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‘Office air-con is open to pets and housemates’: how adland is managing the heatwave

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By Ellen Ormesher | Reporter

July 19, 2022 | 10 min read

As temperatures across the UK soar this week, The Drum speaks to agencies and industry support organizations to find out how adland can help staff keep their cool.

UK heatwave

As the planet heats up, how can adland help workers manage extreme weather? / Image via Pexels

Like much of Europe, the UK is set to reach record temperatures this week, with highs of up to 41C expected in parts of England.

The Met Office has issued a red extreme heat warning, meaning “widespread impacts on people and infrastructure” are expected, with “substantial changes in working practices and daily routines” required.

With official advice to stay inside as much as possible, we asked agencies across the country what stance they’re taking on working during this unprecedented heatwave. Most said they are maintaining the same protocol on flexible working that was first introduced as a result of Covid-19.

Neil Henderson, chief exec at St Luke’s, says: “We’ve told staff to stay safe, hydrate – and they can work remotely on Monday and Tuesday if they want to avoid public transport. However, as the office has air conditioning we expect some will want to come in. Me included!”

Georgina Leigh-Pemberton, managing director ar Turner Duckworth in London, says the agency also has a flexible working policy. “Where our standard approach is that we are in the studio three days a week and work from wherever we like for two, our approach is always to make flexible working work for us, so while the weather is extreme everyone has the option of coming into the air-conditioned studio or staying at home.”

At digital marketing agency Impression, the offer to work in the air-conditioned office is also being extended to partners and housemates whose workplaces might not have the same accommodations. Staff will also be able to bring their dogs into the office to help keep them cool too.

At Dentsu UK&I, the agency says it is also anticipating that workers may want to come into the office to make the most of air conditioning; however, it says if they do so then it is advising traveling outwith rush hour to avoid staff overheating on the commute.

A spokesperson told The Drum it is also encouraging workers who struggle with heat to speak to their line managers in order to shift working hours to fall outside the hottest parts of the day.

Sheffield-based agency Evoluted also suggested its workers shift their hours outside of the midday heat. Marketing manager Dan Rawley tells The Drum: “We already operate flexitime, so this allows staff to work their hours earlier or later in the day when temperatures are cooler.”

Rawley adds that the agency has also offered staff the chance to make last-minute holiday requests in order to take annual leave during the heatwave, deadlines permitting. “We’ve also looked at what we can do to rejig any deadlines to give staff that flexibility where possible,” he says.

Flexible working hours during extreme heat are commonplace throughout much of Europe where such temperatures are more common, and some agencies in the UK are now following suit. In Spain, for example, offices are often shut during the hottest part of the day.

Mother London says not only is it being flexible with start times during this particular period, but it has also implemented ‘Summer Fridays,’ where the whole office finishes at 3pm to allow everyone to enjoy some time outside. These will run until the end of August.

A number of agencies tell The Drum they will also be stocking fridges with lollies and ice cream to keep morale high over the next few days.

But extreme heat can take its toll on the ablest of workers, and it will also affect everyone differently. Experts say bosses ought to be mindful that for those on certain medications, and with certain health conditions and other needs, that very hot weather can have a more severe impact.

Dom Hyans is head of strategy at disability-focused marketing agency Purple Goat. He says that it’s been especially sure to communicate with the team around the issue “and expressed that they should absolutely let us know if there are any considerations in this heat they are concerned about.

“Like with all issues around workplace adjustments, communication is king; if you are empathetic and understanding, and create a culture of open dialogue, you’re able to navigate any concerns collaboratively, and ensure that as a company you can meet the needs of the team in this unprecedented, sweaty time!”

Lorraine Jennings-Creed, director of wellbeing services and culture at ad industry support network Nabs, echoes Hyans’s sentiments.

“Employers will have obligations to ensure the health and safety of their teams including the most vulnerable, for example those pregnant,” she says.

“A cool office space is likely to be inviting but heat can also impact public transport, and so ensuring flexibility (for example working from home or adjusted hours) and following local travel advice during this time is essential.”

She also urges managers to be mindful of employees with dependants who may require additional care during the heatwave, “For some, including parents and carers, they will be having to make last-minute adjustments personally too if a school or place of care is closed. So again, providing flexibility and referring to already-in-place policies such as dependents leave or carers leave will really help.”

While most agencies have been quick to introduce these temporary measures, it’s likely that extreme weather and heatwaves will become increasingly common in the UK due to the worsening climate crisis.

Moving forward, workers can request for risk assessments to be carried out in their workplaces to better understand their rights in relation to conditions both in the office and at home. Many unions across the country are calling for legal protection against high temperatures in workplaces, as well as calling on employers to offer flexible working and travel arrangements, give staff extra breaks and relax dress codes to allow staff to wear cooler clothes.

Creative Communications Workers (CCW), a union for advertising, digital, PR, design, media, production and associated creative industries professionals, says it echoes the views of its parent union, United Voices of the World, “and other unions that are commenting on this and giving advice to workers at this time.”

This advice includes a cap on workplace temperatures and guidance on workers’ rights if they need to leave or take a break due to overheating.

“Workers shouldn’t be expected to work in offices that are too hot, nor should they be expected to put themselves at risk traveling in dangerous temperatures. Furthermore, employers should be mindful that most homes in this country aren’t fully prepared for these kinds of extreme heatwaves, so many workers may be suffering during work hours and unable to work,” says a CCW spokesperson.

In countries more accustomed to the type of heat currently being seen in the UK, places such as schools are often prone to altered opening hours or closure if temperatures become too high.

“If these events are to become more frequent, then we may see employers shifting working hours to allow for long breaks during hottest hours. We may also see schools shutting earlier in the summer as they do in Spain. This obviously has a knock-on effect on workers with children and the need for childcare, or more flexibility to work from home throughout the summer months. It seems likely the government will need to review the laws in this case,” the CCW spokesperson adds.

Nabs echoes these sentiments, adding that “if these policies aren’t in place, being reasonable, acknowledging the juggling personally that people are doing and ensuring flexibility and last-minute leave will go a long way.”

Jennings-Creed concludes that as we prepare for more extreme weather in the future, specific policies may well be needed in order to help ensure a consistent approach to ways of working across organizations.

Of course, while many agencies across the industry are making allowances to ensure staff wellbeing during this period, there is an underlying sense of concern at the root cause of the soaring temperatures.

Jonathan Wise, co-founder of the advertising climate network Purpose Disruptors, tells The Drum that while it’s good to work out how to take care of employees in the heat, enlightened agency leaders should also be asking: ‘What is our relationship to causing these weather events and what can we do to reduce their severity in the future?’

He suggests that agencies need to go one step further than tackling wellbeing needs. “If agencies truly cared about our climate emergency they’d use this moment to discuss how to reduce the climate impact of their client work in the world, not just managing the intense heat at home and in the office,” he said.

Additional reporting by Sam Bradley.

If you would like to read more stories about workers’ rights and workplace wellbeing, then sign up for The Drum’s weekly briefing here.

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