Adland bosses: U-turn on return to offices is 'disappointing' and 'a blow'

Government’s new WFH advice leaves agencies in limbo.

Publicis Groupe: keeping its offices open
Publicis Groupe: keeping its offices open

The government's latest stance on working from home "if you can" has been labelled ambiguous and disappointing by agencies, as many are opting to keep their doors open for employees that need to come into the office.

Publicis Groupe, for example, says it is keeping its Chancery Lane and White City offices open, with all the Covid-secure guidelines in place. 

However many agencies are putting a stop to encouraging teams and departments back into their expensively empty spaces.

Described as "a bit of a blow" and "limiting to creative possibilities", the U-turn in government advice could have resounding consequences for those suffering from mental health issues or feelings of isolation brought on by six months of homeworking. Not to mention the cost implications for agencies that have invested in Covid-secure alterations.

For Rapp and Proximity, which were merged by Omnicom in May, excitement was building around completion of a refurbishment designed with collaboration in mind and a "mountain of soft furnishings".

The office will still be open and accessible but staff have been encouraged to continue to work from home, a reversal of the plan to get everyone back into the office, in stages, by 5 October.

Campaign asked agency leaders what the new working from home policy means for their business.

Gabby Ludzker

Chief executive, Rapp

The WFH policy is disappointing for us, because so many of us were looking forward to getting back into the office on a more regular basis. While we have already proved we can thrive with us all working remotely, we will be having a renewed focus on our cultural initiatives to ensure both agencies get to know each other, we keep our people motivated and continue to give them an all-important community.

Ed Palmer

Managing director, St. Luke's

Times when we're all together are important to us, so while the new policy is totally understandable, it is a bit of a blow. But we need to follow the guidance, and have encouraged people to work from home if they can. If they can't or find it difficult to, the office is open and Covid-secure for use – as long as they can get in safely.

Rania Robinson

CEO and partner, Quiet Storm

The office is still technically open, but we've asked people to work from home unless our clients specifically want to meet in person, which some of them do want to do. As we share with Ridley Scott Associates, it's really their decision to keep it open, rather than ours.

As we've got quite a few shoots planned for later in the year, I want to minimise potential disruption to those by limiting staff exposure. 

The last thing we want are key members of staff unable to attend shoots, due to being ill or being in isolation. Shoots have proved most compromising in terms of working from home. We have shot things in lockdown, but it does limit the creative possibilities somewhat.

Claire Hynes

CEO, Mr President

It's tempting to feel like we're back where we were in March, just with six months of grim winter stretching ahead of us, instead of spring sunshine. But if we've learned anything from this year, it's that our industry is blessed with huge reserves of inventiveness, positivity and creativity.

Yes, it's a massive bummer to have to close our beautiful (and clean!) office so soon after re-opening, but we're now pros at working from home and adapting to changing circumstances. We learned a lot from the past six months, we made gorgeous work, we had fun too, and, if anything, we strengthened as a team. That experience will sustain us through the next six, too, even if we're physically apart for a while longer yet.

Sharon Whale

CEO, global markets and operations, Oliver

Our UK hubs will remain open, because some of our staff need (and want) to come into the office to work. We have asked that all staff use their good judgment to determine whether they need to come into the office or not.

For those who do decide to, we have reiterated strict safety measures for them to continue to follow inside the office as well as on public transport. For example, everyone will need to wear a mask when using all communal areas (including meeting rooms), there will be limited use of lifts and pre-booking of desks is mandatory to ensure that social distancing is maintained.

At the moment, we are not seeing many clients return to their offices, or announce when they will. Our people have so far proved that they can drive success for our clients and Oliver from our front rooms/home offices/gardens and bedrooms, across the world.

And, although we would all like to spend more time together face-to-face, I'm confident that we will continue to be just as successful in the coming weeks and months.

Mat Goff

CEO, Adam & Eve/DDB

As per the latest government guidelines, we will be encouraging people to WFH for the foreseeable future. The office will remain open for our people if they feel the need to use it, but there is no expectation on anyone to work from the office.

Camilla Kemp

CEO, M&C Saatchi

We are advising our people to work from home, as per the new government guidelines. However, the office will remain open, albeit with reduced hours, so that anyone who needs to come in for mental wellbeing or other reasons can do so.

Many of us had started to enjoy having a bit of flexibility and freedom to choose if and when to come in to the office, and we think it's important to trust people to make their own decision about this responsibly, without expecting them to explain their particular need.

For those who do wish to come in, we are taking every measure to ensure the office is set up to be Covid-secure, and encouraging people to walk or cycle, and to travel outside peak hours where possible.

Our Covid-19 operations team continues to monitor the government's advice, as we know that we may need to adjust again quickly. We're also actively listening to our teams to see how we can support them as we transition back to working from home full-time becoming the norm again.

Melissa Robertson

CEO, Dark Horses

Our feeling is that it's about the "if you can" interpretation. Instead of encouraging people to come into the office (as we were starting to do), we will ask them to work at home if they can.

We will keep the office open for people to come and work in if, for example: their wifi/connectivity is rubbish, their flatmates/working situation makes it really hard to operate, they don't have the appropriate set-up (ergonomic chair, desk), they prefer the space and quiet of the office environment, it affects their mental health to work and live continuously in the same space.

However, we would ask that, if they decide to come in, they try to do so without use of public transport, if possible (cycle/walk), they are particularly assiduous in hand-washing and crockery-washing, and numbers will be limited and monitored with a coherent booking system.

I feel that a new form of lockdown was inevitable, and it's up to leaders to take care of staff's psychological and mental health, as well as their physical safety. I'm lucky, because I live in a house with a husband, three kids and a dog. It's sociable, energetic and loving. It's extremely tough for people who either live alone, or who have housemates who choose to return to their families. They, understandably, feel anxious about loneliness, lack of stimulation and dependence on screens.

I want to provide a form of pastoral care alongside both psychological and physical space that makes them feel safe and looked after.

Tanya Brookfield

CEO, Elvis

We are still proceeding on the basis of working from home, with some time in a creative hub when needed. We will obviously adhere to any changes in guidance and we have also said that anyone who is uncomfortable returning to the office does not need to this financial year.

We are in the process of moving into a new office, which will be ready at the end of October. Our new home is the third floor of 75 Bermondsey Street – it has been designed for much more fluid working, as our whole approach to our office needs has changed and we have become a lot more flexible.

Physical interaction is, of course, extremely important for culture, but if anything, the past six months have actually brought us closer together. And while the recent announcement is a bit of a blow, as we were looking forward to establishing a new way of working both physically and remotely, it just means we have to be even more creative in the way we communicate and bond with each other.

Zaid Al-Zaidy

Co-founder and group CEO, Beyond Collective

87 Weston Street will remain open to our team, if they aren't able to work effectively from home, but we have reduced the number of those allowed in the office at any one time, and will continue to follow government guidance and adjust how and where we work accordingly.

There is all the more need to keep the team motivated as this continues, but we are now well versed in remote working, have all the necessary processes and tools in place to ensure the team can keep delivering great work and enjoy doing so, with as much morale-boosting remote activity as possible.

Karen Martin

CEO, Bartle Bogle Hegarty London

As a business we are constantly listening to the government advice and encouraging people to do what's best for them on a personal, individual basis. Kingly Street remains open and safe for those that want to keep coming in and we will continue to respond to the latest advice.