Voices

Building back better: Industry leaders on the future of work

For individuals and agency leaders alike, the coronavirus crisis and looming restrictions mean that that there are often more questions than answers.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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It would be all too easy for business leaders to rush towards an ‘answer’ to the open question of the future of work. Yet the truth is for individuals and agency leaders alike, the coronavirus crisis and looming restrictions mean that that there are often more questions than answers. 

It’s an ecosystem which makes shared collaboration and learning a business imperative. With this in mind we asked a selection of industry leaders to give their honest view on the future of the workplace. 

Create a culture that allows people to feel free to work flexibly and prioritise productivity over presenteeism.

Gen Kobayashi

Gen Kobayashi

Gen Kobayashi, ENGINE.jpg

Chief Strategy Officer

ENGINE Creative

Are we fixating on the wrong thing in terms of ‘office return’? Is a return to the office the real focus? 

I think the focus should be less about a ‘return’ to the office, but about building ‘a new way of working in and out of offices. As ever with many debates, binary perspectives end up overpowering thoughtful and nuanced debate. I don’t think it’s about a full return to how things were five days a week, nine-to-five in an office. But I also don’t believe it’s about working from home indefinitely. I think what COVID has done is presented an opportunity for us to truly embrace flexible working and give people the opportunity to re-address working practices that suit people individually.

What do you want to hold onto in terms of the changes you have made to working practices during COVID?

COVID has shone a human spotlight on employees. Zooms have given the opportunity to see a previously hidden side to people’s lives. Whether it’s kids interrupting your meeting or having to let a barking dog out. The corporate veneer has been removed which has exposed the human and genuine side of business. As things begin to return to relative normality, I hope we don’t lose this human connection we’ve seen in business. 

What do you see as the biggest challenge of returning to the office for you and for your staff?

Capacity. When you work for an agency over a certain size, it becomes very difficult to fit everyone in one space.

What can companies do to better support employees in this unprecedented situation?

Create a culture that allows people to feel free to work flexibly and prioritise productivity over presenteeism.

What I would hate to see is the distraction of COVID getting in the way of the vitally important work we need to be doing on diversifying our agencies.

Katie Lee

Katie Lee

Katie_Lee, Lucky Generals.jpg

CEO

Lucky Generals

Are we fixating on the wrong thing in terms of ‘office return’?

What I would hate to see is the distraction of COVID getting in the way of the vitally important work we need to be doing on diversifying our agencies. Movements like Black Lives Matter are in real danger of losing their urgency and investment as we focus on installing one-way systems and buying hand sanitiser. 

What do you want to hold onto in terms of the changes to working practices?

Understanding that some work can be done better out of the noise of the office, but also that great work and strategy comes from the magic of time spent together in craft, from the energy in the agency and a team pulling together in the same direction. Also, our newfound understanding of the progressive use of technology. As agencies, we relied a lot on facetime to be effective, but being digitally fluent will have a huge effect on both our operational efficiency and our understanding and use of technology for our clients. 

What do you see as the biggest challenge of returning to the office?

Being half in the office and half out. One of the biggest challenges of leaving the office was realising that certain voices are heard more over Zoom. Some people just perform better in those environments, and this will only be exacerbated when half of the workforce are in the office and the other half are working from home. 

We will also need to find a way of understanding and accommodating people’s fears. The issues people are dealing with, from public transport to decisions on school reopening to fear of getting the virus are not of our making or within our control, but we have to find ways to make everyone feel comfortable and adapt to an ever-changing landscape. All we can do is the right thing. 

At the beginning of lockdown, we were all in the same situation and pulling the same direction, so in a way it was easier. Now, everyone feels differently and feels different things, so we are no longer all in lockstep which adds a complex dynamic to getting the work done.  

What can companies do to better support employees in this unprecedented situation? 

In general, all we can do is the right thing. In any situation like this, you always want to come out of it thinking you've done the right thing over and above everything else. 

We also need to make sure everything we’ve learned about flexible working doesn't slip down the agenda. We should now be moving towards proper flexible working not just having a few hours at home when you have a plumber coming round. 

It has always been important that people feel able to bring their whole selves to work, but the pandemic I think fast-forwarded this mind-set.

Chris Freeland

Chris Freeland

Chris Freedland, RAPP.jpg

CEO

RAPP

Are we fixating on the wrong thing in terms of ‘office return’? Is a return to the office the real focus? 

As a newly merged agency, getting us back into one collaborative space is important, not least so that we can all get to know each other properly! But getting back to the office is not the one desired outcome of this pandemic. If we’ve learnt anything it’s about working where you work best. I previously hated working from home, but the pandemic has forced me to reassess how I can flex more and I’ve 100% benefited from it, both professionally and personally. But whilst many of us will have enjoyed the new flexibility of home working, many of us will have missed the collaborative, sociable and vibrant side of the office and are desperate to work in a space that is not their own four walls. The real focus has to be cultivating an agile working environment that works for every individual.

What do you want to hold onto in terms of the changes you have made to working practices during COVID?

The realisation that ingrained behaviours are a blocker and an excuse to embracing new working practices. A pandemic has forced every one of us to change because we had no other choice. I believe that so much good has to come out of this situation so we mustn’t fall into the trap of reverting to old habits once we have the choice again about where and how we work best. 

What can companies do to better support employees in this unprecedented situation?

It has always been important that people feel able to bring their whole selves to work, but the pandemic I think fast-forwarded this mind-set. The challenge of home working and home-schooling was felt by so many of us at RAPP and I continue to feel immensely proud of each and every person who worked so hard during lockdown and beyond. If they have not done so already, businesses need to recognise that personal and work lives inevitably intertwine and it’s in all our interests to respect that and give each individual the freedom to choose how and where they work best.

We all need to find ways to practically support our people so they can best manage demands of home and work life.

Camilla Kemp

Camilla Kemp

Camilla Kemp, M&C Saatchi.jpg

CEO

M&C Saatchi

Are we fixating on the wrong thing in terms of ‘office return’? Is a return to the office the real focus? 

Talking about and fixating on the great big ‘office return’ sounds like we’ve all been on holiday for the last six months! Like many businesses, we’ve seen our teams work harder and more productively than ever, proving that being physically in the office has nothing to do with our ability to collaborate, think creatively and deliver brilliantly.

But I do understand the fixation. Lots of people, me included, have really missed spending time with people we work with, not just because we quite like hanging out with them, but also because there are some aspects to our jobs that are simply better, more fruitful and more enjoyable when we do them in person. Many of our people have also really missed their commute. The train journey we once moaned about may now provide a healthy moment to shift mental gears as we travel between work and home. For parents this moment of the office return also signals the relief of getting our kids back to school and nurseries, at last!

However the real focus should be how we all adapt to new working practices, not just today or on ‘office return day’ but over the next few months and as social distancing guidance continues to change, in both directions, and we look to get a balance between new and different ways of working, when we have the freedom to choose how, where and when we work. That’s the exciting bit to fixate on.

What do you want to hold onto in terms of the changes you have made to working practices during COVID?

The biggest cultural shift I think we have seen during COVID is a whole new level of trust and openness between employers and employees. Going forwards, encouraging our people to choose to work from wherever they are most productive, for the type of work they need to get done and trusting them to make those decisions is key.

There’s no doubt that when we’re working from home we’re not just working hard; we’re often working better and smarter than we might be if we were in the office and had to spend precious time getting there. Plus, during COVID we have adopted new ways of working with each other and with our clients which have improved how we work whether together physically or not. I’ve seen teams become better at communicating with each other, more flexible in adapting plans more quickly, smarter at managing their time and having greater responsibility for playing their part to deliver as part of a team.

Even when there is no longer a concern about COVID-19 - can you imagine that time?! - we will continue to encourage all of our staff to work remotely, for part of their working week, forever. I firmly believe that a combination of both home and office working is ideal. But of course, the precise combination of days in and out of the office will vary from person to person and potentially from week to week for each person depending on what that week has in store. Flexible working needs to be flexible!

More broadly we’re also changing how we recruit and attract talent to the agency, for example through Initiatives like ‘Open House, a free virtual training programme which offers those who complete the course a chance to apply for a role at the agency at the end of the programme. It’s open to absolutely everyone, from school leavers to those looking to change careers or returners to the workplace. It’s aim is to attract more diverse talent to the industry. In many ways remote working will be key to opening up this wider talent pool, ensuring we can attract and retain the very best people. 

What do you see as the biggest challenge of returning to the office for you and for your staff?

Apart from wanting to hug each other but not being able to you mean. I think adapting to a full agency hybrid working model, with whole teams split between office and remote working, will be a big change for us all. Getting into a rhythm that works, particularly when social distancing measures currently restrict how many people can be back in the office at any one time. We’re in the process of making some changes to our office space too, looking at how we better connect our collaboration areas with technology and, where necessary re-designing areas in the office, so we can more seamlessly include those not physically in the room.

What can companies do to better support employees in this unprecedented situation?

Unfortunately it is pretty likely that we will experience periods of quarantine and some forms of lockdown over the next 12 months, and we all need to find ways to practically support our people so they can best manage demands of home and work life. Things like nurseries closing without warning and families needing to quarantine if contact traced is part of the new normal; we will all need to be able to adapt to over the coming months. During lockdown we rolled out a new working parents policy, giving guidance and support to working parents who were working whilst juggling home schooling. As well as re-setting expectations of working patterns, it also made it clear that ultimately making time to look after our children’s mental health is paramount. Open policies and guidance, regularly updated and communicated at times like these do help. But above all, being open, listening to how people are feeling and managing, or not, and offering support and flexibility is critical.

In a way, getting through these challenging times has opened up even more collaboration.

Niki Hunter

Niki Hunter

Niki Hunter, Splendid.jpg

Managing Director

Splendid Comms

Are we fixating on the wrong thing in terms of ‘office return’? Is a return to the office the real focus? 

For us, returning to the office is more about getting people back together again. Our staff survey helped us to understand how everyone is feeling, to ensure we’re focusing on the right things. A few specifics stood out: people missing the office atmosphere and missing that face to face collaboration.

Culture is a huge part of what makes us Splendid. We’ve been doing things to get together virtually, including weekly inspiration sessions, Tuesday Tune Club, quizzes and drinks but nothing is quite like the buzz of the office; the tunes, the people, the excitement when the first piece of campaign coverage lands.

We’ve introduced a new approach to idea generation which has opened up some great ways of thinking, but we know those face to face catch ups, bouncing ideas around are something we all love and miss so we’re looking at ways to bring those back in a safe way. Ensuring our more junior team members have face to face access to senior staff is key for their development and we want to ensure we’re creating an environment which fosters learning and creativity.

We’ll continually review the situation and listen to staff feedback to make sure our return to the office is beneficial for everyone and is bringing back the things our staff miss; that’s our main focus.

What do you want to hold onto in terms of the changes you have made to working practices during COVID?

We’ve always had flexible working options but after being thrown into full time remote working we’ve managed to find solutions for all of the areas we thought would be too challenging, e.g. creative idea generation. This means that enhanced flexibility is something we’re able and keen to hold onto. We want to ensure our staff feel empowered to continue flexible, remote working when required, of course ensuring that we still meet our client’s needs.

Also, whilst face time with other agencies and clients is certainly important, we’ll definitely be more mindful of which meetings need to be done in person and which can be done via video. It’s a much more efficient way of working and better for the environment with less travel taking place too. Even internally we’ve found that meetings have run much more efficiently remotely and, in a way, getting through these challenging times has opened up even more collaboration, things that we’re definitely going to keep up. 

What do you see as the biggest challenge of returning to the office for you and for your staff?

Given that not everyone can be in the office at the same time, we need to find a way to make client teams as effective as possible but also ensure that we’re not leaving a team exposed, should they be called into quarantine.

After surveying the staff about any concerns around the office return, it is the travelling in London rush hour that worries people, which means we need to find a way for people to travel and feel safe, whilst also ensuring our client’s nine to five needs are met. This means looking at hours, teams and personal set ups, as well as continually reviewing the situation and listening to feedback to make sure we’re set up in the best possible way.

What can companies do to better support employees in this unprecedented situation?

Maintain flexibility from the offset. During this time, we’ve also put more of an emphasis on the importance of checking in on an individual's mental health and their personal needs, whether that be childcare, helping a family member or other. We’ll be continuing to conduct our regular check-ins on a one-to-one basis between career development managers and staff members to ensure that everyone at Splendid feels personally supported with their own needs, not just during this time, but always.

 

As part of our Future of Work series, Nicola Kemp, Creativebrief's Editorial Director spoke to Katy Fridman, Founder of Flexible Working people to find out how the industry has a once in a generation opportunity to reshape work for the better.