Realign of duty

The climax of the latest series of Line of Duty may have mixed reviews but Operation ‘Back to the Office’ puts workplace wellbeing in the interrogation room

Claire Gillis, CEO VMLY&Rx



Forget AC-12 and the hunt for the so-called Fourth Man, the most important ‘H’ on everyone’s radar this year is Health. COVID-19 has put healthcare centre stage and opened the world’s eyes to the value of comms – not just in managing the pandemic but in the prevention and treatment of all disease. There’s never been a more interesting time to work in health advertising.

Our sector has always been united by a collective desire to help patients – an ambition that’s about to be galvanized by our return to the office. Passion, like a virus, is infectious; we work best when we gather around a problem, bounce off each together and crowdsource ideas. We can’t wait to put the band back together.

However, the shift in working practices created by COVID is presenting new challenges in how we attract, nurture and look after talent.  How do we create the right environment to maintain employee wellbeing? How do we equip our teams with the right tools and the right support to inspire great creative? How do we attract the best? And how do we persuade the talent that’s already with us that it’s safe to come back to HQ? 

Our priorities remain the same: the duty of care to our people, and our duty to deliver great work for clients. However, as we prepare for Operation ‘Back to the Office’, we need to realign those duties around needs and expectations that have been reshaped by lockdown. Wellbeing strategies need proper interrogation.

We need to be patient. Offices may have closed down in the flick of a light switch, but we can’t bring people back the same way.

Claire Gillis, CEO VMLY&Rx

Incremental and mindful change

There’s growing excitement around the return to the workplace. People want to reconnect with all the good stuff that makes the office experience: the structure, the collaboration, the social interaction. The reliable Wi-Fi and the printer that actually works.

But expectations have changed. Our working norms have been transformed by COVID – and while many are ready to come back to the office, a sizeable chunk expect their workplace experiences to mirror the best of their experiences at home. That means listening to our teams to find out what worked and making it part of the office furniture.

We need to be patient. Offices may have closed down in the flick of a light switch, but we can’t bring people back the same way. Change will be incremental and differential; we need to tailor support, providing guidance and policy for those who come back to the office – and those, where appropriate, that don’t. It’s all about finding a balance. But everyone must be prepared to make adjustments.

COVID has shown us that capability doesn’t come with a postcode, with tech breaking down the walls of the workplace and liberating us to work in amazing new ways. Those advances won’t disappear. We may be back in the office, but we’ll still use Zoom to connect with clients and colleagues – as well as family who’d got used to us being at home. We’re maximising digital – through apps, podcasts and employee assistance programmes – to help teams stay connected with their loved ones. 

These days, flexibility isn’t a perk, it’s an expectation

Claire Gillis, CEO VMLY&Rx

The expectation of flexibility

But that’s not all. These days, flexibility isn’t a perk, it’s an expectation. Agencies were already adopting flexible working hours long before COVID, with many – particularly those over 30 – demanding it as a base requirement.

However, lockdown has shown us that flexibility is about more than just ‘clocking in’ – it’s about work/life balance and managing emotional triggers. It’s why in my own organisation, we’re partnering with estate agents to find discounts for alternative living arrangements like mid-week rentals. And we employ an in-house counsellor – available to everyone –to support mental wellbeing at work.  

Fundamentally, our imminent return to the office is forcing agencies to reopen our inquiries into workplace wellbeing. The most attractive will recognise its importance and work with their teams to co-create the right solutions. Because ultimately, when we put ourselves out there in the line of duty, there’s only one ‘H’ that actually matters: our Health.

Guest Author

Claire Gillis, CEO VMLY&Rx



With a foundation as a pharmacologist and health economist, Claire founded a specialist medical access consultancy called WG Group in 1996. In 2010, WG Group was bought by WPP, enabling Claire to continue her leadership and vision by successfully establishing the WG Group in the US. In 2016 she was promoted to International CEO of WPP Health Practice, leading some of WPP’s flagship health brands including Ogilvy Health and Sudler in the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, China, Japan, and Australia. Medical practitioner, health economist, entrepreneur and business leader, Claire is passionate about using communications to promote better access to healthcare and is a regular industry commentator across publications including Adweek, MM&M and The Drum. She is the inaugural winner of Women in Marketing’s “Best Marketing Leader in Creating Change in Health and Wellness” award.

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