Creating new experiences: Lessons from Sid Lee (Part 2)

Dec. 19, 2017
  • Viewpoints

Masako Shimizu spent three months at Sid Lee, one of the companies of the kyu collective, between July and September 2017 as a trainee under the kyu MARU program, a talent exchange program between Hakuhodo DY Holdings and its strategic business unit kyu. She reports on the experience. (Part 1)

Masako Shimizu
Copywriter / Creative Director
Masako Shimizu joined Hakuhodo in 2006 and, after a stint as a strategic planner, became a copywriter in 2009. She was seconded to TBWA\Hakuhodo in 2011, where she worked with global clients on integrated cross-media projects. Since returning to Hakuhodo in 2013, she has spent her days tackling new types of projects rooted in powerful concepts while building on her copywriting experience. She has won a Gold Cannes Lion and the TCC New Face Award, and sat on the Direct Jury at the 2016 Cannes Lions Festival.

“Work hard, play hard.”

Sid Lee’s people maintain a proper work-life balance, basically working nine to five, though with the occasional overtime when things get busy. One phrase I often heard when I was at Sid Lee was “Work hard, play hard.” That spirit was abundantly evident in events held at the office. Everyone of course applies themselves assiduously to the job, while there are further learning opportunities in house along with a variety of events where people can socialize. Sid Lee doesn’t cut corners when it comes to having fun either. I got the impression that it aims to a place where, when you come to the office, you can renew yourself by encountering new information, getting to know people, and swapping ideas. That may be the source of its friendly atmosphere.

One day’s Lunch & Learn
People from hot companies come to speak on various subjects.
A different day’s Lunch & Learn
Learning about the ecology of bees. A beehive was recently installed on the roof.

Among the events held at the office are Lunch & Learn, where you get to listen to people from hot companies over lunch, and “Naked Lunch”, where management sits in a row before the entire staff and you can ask whatever you like (they’re not actually naked, but the level of transparency is so high they might as well be). The latter is a Sid Lee tradition observed at the Montreal office as well. The questions cover a wide array of topics, ranging from “Why can’t we bring our dogs to work?” to tough subjects like “What are the company’s business plans for the future?”. The management people answer as thoroughly as they can. This event offers a glimpse of Sid Lee’s open culture. Further, every Friday after work there is Beer Friday with free beers for the Toronto office (similar events are held in the other offices as well), plus during my stay at Sid Lee a special monthly event called Special Beer Friday, where members of management serve cocktails, was added to the calendar. Then there was Japanese Beer Friday, which doubled as my farewell party, where I prepared Japanese food and drinks. In addition, the creative division held its own parties, and there was a Wellness Workshop featuring specialists talking about how to maintain the work-life balance. Office events were thus regular affairs.

Japanese Beer Friday, which doubled as my farewell party

Outside the office, there was an overnight summer party when I was at Sid Lee, during which the entire workforce travelled by bus to that great Canadian institution the lakeside cottage and stayed for the night. The creative team members produced a really slick invitation and opening movie, which a lot of effort went into. At the cottage we split up into teams and played games and went canoeing. There was a party during the evening where we dressed up on a theme and sat around the campfire talking. When Sid Lee’s people have fun, they really do. In addition, there was an event called the Moron Awards, which honored the team’s biggest screw-ups, mistakes and “faux pas” from the past year. The video was brilliantly done, and the audience really got into it. Sid Lee has a great sense of humor: it even turns bungles into a source of fun and commends them. The agency’s people are very much into sports as well. Every Monday during Toronto’s precious summer months — the winter is very cold, with temperatures, I’m told, of minus 20-30˚ Celsius — there is a volleyball tournament, or a baseball game against another agency. Basically anyone is welcome to join in. These various in- and out-of-office events gave me a valuable opportunity to get to know people other than those I worked with. I imagine they also benefit others by promoting interaction between people in the office, since there are quite a few new employees.

At the cottage on the lake
Dressed up in different costumes on a horror theme

Get the most enjoyment out of both work and play. Ensure as transparent a relationship as possible among employees, and leverage that relationship into a sense of team unity. And turn the office into a fun place to come to every day. CCO and co-founder Philip Meunier once said that everyone, whatever their job description, needs to be a creative. The positive, friendly office environment implied by those words may be fundamentally necessary to the business of creativity and ideas.

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