For Kristin Albrecht, Regional Vice President at Ampersand — a national TV advertising sales, marketing and technology company owned in partnership by Comcast, Charter and Cox — balance means “feeling satisfied in [her] ability to do multiple things, professionally and personally.” Further, Albrecht explains that it “means feeling healthy and that I’m not sacrificing one aspect of my life for another.”
However, “the concept of achieving a consistent daily schedule and perfect work-life balance is not realistic,” Albrecht notes. “We need to be nimble and work toward achieving that overall balance over time, knowing that it’s incredibly difficult to have that daily.” This is particularly true during the COVID-19 pandemic, when finding balance seems harder than ever as the boundaries between work and life are becoming more blurred for many workers.
To help employees like Albrecht find balance during this difficult time, Ampersand is holding themselves accountable for employee happiness and well-being. For instance, Albrecht says that company-wide biannual surveys help Ampersand “get an understanding of what’s going well and where we need to work toward improvement. Having metrics is the only way to understand if we’re on the right track.”
As a result of efforts like these, Ampersand was named one of AdAge’s Best Places to Work in January 2021. “This was an incredible honor, particularly in light of the circumstances over the previous year,” says Albrecht. “It demonstrates the continuous work around improved company culture.”
In this interview, Albrecht shares how Ampersand quickly pivoted in light of the pandemic and continues to focus on not only promoting but improving work-life balance for employees.
Tell us about yourself.
I oversee our local sales division in the Northeast region. My team works with agencies and advertisers to help them reach their target audiences in a multiscreen environment. I’ve been in this role for about three years. I joined Ampersand, formerly NCC Media, in 2003 in a sales support role. I was a salesperson for years and moved into sales management in 2013.
Paint a picture of a typical day.
I am an “early bird” by nature. In this remote environment, and with two small children, this has been incredibly beneficial for me. With a little luck, I typically have a couple of hours to myself before the house is awake.
On a good day, my general routine includes coffee, a little news, a workout and a shower, followed by prep for the workday with a calendar review and email catchup. If I accomplish all of this, the day is off to a very good start. This allows me to enjoy some time in the morning with my kids before the workday gets underway. My husband and I are incredibly fortunate to have my mother as the caregiver for our children. This allows me to take advantage of those windows, no matter how brief, to “take a breath” and enjoy some time with the kids, especially before they go back to school. Some days are harder than others, but I stay grateful for the balance.
What boundaries have you established to separate work and family time?
It’s a work in progress. I’ve got my morning routine down pat for the most part, but things can go sideways throughout the day. Women generally have more to navigate than men. Being so fortunate to have an amazing caregiver helps create boundaries, but if the kids and I are in the same house, these boundaries are never solid.
Days are unpredictable. I try to go easy on myself if things don’t go the way I planned. Being flexible is key. Tomorrow is a new day.
Describe your company culture.
At Ampersand, “balance” is one of our core values. It’s not just a word that shows up on company collateral but a culture that’s been fostered over the last several years. Most of the time, people involuntarily find themselves spending a disproportionate amount of time working, creating increased stress levels and personal imbalance.
Ensuring employees take time to decompress, reset and rest is a clear focus of the Ampersand Leadership Team. This is evident by measures taken throughout the year, such as additional PTO, Summer Fridays and the consistent message of the need for work-life balance and general health and well-being at the forefront of everything we do.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect Ampersand?
From a macroeconomic perspective, COVID-19 impacted our industry significantly. Advertising, like so many industries, saw an immediate decline. Ampersand began trying to figure out how to operate in the new world, when there was no time to prepare for it. How can we help our clients navigate the changing world when we can’t meet with them in person? How can we keep our employees engaged and professionally satisfied while we’re all isolated and dealing with unprecedented circumstances?
How did Ampersand adapt as a result of the pandemic?
I wouldn’t necessarily say we’ve changed, as our core mission and values remained intact. We were able to adapt and pivot where needed to ensure that we remained on track while keeping the well-being of our employees the priority.
In March 2020, Ampersand immediately demonstrated this by being one of the first companies in my purview to require the entire staff to work from home when COVID-19 surged. I’m certain that many were protected from this virus who otherwise wouldn’t have been because of this.
How is Ampersand supporting employees during the pandemic?
Amidst chaotic and unpredictable times, we seemed to be able to adjust well. There was an instant focus on employee engagement and transparent communication. For example, we had weekly virtual “Town Halls” so employees heard the most up-to-date information from our Executive Committee directly. Even when there weren't new updates to share, this proved a valuable measure to ensure our team felt connected.
As time went on and we realized that our remote environment would be more long term than initially expected, we focused on various ways to keep everyone connected and give employees opportunities for positive outlets, such as fitness challenges, book clubs and a mentorship program. We’re also engaging in ongoing dialogue and 360 feedback. It seems simple, but it’s so important to understand how employees are doing, identify challenges and show you’re invested in the success of your employees and teammates.
How has the culture changed or remained the same during the pandemic?
Ampersand has had a focused effort around improved company culture for nearly three years. The pandemic didn’t change that — I think it accelerated our progress. It would’ve been easy to lose focus, but instead, we doubled down on our core values. We’re focused on building a culture where we emphasize having a life beyond the (virtual) office.
Work-life balance — more commonly, imbalance — is difficult to correct. Working from home has exacerbated this. You no longer have to shut down your computer to leave your office. People are working 24/7, feeling obligated to answer emails and work on projects all day. Taking personal time started to feel impossible as the lines between professional and personal life blurred and we worked where we lived and lived where we worked. In an effort to combat this, my company took measures to push some balance, such as “no Zoom Fridays.”
Moving forward, does Ampersand plan to keep any policies in place that they implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Prior to the pandemic, we had a one-day-a-week work-from-home option. This was one of the first measures taken to try and achieve better work-life balance when Nicolle Pangis joined our company as CEO. Now, 18 months (and counting) into a remote environment, with recognition about how important work-life balance is now more than ever, we’ll be moving to a two-day-a-week work-from-home policy when we eventually return back to the office.
Do you think other companies would benefit from similar initiatives/policies?
Absolutely. The added work-from-home day provides more balance. Also, the shift from a remote work “option” to more of a “policy” allows employees to leverage that time without subconscious guilt or negative perception.
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