Offices have always been an important part of agency life. For us, the move under one roof to Television Centre really helped bring all our agencies together to service clients in new ways, while allowing their individual cultures to thrive.
While we have proved this year that we don’t need to be together all the time to be productive, there are some things that happen when we’re together which all the Zoom and Teams calls in the world can’t replace.
That said, it’s clear that the office of the future won't look like the office of the past.
Now is the time to learn from our collective experiences of working together physically for years, and working apart for the past few months, to establish a new role for the office and way of working going forward.
With 2,000 individual circumstances to consider across Publicis Media, we have run a couple of surveys over the past few months that has given us a really good sense of how everyone is, what is working, what isn’t and how people are feeling about returning to the office.
We know that people have different concerns about returning, be it issues around childcare, vulnerable family members, or one of the biggest reported barriers – how to safely navigate the commute. We respect that and have made it very clear that no-one has to go back to the office this year.
But there are also some people who want to return for a number of different reasons, from the social interactions inside and outside of work to the comparative comfort of an office desk and chair (or, in recent weeks, some air-con).
Many more have said that they would return if they had a safer way to get there, so we have secured 200 free parking spaces near the office and are improving our cycling and showering areas for those more active commuters among us. Inside the office, we have reimagined the space from a health and safety lens – it’s about striking the balance between making people feel safe without stifling creativity.
Safety aside, we really need to look at how we work going forward that suits everyone. As we learn to live with Covid-19, a “hybrid” model must be the way forward, if we can get it right.
It won’t be easy to manage but it can be done with two guiding principles: trust and respect.
We must respect people’s choice of where to work, for whatever reason. Even those who previously opposed it have now seen how well it can work.
We must also be respectful of people not in the room, even more so when we are working in this new hybrid way. I have been in meetings myself where I’ve been the person not in the room and felt like I was missing out on the party. Technology will have a big part to play in solving this “conscious coupling”.
While we don’t have all the answers now, we aren’t setting any fixed rules or dictating behaviours. When we reopen our office on 7 September, we will use the rest of the year to test, learn and refine new ways of working that work for our clients and for our people. We are all going to learn together and, because of our scale, do whatever works best for each agency or team.
Fortunately, we already began to move towards a more outcome-based way of working and culture that has accelerated further over the past few months. It's really important to me that we keep moving this forward positively and don’t slip back into the “old normal”.
A few people have asked me what I plan to do once we reopen the office and, in all honesty, I can’t wait to get back and see some familiar faces in person again. Like lots of people, I miss the buzz and fun of the office and we’re planning a few things this year to bring some of that back safely, like some of our regular events at White City House which we’re lucky to have right on our doorstep. On the other hand, I have definitely been more productive without my lengthy daily commute and, let’s face it, who doesn’t prefer to use their own loo between meetings.
So for me, it will be about balance, trust and, above all, respect.
Sue Frogley is chief executive of Publicis Media UK