We must change the idea of the office. Because, if the past six months has taught me anything, it is just how badly we use space.
At Ogilvy, we've been saying for a long time that the way we work must evolve to foster collaboration and fluid creative processes, that creativity needs different spaces to thrive. Lockdown has afforded us the opportunity to build a new office based on flexible, hybrid working, which we need to harness for the good of our businesses and our work. It has given us the opportunity to totally transform how we create, communicate and collaborate.
As advertising's favourite Marvel superhero, Ryan Reynolds, once said: "Any kind of crisis can be good. It wakes you up." I've been impressed by the number of companies that have used this unusual period to completely interrogate their ways of working. Instead of being treated as a temporary hiatus from the norm, businesses are trialling different models – from hybrid to 100% remote working and everything in between. This is a moment to embrace change and seize the opportunity to find the right way to work for your organisation.
Our creative teams are relishing quiet space to think and reflect – which is happening now in their homes. But while this is great, creativity also relies on collaboration to grow and to be sculpted. Spur of the moment interactions are priceless and can build or change an idea quicker than a back-to-back day of Zoom calls. We can see ideas across the business being moved on and developed as people drift (safely) by a desk, or pop into a meeting they are passing.
The 3:2 model
Which is why we announced to staff that we will be moving towards the 3:2 working model. This means that we are encouraging everyone who feels comfortable to come in two days a week and work remotely for the other three – or as applicable, for those who work shorter weeks.
Obviously, last week’s news has highlighted that any office working model will need to evolve and adapt as infection rates fluctuate, and in line with government guidance. Currently, our office will remain open, but staff are encouraged to work from home unless there are exceptional business needs, like a pitch, or for personal reasons.
As a big agency with big ambitions coming out of lockdown. We have had to find a way to make sure that our staff and our spaces are still collaborative yet considerate of flexible working styles and staff safety.
I am lucky enough to have a brilliant leadership team around me to make this happen. We also consulted our colleagues in Asia, looking at how they successfully phased back into their offices and the experience they created for their colleagues – giving us some guidance on how we approach a phased return to the office.
The ins and outs of reopening
As of 1 September, Sea Containers officially opened for a reduced occupancy, starting at no more than 20% of staff across the whole building. Staff have been gaining access to the office via a booking system, so teams know who is in and when.
On arrival at the office all staff have been undergoing a temperature check before entering the building and are provided with masks to wear in communal areas throughout the day.
We have also made sure that certain spaces have a reduced occupancy, such as meeting rooms and the lifts, and in a couple of weeks we will remove some desks and replace these with more informal, larger collaborative spaces.
We're continuing to see how we can make the office as welcoming as possible for those who have reservations about returning, including introducing a red shield badge for anyone who wants to signal to others in the office that they want that extra bit of distance without having to say so.
We are using Enboarder, an experience driven onboarding platform, to manage communications around the office reopening and the transition to blended working practices.
Our overall philosophy is that we want everyone to be empowered and have agency over their decisions. So – learning from the past six months – to ensure that everyone feels included, all our internal events, from Town Hall meetings to comedy nights, will be streamed for our staff, as well as live for a smaller number of people in the office.
We don't know how long we will all be working like this, but we know we will make it work.
And, of course, we employed our amazing creative teams to produce internal communications. Posters and videos welcoming staff back to the office and sharing health and safety guidelines.
Over the past six months we've made major strides towards working in a more flexible way. We've proved that we can work successfully without being in the office, and this is a principle that we will absolutely protect going forward. I for one will not be coming into the office if I have a day of back-to-back Zoom calls, and I don't expect my colleagues to do so either.
However, the office will always be an important part of our working lives, uniting us, helping us to collaborate, foster our relationships and have fun. It's the magic of being together that simply cannot be replicated on a video call.
Michael Frohlich is chief executive of Ogilvy UK