Stepping Up

How Leaders Are Rising to the Occasion

Throughout the Small Giants Community and beyond, leaders are doing what’s right when it matters most. These are their stories.


ELLYN DAVIDSON | Brogan & Partners

For nearly three months now, office buildings across the country have sat vacant, while its former occupants adjust to working from makeshift home offices and scramble to learn video call etiquette. 

For those who have long called for remote work to go mainstream, it’s an imperfect experiment: employers lacked time to make proper plans, parents are managing restless, isolated children, and we’re all struggling with the mental toll of our country’s health, economic, and racial crises. 

Although the circumstances are extraordinary, this experience is prompting many to reconsider their stance on virtual work. In the short-term, working from home offers continued safety to team members who aren’t confident about returning to the office. But in the long term, what can we learn from this experience to create a more flexible, rewarding work experience for our team members? 

Ellyn Davidson is CEO of Brogan & Partners, a full-service marketing and advertising firm that was recently named a 2020 Forbes Small Giant.  Read her perspective on returning to the office, the future of working from home, and how to keep employees engaged right now.

Is It Time to Return to the Office?

As the economy reopens and stay-at-home orders are relaxed, leaders are facing tough decisions about when and how to return to the office. Is it time to start transitioning your team back to the office? Should you play it safe and wait it out at home? And do your team members even want to go back to in-person work?

Your approach depends on the kind of business you do and the unique needs of your team members. Here’s one perspective on how to calculate your next move.

“We Broke Up with Our Office Lease”

After a pretty seamless transition to working from home, Ellyn Davidson and her team at Brogan & Partners are ready to say goodbye to their office space. They were already having issues with their space after a change in landlords, and with their lease up in July, they decided to stay virtual a while longer.

“My team hasn’t missed a beat,” says Davidson. “We decided to stay virtual and use this time to look for a new space. Even when we go back to an office, it won’t look like it did before.”

Instead of investing time and energy into reconfiguring their space for proper social distancing, Davidson is focusing on keeping her team engaged through workshops, guest speakers, and learning opportunities. She’s also dialed into the unique needs of parents on her team with small children. They’re struggling to balance work and family life, and Ellyn is stepping in to assist on their accounts and redistribute work when they need support. 

“Since all of this started, I’ve never doubted whether a team member was really working or being honest about their time,” says Davidson. “We have a high level of trust and commitment, and that’s what makes this work. We’ve always been flexible, but this has really given us an opportunity to take full advantage of that.”

Imagining a More Flexible Way to Work

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Beyond working from home to keep team members healthy and safe, many leaders have been inspired to reimagine the way their teams work long term. For companies that went into this crisis with strong cultures and high engagement, they’re finding that their cultures are resilient enough to not just survive this test, but to thrive during it. 

It’s prompting purpose-driven leaders to imagine what else is possible for their organizations — what can we take from this experience to improve our cultures and serve our team members in new ways?

Cutting Down the Daily Commute


For Davidson, one of the most surprising revelations of the past three months is how connected their team feels despite not seeing one another in-person for months.

“Our Zoom calls really do feel like we are all together in the office,” says Davidson. “We miss seeing each other, but it really doesn’t matter where we are. It’s made me realize that we can take the flexibility of our culture even further.”

A number of people on their team have long commutes, and Davidson couldn’t help but think about all the time they used to waste on their commutes. One of Brogan’s Art Directors has a two-hour, round trip commute, and working from home saves her so much valuable time every week. Pre-pandemic, she was working from home one day a week, but Davidson could no longer see her going back to that. 

“On a call with her, I said, ‘You’re never coming back to the office four days a week again,’” says Davidson. “This has changed things for me, and I’m realizing you don’t have to be physically in the office to be a great employee. I want to retain our great talent, and flexibility is key.”

Next year, Davidson plans to roll out a blended approach that offers the best of both worlds. She’s still thinking through the nuts and bolts of the program, but she envisions having a day or two every week with the bulk of the team on-site, and offering flexibility from there. Many will want to come into the office anyways, others may stay home the rest of the week.

“This change supports our values: live with integrity, win as a team, be cheerful and joyful,” says Davidson. “Long commutes aren’t joyful. Some days, you wake up and you’re not able to be cheerful around others. Other days, the best thing for you is to take a run at 10am. I fully support that.”

How Do I Continue to Keep My Employees Engaged?

At this point, the shock of the pandemic has worn off for many, and we’re settled into our new normal. Many leaders are sorely missing the engagement opportunities that summertime usually offers: offsite retreats, summer picnics, and community service events are all postponed until further notice. 

It takes some creativity, but there are plenty of fun, thoughtful ways to boost employee engagement while teams work from home.

Having Important (And Tough) Conversations

Working from home has its benefits, but many quickly learn that it’s difficult to draw boundaries when your work and personal life are playing out in the same space. Instead of leaving employees to fend for themselves, Ellyn actively supports them in finding that balance and truly unplugging from work to enjoy life.

“My team has always been up for working evenings or weekends if we need it,” says Davidson. “But we can’t always be on. When we’re getting off a meeting, I’ll encourage them to take 30 minutes to go outside for a morning walk. We’re holding competitions to see who can get the most steps and be the most active — we don’t have commutes anymore, so let’s use that time to exercise.”

Davidson is also hosting regular seminars for the team and inviting guest speakers to join them for roundtable discussions on timely topics. Earlier this month, they tackled mental health and wellness. Now, Davidson is planning a roundtable about race and social justice to help the team digest current events and share their perspectives. She’s bringing in a guest speaker and invited Black employees to share their experiences if they are comfortable.

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“If we were together in person, we’d all be talking about this,” says Davidson. “I think we all need to be having these conversations, and it’s important to express that we stand with each other, even if we haven’t walked in someone’s shoes. We’re going to have an open conversation and talk about how we can support each other.”

There’s no one way to approach this next phase, but purpose-driven leaders are committed to listening to their people and making decisions that serve their team and the culture. Virtual work is likely to play a larger role in all of our lives for the long term, but purpose-driven leaders know it’s not so much about where you’re working or even how — it’s why.

What do these leaders have in common?

These leaders are part of Small Giants companies — companies that prioritize their purpose and culture and invest in their emerging leaders.

One way Small Giants companies invest in their next generation of leaders is by enrolling them in the Small Giants Leadership Academy. This robust one-year certification program consists of virtual learning sessions with expert leaders and coaches, an extensive resource library, on-the-ground meetups with your cohort, a leadership assessment, and your event ticket to two Small Giants gatherings.

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