I miss the office. I really, really miss it. I miss the music, I miss the people, I miss the snacks – it’s got a vibe that makes you energetic and happy.
And that’s the thing with creative agencies (or at least the lucky ones in their own spaces) – the office isn’t just a place to do your job, it’s part of what makes us great. Clients feel it, it makes a damn good first impression for chemistry meetings and it says a lot about the care we take in everything we do. So, even though we might not go back to office life as we know it, I’m itching to get us back.
We’ve been taking a gradual approach to reopening. We’ve been open for two days a week over the summer and that will increase from September. Whether or not you come in is entirely discretionary, but as more people venture back, the FOMO is beginning to set in. Plus the air con last week was a major draw.
We decided to open because of the obvious strain to some of the younger people in the office having been in flat shares or living alone. But it isn’t a decision we took lightly. In fact, there haven’t been many decisions recently that we’ve been able to take lightly. “It’s only advertising” is no longer an appropriate phrase, as we’re all too aware that every decision could have huge consequences and that’s definitely been a big pressure.
Being a small agency has made it easier to reopen – we are in control of buying our own new foot-operated bins (ooh, the glamour!), making sure our hand gel is in nice brown bottles and you should see our "wash your hands" posters! It’s also a space that lends itself well to a more informal meet-up vibe; there’s no whiff of "call centre turned sofa areas", so we’ve had to do less to the physical space.
We have a booking system to ensure we maintain social distancing when we’re in the office and it’s been easy to communicate and be fairly flexible in our approach based on changing context. We haven’t had to stand up at any point and set out our plan for the next six months, and I’m pleased about that because I don’t want to make a huge announcement that then feels contextually wrong when the environment and people’s feelings are changing so quickly.
But there are also things that are harder. We don’t operate siloed teams on accounts, so can’t operate an "A and B team" structure or a rotation system, so we’re looking at a more "all in, all out" model – so a few flexible days and a few office days with core working hours that avoid rush hour. We don’t have a vast outsourced office support team running the office; it’s our two-person office management team, Jen and Charlotte, and we don’t want to put undue pressure on them. We want the same flexibility to apply to them, which is something we’ve considered in how we reopen.
I’m interested to see how the next few months go. We adapted quickly and seamlessly to remote working, but I think it will be harder when some people are working remotely and some are in the office. The buzz of the office is important and, from our internal survey results, it’s clear people are desperate to go back, but they want to go back to buzzy, fun LGs, not a socially distanced, one-way system – and that’s what we’re working on (although still with social distance and arrows on the floor!).
But I also understand that the first step back isn’t always easy initially. I went in a couple of weeks ago for the first time and would liken it to my first time back after maternity leave. Could I put proper clothes on? Would I remember how to use the train? Or the lift? Where on earth is my make-up bag? But it all came flooding back as if I’d never left.
We want to be progressive yet productive. We will use the office for key meetings, which we want to get back to being face to face as soon as possible, and we will use it as a meeting place. Advertising is so much about marginal gains and I do believe that the extra 5% comes from time spent together in craft, from face-to-face meetings and from the energy that comes from a team sitting together pulling in the same direction.
But we have also all learned that we can work remotely. That some work is done much better out of the noise and the buzz. That our mental health improves when you’re not commuting day in and day out. We want the office to be a place you look forward to going to, a meeting space – not somewhere we drag ourselves five days a week. And that’s how people are feeling when they arrive back – they’re so excited to be there and although some people have some initial concerns about getting there, once they’re there they’re all forgotten.
But if we’ve learned anything, it’s that things change quickly and we’re lucky enough to be able to adapt and lead that change.
Katie Lee is chief executive of Lucky Generals