August 24, 2021
In our recurring Q&A series, we ask Marc Cooper – President and Partner at Junction59 – to share his point of view on a wide range of industry topics.
Hybrid, remote, office, what’s the right post-pandemic work model?
Post pandemic working models have been greatly debated on and off social media.
It seems like every time I open LinkedIn there’s a poll asking people what their preferred model will be when this is all over. Much of the commentary surrounding the polls and discussions suggests there is only one right answer; if I had to sum up the sentiment of the copy it would be this, “Employees want to work from anywhere and businesses need to adapt to make that happen or run the risk of becoming extinct.”
There have been a few contrarians come out and demand full-time in-office work, and their aggressive stance is only helping to fuel the fire for remote work anytime, anywhere.
I think there has been an oversimplification of the issue, and I really don’t think a one-size-fits-all LinkedIn post can provide the insights necessary to inform your plans for a post-pandemic working model.
Let me start by sharing our story and progress so far as we evolve our working styles. Some of our considerations may help you define your own plan, but I certainly don’t expect that your plan will look exactly like ours.
In March of 2020, like many ad agencies, we quickly transitioned to a work-from-home model. It was clear from a safety point of view that we needed to do our part by keeping team members safe from one another and safe from exposure as they travelled to and from the office. This was a relatively easy process for us as we had been going through our own digital transformation for years. We had VoIP phones, video conferencing, and messaging solution in place along with a cloud-based server, accounting, and project management solutions. If I recall we only needed to buy two new laptops and schedule time for a few team members to come into the office to take home monitors and office chairs. It all went smoothly.
On March 16, 2020, we were all at home, on camera, on a staff video call. There were a few of the usual hiccups along the way, some had camera issues, sound issues, and of course internet connectivity issues, but they were all easily sorted. As a side note to laptop designers, cameras at the bottom of the screen pointing up someone’s nose is simply never a good idea.
As the weeks turned into months, cameras started turning off, and we supported the idea, it was easy to see that people were suffering from video conference fatigue.
For some, they embraced the idea of working from home, it meant no commutes, healthier lunch choices and extra time with family during a very stressful period. But for others it was clear that the lack of in-person connection was taking its toll. One could say that introverts were thriving, and extraverts were suffering, but even that is an oversimplification. It became clear to us that each person was impacted differently, and that our future work model was destined to not be a one size fits all.
We surveyed staff members to find out what was driving their desire to work remotely or return to the office. We researched what others in our industry were planning, and of course how clients were handling things.
But perhaps most importantly, we looked at how work gets done, and quickly realized that there are a few fundamental ways work gets produced within the agency that would ultimately guide our decisions.
There is the planned collaboration between team members which sometimes includes clients; this structured collaboration can work with remote tools where screen sharing and virtual whiteboards replace boardrooms and actual whiteboards, but sometimes not all the voices in the virtual room are heard as opposed to in-person. So, we think a sometimes virtual, sometimes in person, and sometimes a mix of both will work here.
There is the individual, heads down, write the brief, draft the copy, design the layout, proof everything work that can happen wherever you are, so long as concentration and client confidentiality can be maintained. This means sometimes the local coffee shop is not the best solution, but it can be for some, as can the dock at the cottage or a quiet spot in your house.
Then there is the serendipity that happens when people are together, but not necessarily working on a planned activity. Those times when you are walking with a colleague to get a coffee, lunch or even to catch the subway and you start talking about a project. How many times have we all been inspired by someone else’s perspective on a project they aren’t working on? We’ve tried to create those moments virtually, but it’s not easy.
And of course, the bond that is created by chatting with someone at the water cooler, lunch table or the drinks after work or even the office party. If we were to go fully remote, these bonds would no doubt be different and could possibly never form at all.
So that’s where a hybrid work policy comes into play. Post pandemic at Junction59, every employee will be asked to work from the office on one common day each week, then choose anywhere from one additional to four additional days of their choosing with at least one of them coordinated with their team. This will allow us to continue our anniversary lunches, bring in guest speakers and host our town hall meetings in person. If team members need to schedule in-person whiteboard sessions, there will be plenty of opportunities to do so. And of course, those moments of serendipity can run rampant.
And because one of the biggest benefits of working from home was not having to deal with traffic during the commute to work, we are creating core business hours for those in-office days that let employees stagger their commutes, but still allow other team members to rely on a core block of time for meetings and work deliverables.
When it comes to working remotely, we don’t think that means being tied to your home. With cloud-based solutions for communications, collaboration and project management combined with remote firewall solutions, we can free up our team to work from anywhere. Home, coffeeshop, dock or anywhere that works for them. And with a new policy that encourages employees to work completely remote for four weeks straight each year, they can do it from any time zone, anywhere in the world. Talk about bringing different points of view to the table.
It’s important to note one very important factor. We’ve developed the skill of working remotely in a very short time, and many of us developed the skill because we had no choice but to do so. As time progresses, I’m sure our policy will evolve too, adapting to what works and what doesn’t, for the business, our clients, and our team.