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Remote Working Today’s Office Agencies

As Publicis Groupe mandates 3 in-office days, should agencies follow suit?

By Andy Holt, Managing Director of Engagement and Employee Experience



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November 28, 2023 | 7 min read

The future of work is still up for grabs. The ‘return to office’ camp scored a major victory with a recent announcement from Publicis, but who will follow? And who should? Definition’s Andy Holt investigates.

A person reclining on a comfortable chair with a laptop and a cat on their lap

How is hybrid shaping the future of work? / Keren Fedida via Unsplash

Last month, Publicis Groupe announced that from January 1, 2024 it will require all employees to be in the office three days a week – always on Mondays, with no consecutive remote working days allowed.

It’s a bold move. Mandating days can sometimes lead to more silos, but many companies are already averaging three days a week in-office, and encouraging people to come in more often as they figure out the future of the workplace.

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What’s gained and what’s lost

The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated hybrid working and shifted the employer/employee dynamic. There was a reason not to go into offices. Employee behaviors changed; businesses had to be more flexible. Even people who didn’t embrace it still felt the benefits – and there are many benefits to hybrid working.

Taking the kids to school, cheeky gym visits, walking the dog (so many dogs)… Through Zoom and Teams, we got an insight into people’s lives, which made leaders more authentic.

But working from home introduced a different working model and now, some organizations are trying to put the genie back in the bottle.

Another shift is happening. Businesses want more people in office, but are scared of having this conversation from a recruitment and retention point of view. Often, asking people to be in office more is less about trust, and more about recognizing that work is bigger than just doing your job.

The numbers don’t lie

Recent research from McKinsey identified that 54% of employees crave a feeling of community and a sense of belonging in the workplace. This connection seems to be lacking in our hybrid world, where ‘desktop disconnect’ means we schedule catchups rather than just catching up. Many of us feel isolated.

The same research shows that collaboration and co-creation account for 70% of why people stay with an organization. Technology can aid collaboration and creativity, but it can also confine it, becoming a tool for people to hide behind.

And what about development? In the office, it’s ongoing and spontaneous – at home, you won’t learn that much from your dog! People learn ‘soft skills’ in the office, particularly from managers, which is harder to do in those cases when managers – who usually have a better home office setup – seem to be happier coming in the office less. You’d think older members of the team would cling to the five-days-a-week culture, but in reality, it’s often younger people who want to escape their shared houses and come into the office more.

Many agencies pride themselves on being ahead of the collaborative working curve. We tend to arrogantly think, ‘We’ve got this creative culture thing nailed.’ But creative culture can’t wholly be replicated in your home office or on the sofa.

Casual creativity is so important. The quick chat with a work buddy that breaks creative block or leads to an ‘aha’ moment. Overhearing ideas and nosing at what people are working on. It makes our canon of work more accessible, builds understanding and forms strong relationships.

In a recent Institute of Internal Communications (IoIC) poll, two-thirds of employees said that their workplace friendships and relationships had suffered compared with pre-pandemic ways of working. And Microsoft has reported that 84% of its full-time employees said they would be motivated to go into the office if they could socialize more with colleagues.

As many organizations are finding, especially in our creative sector, a re-balance is needed, if only to keep the remaining sandwich shops open and the cheap lager flowing.

How are people navigating these changes?

We’ve seen companies investing time and money in reconfiguring their workplaces, getting people to see the office as a resource. Much of business real estate is under reconstruction, to keep up with shifting demands and expectations. Some of our clients have created environments that are far from traditional offices with collaboration areas and soft spaces. Some have even opened up their offices to local businesses to create true community spaces.

There’s a balance between being clear on the days people should be in and not creating more silos by designating different days for different teams. Anchor days are a way of approaching this – having days you expect everyone to be in, but also including variable days where people can choose themselves.

Whatever organizations do, whether it’s encouraging or mandating people to come back, it needs to match their business values. That might be face-to-face training, social events in office, top-notch equipment – the list goes on. People probably won’t come in on a Friday just for free food, but they might if there’s an event that can benefit them.

The point isn’t whether hybrid is the future of the workplace but how businesses can promote the benefits of office working to achieve the elusive balance between productivity, flexibility, and creativity.

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