usual Friday evening drinks over Zoom, as well as other activities to keep us entertained. I do miss the pub, though, and my family. My parents dropped some stuff over to me a couple of weeks ago, and both being high risk, stayed on the other side of the gate and passed a bag through the bars like it was prison contraband. It was surreal.

Dean: I try to keep connected and check in on my family and friends that I would usually see. This means a lot of video calling, remote house parties, Friday night quizzes, and sending those memes (you know what I'm talking about).

How are you dealing with childcare, if applicable?

Michael: I don't have kids, but I've been tempted to give a few pointers to parents I've encountered at the shop, like "Stop letting your kid lick the handle of your shopping basket, then their hands, before they run around grabbing 15 different milk cartons and anything else their tiny hands can grip."

Dean: No children so I don't have to worry about this one. I imagine it's hard trying to balance work and entertain, though, so I feel for working parents at this time.

What are you reading?

Michael: I just finished Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe, which is about The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and just started The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov. Other than that, I'm mainly reading batshit COVID19 conspiracies on Twitter.

Dean: I'm not a big reader but currently I'm reading all those expensive advertising books that have been sitting on my shelf collecting dust. Currently I like to flick through The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought for some inspiration.

What are you watching?

Michael: Like everyone else, I just finished watching Tiger King, and I'm also in the middle of Westworld Season 3. I'm ashamed to admit I'm 15 years behind on The Sopranos, but I've just started Season 6—almost there. In between all of this, I tend to watch a lot of videos on YouTube. These are mostly cooking channels like Bon Appetit, You Suck at Cooking, or Matty Matheson's stuff.

Dean: Anything and everything. A balanced mix of serious shows and trashy reality TV. I like to switch from the critically acclaimed Unorthodox to the equally entertaining Judge Judy and squeeze in some Rick and Morty during lunch. I just stared watching Westworld, too, which is amazing, and of course Tiger King blew my mind.

What are you listening to?

Michael: Music—I'm currently jumping between The Duritti Column, The Band, Women, Fat Tony, Yenkee and the Red Dead Redemption 2 and Disco Elysium soundtracks. Podcasts—Broken Record, Strong Songs, Short Wave, The Letterboxd Show, Dead Eyes, Athletico Mince, The Adam Buxton Podcast, All in the Mind. Audiobooks—I find audiobooks difficult to get into compared to a book or podcast, but I'm currently listening to On Writing by Stephen King and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.

Dean: The ambient sounds of Michael aggressively typing.

How are you staying fit?

Michael: I'm not. I used to cycle to work, which gave me a 30-minute light exercise every day. However, since working from home, I've somehow managed to lose weight because I haven't been going on work lunches or snacking on the treats in the office kitchen. I would go jogging if I could, but I have an ankle injury that won't go away. In the meantime, pacing up and down my living room, carrying a week's worth of food and bringing the rubbish bags down two flights of stairs will be my exercise until my mind starts to unravel.

Dean: In truth, I'm not. At the moment the only exercise I'm getting is the walk to the local shop. Sometimes I'll walk up and down the stairs for no reason.

Have you taken up a hobby?

Michael: Not really. Although I made cookies for the first time last week and they didn't turn out like complete shit, so I'll be doing more of them. I think I'm going to learn how to make pizza, too. Other than that, I'm trying to do more of what I fell behind on due to having less time, like learning 3-D software, doing illustrations, writing.

Dean: I have been trying things that I never had time or the patience to do. I'm getting my MasterChef on and cooking new recipes. I have also been dabbling in oil painting, literally watching paint dry.

Any tips for getting necessities?

Michael: Every man for himself! This could be your last meal, so make it count.

Dean: I like to play a version of the floor is lava in the supermarket, except in this case the people are lava, the trolley is lava, touching your face is lava, etc.

An awkward moment since all this started.

Michael: Playing "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" with my parents, as mentioned above.

Dean: My mam suggested that I start playing Telly Bingo, so I did and I secretly love it.

Best work email you got since all this started.

Both: We'll just share the subject line—"Fwd: Possibly the most important brief you'll ever get."

An aha! moment since all this started.

Michael: Getting your girlfriend to cut your hair won't be "fine."

Dean: I spend way too much money on socializing and eating out.

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

Michael: Every agency's circumstances and roster of clients are different, but I think the ones that are nimble enough to turn this negative situation into a positive will be in a good position for any future changes. The industry has been in a state of flux for a number of years, and we're always hearing about ways in which agencies need to adapt in order to survive. Suddenly, everyone has been thrown into the deep end at the same time, and it's the perfect opportunity for agencies to demonstrate whether or not they have what it takes to come out the other side unscathed, or potentially stronger. I also think working remotely is going to become much more of a thing—not just for those already working in agencies, but for freelancers as well. I can see things becoming much more competitive if suddenly we can hire people from anywhere.

Dean: I think we are all going to live in limbo for a while. When we go back it will change how people work. We now know it's possible to work effectively from home, so I think this could have an impact on how we used to work. We are problem solvers by profession, so I think no matter what hand we are dealt, we will figure out ways to adapt to new circumstances. The industry changes at a rapid pace, so we are well used to adapting and landing on our feet. I think we will get through this and come out stronger than ever before.

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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