Companies driven by empathy will lead the post-pandemic world


The human race is a resilient race. Comprised of equal parts skepticism and optimism – depending on the day or the situation – we always manage to get through the tough times despite the obstacles ahead. It’s what got us through a modern pandemic, and despite all sorts of losses, we’ve generally emerged more resilient than before with lessons learned and a reframed sense of normalcy that should thrive again.

Robert Grace, Founding Partner: Head of Strategy at M&C Saatchi Group South Africa.

One of those learnings is that human interaction is critical to our survival because it sparks a spark that can’t be replicated in a Teams call over an intermittent internet connection. Good ideas are often sparked by informal interactions or as a result of people coming together around a challenge or opportunity in person. This human, non-digitizable energy is the catalyst.

The historian and author Theodore Zeldin understood this in the last century when he said that “all invention and all progress comes from the search for a link between two ideas that have never met”. It is in this meeting of ideas that we progress as humanity.

Empathy is at the heart of creative work

In the creative industry, we believe that the foundation of truly impactful work is empathy, because truly understanding another human being’s experience allows us to forge authentic connections. Interestingly, one of the unintended consequences of remote work and engagement is that we have become more “human” due to how we have been exposed to different people’s experiences.

Seeing people facing the challenges of working from home or dealing with isolation or loss made us understand ourselves as human beings in a much deeper way – not just as employees or customers. If we can maintain this level of empathy as we come together again, it can only be better for all of our relationships – and it will reflect in our work.

There was a surge of creativity – as there always is in a time of crisis or stress – when the pandemic hit. Then, as the days faded and we wandered in the mist of uncertainty, a certain monotony crept in because we were denied new experiences and the creative spirit had some. suffered.

Firdous Osman, SA's Women Leader 2021 and Deputy Managing Director at Saatchi & Saatchi

Work that resonates rather than is relevant

In the creative industry, there was initially a lot of extremely relevant work that reflected society – but as we all went through this ‘Groundhog Day’, all work started to look the same because it reflected an experience that was so universally shared.


Whether it was for a car brand, a bank or a retailer, if you removed the brand, it would be difficult to determine which brand or sector it belonged to. That’s why we need to shift to work that resonates, rather than relevant, by returning to this human view of empathy – and to do that, we need to come together again.

M&C Saatchi Abel was one of the first agencies to bring our teams back to our campuses, full time. We actually opened our campuses as soon as we could, as early as April 2020 under Level 4 lockdown, as we realized that many of our team members needed the campus environment.

Whether home isn’t a workspace conducive to focus and creativity, or they’ve struggled with poor internet connectivity and power outages, our campuses have become a haven for many of our team members. We have always maintained that our spaces are campuses, not offices. These are spaces where our teams feel comfortable, can be safe, be themselves, and interact to spark the energy that introduces these powerful ideas that Zeldin was talking about.

This human bond

When we returned to full-time work in early 2022, bringing our full staff of 350 employees safely back to our campuses, we did so because we knew reintroducing that human connection was important. We’ve hired around 50 new people over the past two years, so it was essential that our teams connect, get to know each other and develop a rhythm in terms of what we do and how we do it.

Building a relationship with and between employees is an essential business strategy (and the right thing to do). Organizations that have invested the time, care and commitment to build a strong relationship with their teams will continue to succeed and reap the benefits of an engaged and supportive workforce. If, as an organization, you encounter resistance or hesitation, rethink the core values ​​and trust within your culture and organization, because you may have some work to do.

The last two years have clearly shown the advantage of flexibility and the need for agility. With our teams now having experienced both remote and on-campus working, we plan from the second quarter of this year to introduce a more flexible model that places time on campus as the center of gravity, but allows our teams to work where they feel comfortable. they can do their best, while taking into account other demands on their time.

But it is a mutually beneficial relationship based on shared values, respect and responsibility. Building employee buy-in, instilling trust in the roles everyone plays, and clearly and consistently communicating underlying policies are essential.

We are excited about what all of this means for where we are as a company, for our people, and ultimately for the work we do for our customers. Embracing this sense of freedom and flexibility is born from the understanding that we are in the business of ideas – and ideas don’t come from machines, but from people. Empathetic people.


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