Will new guidance mean a return to the office for adland?

Return to work: new health and safety measures will make office life very different [picture: Getty Images]
Return to work: new health and safety measures will make office life very different [picture: Getty Images]

With employers given 'more discretion' to bring staff back to work from 1 August, will agencies rush back into the office?

From 1 August, employers are being given "more discretion" to reopen offices, and people will no longer be urged to work remotely. However, they will be asked to return to their place of work only if it is safe to do so, Boris Johnson, the prime minister, has said. 

Announced as part of a "return to normality" briefing on 17 July, the prime minister's new guidance will be good news for some – especially those who live alone – who may be raring to get back into the buzz of a shared workspace, but not everyone feels comfortable making their way back to the office. 

For many, one of the main obstructions is the thought of crowded public transport, yet the PM has relaxed restrictions there, too; using public transport is no longer discouraged, although mask-wearing remains compulsory, along with social distancing.

Johnson's new instructions came less than 24 hours after Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, told MPs there was "absolutely no reason" to change the guidance to stay at home, adding that "for many companies working from home remains a perfectly good option" and is "not detrimental to productivity". 

Indeed, with numerous agencies having demonstrated their agility and flexibility by swiftly adapting to WFH conditions over the past few months, many see little need to rush back. And although agencies tend to employ social creatures who crave interaction, it’s doubtful that returning to the office would satisfy that need, at least not yet. Any return would likely need to be very cautious, perhaps with only parts of buildings open, one-way systems, no meeting rooms, no cafes and socially-distanced desk arrangements.

It would be a very different experience all round, socially as well as workwise. Given all the restrictions, even the most gung-ho of agencies may feel that WFH is still very much on the table. So will August bring a stampede of agencies back into adland proper?

Campaign put the question to agency leaders: will you be asking staff to come back to the office when the guidance changes next month?

Ete Davies

Chief executive, Engine Creative

We’ve long been embracing a "fluid working" and "performance over presenteeism" culture, so, broadly, our position remains unchanged. Of course, we recognise some advantages – in collaboration, decision-making and energy – that come from having people in the same space, so the office is open to those who wish to use it and we’ve taken measures to manage health and safety. However, the choice to come into the office, or not, is totally down to the individual. No-one is under any pressure to do so and, as our creative output under lockdown has proved, we’re equally well set up to support our people and service our clients remotely.

Rachel Forde

Chief executive, UM

We will be "inviting" staff to come back to the office at the end of August, in a safe and limited capacity, in line with the new guidance. Our approach has always been guided by the sentiment of our employees, and while we know some are eager to return, others still have a huge amount of anxiety around doing so, as well as personal and logistical challenges to contend with. Lockdown has provided us with a great opportunity to test and prove just how agile and flexible we can be, while continuing to be the best possible partners to our clients. Given that we can work so productively from a home setting, we will not be putting any pressure on our people to return to the office.

Zaid Al-Zaidy

Founder and group chief executive, The Beyond Collective

87 Weston Street is already back open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. We’ve split the agency into two "bubbles" – rotating the days people in each bubble work – and we’ve implemented all necessary changes to make our building and processes safe. Though fully remote working can never be a permanent solution for us, we won’t force people to come in. Staff feedback suggests people are keen to return to the office, but we appreciate different people have different comfort levels for different reasons. We will get the band back together for sure, but when it works for all.

Liam Mullins

Managing partner, the7stars

It’s often said that an agency is nothing more than the people you meet and the culture you feel when you are inside it. For that reason alone, it’s super-important we begin to emerge from our WFH cocoons. Maybe more so for a values-driven organisation like the7stars.

Random ideas, team collaboration and even a chat over a pint in the pub are so much more frictionless and culture-building when we are together. Not to mention the support, mentorship and training we can provide to young teams and each other.

That said, we would be foolhardy to expect a complete return to how things used to be (and had been since the 1950s). Never has tech adoption, greater communication and greater whole-life balance (unfortunately not for all groups) been achieved so quickly as with the office exodus, so we will be holding on to those positive things as we encourage more people back into the office.

David Wood

Chairman, Black Book London

We are going back to the office. We’ve just signed a lease in central London on a flexible workspace and we’re excited to be going back. It’s a bigger space than we need – almost twice the number of desks than our total headcount and there will be a rota so we only have 50% of staff in – so we will really have a lot of space. The office is deliberately on the first floor and has its own kitchen and toilets, so people can stay all day in that space if they prefer, rather than having to go out into cafes or shared spaces. We will be taking temperatures every morning and providing PPE if needed. We won’t be forcing people to come in – some have a long journey and even the train or commute itself can be tricky, in terms of booking seats. And we know that remote working works, so will always be using a mixture of both from now on.

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