Starcom's flexible working backfires with 'noticeably' empty office on Fridays

Staff have been warned flexible working would end if attendance does not improve.

Publicis Media UK: now based at former BBC site
Publicis Media UK: now based at former BBC site

Publicis Media UK's flexible working scheme has backfired, resulting in a "noticeably empty" Starcom office on Fridays, according to an email sent to staff by HR.

In an email obtained by Campaign, sent by HR last week to all Starcom staff, the company said that "in recent weeks, it has come to PM's [Publicis Media's], clients' and our attention that on a Friday in Starcom the office is noticeably empty."

Starcom is housed in Publicis Media's White City office at the former BBC Television Centre, where Zenith, Blue 449, Digitas, Performics and Spark Foundry also reside. It is understood that the attendance issue affects only Starcom operations.

Publicis Media announced its new flexible working culture in November 2018, on the back of a survey that found 93% of employees backed the move.

Sue Frogley, UK chief executive of Publicis Media, said at the time: "We are moving to a flexible working model, whereby we don’t need to ‘clock in and out’ of the office any more, but can work more flexibly and remotely as and when we need to."

But the scheme appears to be undergoing teething problems and the email warned that should Friday attendance not improve, flexible working would be shut down.

It is not the first email to be sent warning staff of poor office attendance on Fridays and it refers to a previous communication when staff were given "a few weeks to improve attendance". However, the situation has not improved, the email added: "We gave the opportunity to all over the course of a few weeks to improve attendance and in the last two weeks it's been worse than ever."

The issue appears to be that Starcom staff are failing to adhere to formal processes around flexible working. While the email explained that Starcom does not want a "clock in, clock out" model and that its flexible working is "based on trust", it went on to highlight a "few points to avoid confusion".

Namely, that flexible working is a "formal process which is a change to an employee's T&Cs" and that applications need to be made through line managers and HR ahead of receiving a letter ratifying the application. It also stipulates that flexible working is "not a set day each week".

The missive also stressed that managing partners and heads of each team must be "aware of who is working from home, take note and all need to ask for permission in advance".

"Should attendance not improve then Friday and any other day will no longer be considered a day that flexi working can be taken," the email read.

Frogley said the business remained committed to flexible working, but it wanted to revive a "Friday feeling" in the office. 

She said: "We’ve completely embraced flexible working across Publicis Media and are committed to the change which has been positive for our people, our clients and the media owners we work with. As with any fundamental and progressive change across a business, there will always be areas that we will continue to refine and evolve.

"I work closely with our Next Generation Board who help me guide Publicis Media through this change and make this work for everybody – they have been instrumental in making this happen. We encourage staff to work remotely or flex their hours when they require.

"While we understand that Friday is a common day to work flexibly, we want to bring back the ‘Friday feeling’ in the office. I would like to stress that we will not be removing flexible working, as we are completely committed to it."