How hard is everyone really working from home?
Benjamin Arnold, president of Adludio, wonders - in the wake of a Zula Alpha Zulu 'Living from Work spoof - if the remote revolution really is hurting the creative industries.
Zulu Alpha Kilo has always lived at the sharp end of ad industry commentary. True to form, its recent satirical take on the return to office debate is another instant classic.” ‘Living From Work’ is its comedic dramatization of a fictional agency’s, wait for it… seven-day-in-office return policy. Laughs ensue before we’re informed that the much-acclaimed real agency is, in fact, “staying hybrid.”
Anti-returners breathe a sigh of relief.
But for all the skits and one-liners, I can’t help but feel its meta adland take is inadvertently highlighting a more significant issue in our industry than the one it sets out to mock.
The real issue has nothing to do with how many days we do or don’t spend in an office - that’s a smokescreen. But the real issue does have everything to do with how many concentrated hours we’re all putting in each day. How hard genuinely is everyone out there working?
Adland, especially in New York, used to be defined by long days, late nights and, yes, even the occasional weekend in the office. We grafted, but we mostly didn’t mind because it involved interpersonal collaboration, challenging the work and each other, and ultimately producing work we were all proud to have been a part of. It meant something. Of course, late nights in the office were usually followed by late-night drinks to wind down and much-needed organic social connection.
In the absence of that, we are in danger of entering a crisis of culture in the ad industry. Working smarter, not harder, has become a rallying cry for the cruisers to the detriment of ad agency culture. It’s starting to mean less. And to be honest, this crisis will only be exacerbated as AI comes in and takes all our jobs anyway, as they say, whoever they are.
But seriously, the message I hear silently screaming through Zulu Alpha Kilo’s video is that we as an industry have become terrified at the thought of returning to pre-COVID ad agency norms of hard work. We are clinging to our newly discovered and beloved healthy work/life balances that came once we adapted to remote work, and look, I also like a healthy balance, and I’m not actually advocating for seven days in the office. Still, there was a reason Phil Knight slept under his desk at the office in the early days and why Steve Jobs worked 80-hour weeks.
The same goes for some of the leading agencies in recent decades; they were all the hardest workers in the room, virtual or otherwise. Those companies who put in the hours, those with the highest of high-performance cultures most often win. They win commercially, creatively and culturally. We need to address the balance. We need to get back to work, wherever that might be.