I’ve advocated flexible working for a long time, particularly in the creative industries. And we’ve just undergone an enforced test of its parameters.
As Campaign’s survey shows, people don’t want to go back to the way things were, but I also don’t believe proclamations that the office is dead. Any binary formula – never returning to the office or completely back to the status quo – feels wrong, or at least a missed opportunity. I believe we need to create a new reality: hybrid working.
The first step is deep and sensitive consultation with staff to understand life needs and personal productivity, alongside a recognition that jobs are different. We must also talk to clients about how they’ve found the experience – their own personal, professional and organisational needs.
Listening last week to Professor Mooli Lahad, an Israeli psychologist specialising in trauma therapy talk about resilience, I was struck by how all humans need predictability and some degree of structure to feel safe. Or as he put it: "We need islands of certainty in a sea of uncertainty." Which helps explain why the first few weeks felt somewhere between surreal and stressful for most people.
We all crave ritual, a sense of place and the social bonds that come with it. But clearly that is possible to do in different ways.
Like Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton, who famously lived apart but in connecting houses, let’s think about when we stay apart and when we come together. And how we ritualise and imbue those moments with meaning.
As we go forward, we should seek greater equality and balance: between the perceived value of office work and work from home; between the moments of serendipity that happen in the office and the need for deep uninterrupted thought, which can happen anywhere; between structured and unstructured work; between order and chaos (some of the best stuff happens in a climate of fun); between life needs and the needs of the organisation (and its clients). As it happens, agencies have a bunch of related decisions to make around permanent versus flexible workforce, local versus national talent base – but that’s a whole other piece.
Clearly, there are some trade-offs and balances to achieve. How do we cope with the heterogeneity of need while working for the collective good? We never thought the world could WFH simultaneously without spinning off its axis. But we’ve managed. And while the answer may be difficult to imagine and complex to execute, we shouldn’t shy away from the challenge of reinvention.
They say fools rush in, so before we press the reset button, let’s pause, consult and consider. Seize this moment and reinvent how we work together to be healthier, more balanced and productive. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink how we want to work. Let’s not waste it.
Marc Nohr is group chief executive of Miroma Agencies and chairman at Fold7
Picture: Getty Images