How to create a future-proofed remote work policy
Many companies that previously allowed employees a degree of freedom regarding where they worked are tightening the reins. Zoom was one of these (something that garnered a slew of mocking headlines) but Publicis Groupe was another. Is there a better way?
How do you solve a problem like... finding a work-from-home balance?
With previous agreements seemingly holding little weight, we explore how companies can agree on a work from home arrangement that sticks. After all, staffers have built their living arrangements, mortgages and lives around this kind of liberty. With shifting considerations post-Covid, how are agencies developing a definitive, permanent work from home/office time policy?
How to create a future-proofed remote work policy
Leeann Leahy, CEO, Via: “If we learned anything from Covid and the lockdown, it is that ‘permanence’ is a fallacy. At Via, we’ve embraced office presence since July 2021, believing it enhances our productivity, culture, and client focus through spontaneous collaboration. We’ve experimented with remote work models, starting with two WFH days every ten working days and adding a midweek WFH day to prevent burnout.
“However, excessive virtual meetings led us to shift our approach. We’ve adopted a four-day work week, with everyone in the office on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, remote work on Wednesday and closing our office on Friday. Clients and partners support this change and we’re continually collecting data to optimize our approach. So, permanence? Not sure about that, but open communication and thoughtfulness about where and how we work together to be and create our best... well, we have tons of that.”
Dan Crowder, managing partner, Craft: “We have a ‘work from anywhere’ policy, and our team regularly rocks up with a new background on our daily Zoom calls. The boundaries are clear; we trust you and you have the tools to do a great job anywhere. Six-weekly in-person meetings are non-negotiable, so we commit to spending time together and everybody is aware of that ask. Clear communication is key – nobody deserves to feel on shaky ground. Even in small businesses, it’s only fair to update the team often, keep expectations simple and clear, and practice what you preach. For us, those promises aren’t going anywhere.”
Annabel Mackie, managing director, Five by Five: “Since I’ve been in the role, over a year now, we’ve not changed our working from home arrangement and we have no plans to change it. It’s pretty simple: come into the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the rest is up to you. We trust our talent to make choices that enable them to do their best work. We have those conversations where individuals want a different setup and if we can say yes we do. It’s easy to overthink this; figure out the balance that will work best for your people and your clients and stick to it.”
Philip Koh, founder, Without: “When the Spanish prime minister called a snap general election this summer, two of our designers needed to get back home to vote. Rather than take annual leave, they used Working From (Another) Home, our initiative to extend the work/life balance to team members whose families live abroad. This means that our team can work from ‘another’ home outside their UK address for up to two weeks of the year. For agencies still struggling with hybrid working, I’d argue that magic happens when talented people are in a room together, but only if those individuals – from wherever they call home – feel happy, supported and motivated.”
Kimberly Jacobson, vice-president of strategy, BMF: “I’ve been working with BMF for more than five years, both pre-and post-pandemic, as it has navigated the global shift to hybrid work and faced logistical challenges of remote and return to office options. BMF’s approach has continued to evolve but prioritized listening to employees. We’re dipping our toes back into the office while offering flexibility to work from a hub location, improving high-end co-working spaces and offering a continuous feedback loop for employees to express their needs to do their best work in whichever environment works for them.
“As a new mom of two, I can sleep well knowing I won’t wake up to an email that I need to be back in the office five days a week. I can fit work into my life to be my most productive. BMF’s human-first approach gives peace of mind to our employees, who know the hybrid option is not based on performance but rather on ensuring we can all do our best work.”
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Stacie Boney, president, Hanson Dodge: “Our independent agency status means freedom to shape our future and agency using heart and common sense. Based in Milwaukee, we embraced remote work years before it became fashionable. This enabled seamless moving to a hybrid work model during and post-Covid. We conduct quarterly surveys for ongoing feedback. Those surveys yielded today’s model: three days in the office, Monday to Wednesday, with flexibility. We invest in bringing everyone together three times a year via fun gatherings (curling anyone?).”
Sharon Flaherty, CEO, Folk: “After the height of Covid, Folk put in place a hybrid policy with two home days each week. But after six months, it became business as usual. Working from home is a chance to do focused work, whereas office days are collaboration-orientated. While we have no plans to change our policy, we must be flexible. For example, if talent for a role cannot be found within a commutable distance, it may need to be fully remote. That can cause issues with a three-day in-office policy, but the key is transparency about the reasons why and flexibility on all sides.”
Sheri Brissenden, partner, The Frameworks: “To create a work from home arrangement that lasts, companies should work from the ground up. Leaders should use this as an opportunity to give control and accountability to teams to set their agenda within company objectives and key results. This can include agreed days in the office and accommodating individual preferences – as long as the group decides.
“But you don’t create a cohesive culture by forcing people away from flexibility. Instead, we encourage regular social catch-ups between teams to keep the culture alive. By encouraging employees to set their own team destiny, leaders create a stronger, more enduring way of remote working that ensures everyone knows where they stand, wherever they’re sitting.”
Tom Laranjo, CEO of Total Media: "At Total Media, we surveyed our employees in November 2022, and found that the majority were happy to be in the office three days a week. For businesses implementing similar policies, it’s inevitable there will be a minority that disagree and will not buy into company values. However, culture and productivity should be at the forefront and employees who aren’t aligned with the vision of the business should be allowed to walk away if they disagree. Our staff retention rate is 85% for this year - something I am incredibly proud of and is testament to us listening to what our employees want and need."