Friday 27 March 2020 12:01 am

Now that coronavirus has closed our pubs, fancy heading online for a pint?

Ian Henderson is chief executive of AML Group.

Adland is a sociable place. Creative ideas are often sparked by chance conversations and unexpected influences. That’s why our people work closely together and why we’ve just opened our lovely, sunny new space at the Tea Building in Shoreditch.

It’s got the latest technology, colourful rugs, comfy chairs and nice big windows. But thanks to the pandemic, we’re not there. We’re all working from our kitchens, bedrooms and studies all over London and beyond. 

Read more: UK becomes biggest donor in race to find coronavirus vaccine

Welcome to the AML Arms

You might think that for a creative business like ours, social distancing would be even more disruptive than for other sectors. Happily, the investment we made in technology for the new space works remotely too. 

And among other things, we’ve used it to open an online pub called the AML Arms. Everyone is invited after work for a quick one, to share the gossip and gripes, have a laugh and enjoy their favourite pint, a cocktail (the quarantini is going down well this week…).

Like any pub, there’s music and occasional standup comedy. Kids and dogs are welcome, and clients are invited as long as they don’t talk about work. It’s a bit chaotic and sometimes hard to hear what anyone’s saying, like a typical Friday night down the pub. Or, indeed, like a lot of actual working conference calls – the AML Arms is hosted on the Teams video platform.

Read more: Working from home? You still need to dress to impress

Drum kits and pub quizzes

Inviting each other into our homes felt odd at first. But a relaxed visit to the virtual pub somehow makes the strange seem familiar. 

An account director’s remote workplace turns out to be a shed with a drum kit, so everyone demanded an impromptu solo. One strategist is a homebrew expert; others prefer tea. A pub quiz is planned, along with a standup comedy night. 

Clients might even get invited, if they buy a round.

It’s fun, but it’s serious. Working in an agency is about being social, sharing ideas, making new connections. The virtual pub does exactly that, and provides a release at a stressful time. It’s one way of making sure that clients get the service they expect while looking after peoples’ health and livelihoods.

Bridging the distance

Of course, we’re used to working at distance already, with clients in the US or across Europe. One said: “What’s the big deal? You do this anyway.” He’s right — AML works with clients around the world in sectors that are heavily involved in the financial markets, in security and in professional services, so much communication is now digital based, it is perfectly possible to run global campaigns during lockdown.

And while this situation is complicated and stressful with everyone negotiating a new way of working, a new way of being, we remain optimistic as a business. We are pitching (virtually), winning work, and we’re hiring too. We can do this if we manage to retain and sustain a sense of togetherness.

Read more: Coronavirus crisis is putting the public good back at the heart of commerce

Keeping connected at a time of global crisis

There’s a long way to go in this crisis, and like everyone else, we are hoping for the best while planning for the worst. We know we have to stay focused, do our jobs and look after our clients as well as looking after ourselves. Keeping connected, and keeping the fun in what we do, is essential to our business as well as to our people. 

That’s why creating a virtual pub is not just a nice idea, it matters. 

See you in the AML Arms.

Ian Henderson is chief executive of AML Group.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.