This is the first in a 6-part deep dive into how different industries are looking at the workplace post-COVID. Whilst the majority of COVID measures have been lifted since July 19th (now widely known as Freedom Day), many businesses are still considering their workplace options into Q4. There are lots of options.
Our stance has always been (even pre-pandemic), there is no one-size-fits-all for the workspace. This has never been more true for the post-pandemic working world. We’ve all had enough of LinkedIn polls and businesses trying to dominate the argument one way or the other. The media thrives off of posting about the large organisations who are binning their office space, and less is said about those who can’t wait to get back.
Who’s right and who’s wrong? When will we find out?
Some employers are being strict at both ends of the spectrum. The vast majority sit somewhere in the middle. From COVID-19 some businesses have closed all their offices and have gone ‘digital by default’ but some businesses cannot wait to have their staff back in the office 5 days per week. Everyone has a different argument and driver.
We believe there are pros and cons to every working style. We’ve also spoken about ‘Activity Based Working’ for years – the right environment for the right task. There are tangible and measurable arguments to remote or flexible working such as sustainability, carbon footprint and cost. There are also the less tangible elements to a workplace such as employee learning and culture.
In this first guide, we’re giving you the complete working strategy lowdown on who’s doing what in the world of Media & Advertising,
Whilst our advice to clients is to never ‘look over the fence at the Jones’, we thought it might be useful for those exploring their options to understand what the big brands are doing.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has been very outspoken on his views about working from home or from the office. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Hastings made it clear he thought working from home was detrimental to his business and that he’d be pushing for a return to the office as soon as possible.
“No. I don’t see any positives. Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative. I’ve been super impressed at people’s sacrifices.”Reed Hastings – CEO @ Netflix (Quoted from interview with WSJ)
More recently he has also announced that he does not expect his company’s employees to return to the office until the “majority” of them are vaccinated.
Currently, Netflix occupies 87,000ft² in Berners Street in the West End.
Publicis Groupe is fully reimagining its workplace. Leaders at the group which is split into Publicis Communications, Publicis Media, Publicis Sapient and Publicis Health had to move their people out of 22 agency spaces into nearly 5,000 homes at the beginning of lockdown. Now, whilst the company hasn’t publicly set a formal date for reopening its doors, it’s planning a full hybrid model powered by its own digital platform called Marcel.
“There has to be a symbiotic relationship between the home and office experiences, with Marcel being the connectivity between the two”Carla Serrano – CSO @ Publicis Groupe
To navigate what could turn into a logistical nightmare, the group will use Marcel to enable their employees to check-in and out of an office, book meeting space or check in on a work from home day.
“We can’t do a one-size-fits-all in terms of how this works”. “The levers will be slightly different depending on the agency you work with, the accounts you work on and the discipline you are part of.”Carla Serrano – CSO @ Publicis Groupe
Marcel is an AI-powered platform it launched in 2017 before remote working was a consideration for the group. It started as Fast forward to 2021, the business claims that Marcel has saved around 2,500 jobs in 2020 by shifting employees to different accounts based on spending shifts during the pandemic. They’ve consistently pivoted the system to make sure it was focused on saving jobs and having employees collaborate.
Publicis Groupe houses the communications side of the business in 98,000 ft² at the Cursitor Building in Chancery Lane. A further 57,000 ft² in Turnmills in Clerkenwell. Other brands within the group have other spaces across London.
WPP is the world’s biggest advertising group. In August, Mark Read the chief executive of the firm announced some strong financial results stating that the faster than expected recovery at WPP and across the wider agency sector to pre-pandemic levels has been “surprising” and “shows the health of the industry”. WPP reported after their half-year results in August 2021 that underlying revenues have increased by 19.3% in the second quarter, the fastest rate of growth the company has ever recorded. The reason for this being that clients have been ploughing more money into digital marketing.
While business is booming at WPP, progress on returning to the office remains slow and in some areas uncertain. According to their website, WPP is taking a local market-led approach reflecting “local circumstances, regulations, and legislation, and prioritising the safety and wellbeing of our people”. In the UK market, WPP employs around 10,000 people, and Read has stated that currently, office occupancy is only around 9% across their London real estate.
“I think the important thing to point out is that these results – record net sales growth and a vast improvement in profitability – were achieved with the majority of staff working from home,” said Read. “In the short term it is manageable, but over the long term we will get back to a bit more of a balance.”Mark Read – CEO @ WPP (Quoted from interview with Campaign)
“We’re keen to get people back into the office. The Delta variant may delay that by a month or two from September to October. But as we’ve said in the past, we’re never going back to the way we used to work historically. We will have a much more flexible way of working. We expect people to be in the office perhaps three or four days a week and have a bit more balance and flexibility.”Mark Read – CEO @ WPP (Quoted from interview with Campaign)
Watch this space.
WPP currently has c. 150,000 ft² in Sea Containers House on the Southbank. The business is investing in three campuses close by including its SeaContainers building to create a “major creative hub”.
VaynerMedia is a smaller agency based out of the US with a growing operation in London. The business owned by business legend Gary Vaynerchuk has seen exponential growth in the UK since the pandemic.
“Immediately there was huge energy, huge excitement, great facilities, and it felt really fun to come back to the office. Because obviously, people have realised; yes, it is possible to function and work and run a business with everyone working from home. But everyone missed each other so much and missed the creativity, the energy, and hanging out together.”Sarah Baumann – MD @ VaynerMedia London (Quoted from interview with Campaign)
When speaking about the specific work/home split, Baumann said to Campaign, “Everyone’s looking forward to hybrid working models that are two to three days in the office every week, but we have expressed to everyone that the return to work is voluntary, and there’s absolutely no pressure.”
The agency has doubled its headcount to 120 since the Pandemic hit.
London-based VCCP has grown incredibly since its inception in 2003. It’s well known for working with household names such as EasyJet, Whiteclaw, Kwik Fit, Cadbury and Dairylea.
Speaking in June 2021, Chairman and co-founder of VCCP Charles Vallance said that once the WFH order is lifted, VCCP would open the doors of its London office again and welcome people back. For many years, they have operated a Flexible Working Pledge, allowing teams and people to work in a way that’s best for them and their clients. This won’t change.
“But we expect there will be more people who’ve found a way of taking a day or two out of the office, so we don’t expect there to be much more than 80% occupancy at any given point.”
“Part of flexible working is being office-based. Creative people need a hub, where unintended conversations happen. Different working styles suit different people, suit different functions. We think an office-based hub is a very important part of flexible working. It is not some sort of remote, abstract, loose affiliation, where you occasionally rent a shared space for half a day. We still do believe in the office as a hub for interaction and co-creation.”Charles Vallance – Chairman @ VCCP (Quoted from interview with Campaign Magazine)
Vallance has also spoken out strongly about his concerns over learning opportunities when working remotely: “It’s very difficult for the less experienced people if they don’t see more experienced people in action; off the ball as well as on the ball.”
Whilst all of these businesses differ in size, age and location there is one constant (which isn’t really a constant at all), which is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. This seems to be the cliche of 2021 but it’s important that businesses in all sectors speak to their employees and also their clients about what these groups of people will need and expect. If clients have downsized their offices, will they want to spend more time in agency spaces?
Each business will find its own way, or it won’t. Time will tell.
If you’re struggling to work out what you need moving forward, get in contact with our team and we’ll give you some friendly no-commitment required advice.