21 May 2020

With the lockdown beginning to ease over the next couple of months, industries are making plans to return to work and to the office.

Despite the ease at which many can work from home, particularly within the marketing, digital and agency world; there is still an appetite from many businesses to return to normal as quickly as possible.

Is that realistic? And if businesses, agencies and marketing teams are able to work from home, shouldn’t they do so as long as possible?

There are already differing views and approaches. Earlier in the month Charlie Rudd, chief executive of Leo Burnett London, told Campaign that adland should "be at the back of the queue" for returning to the office. And despite the importance of human connectivity to creativity other leading industry figures agreed when talking to Campaign.

However, HAVAS announced this week that they are planning their return to the office, with strict guidelines in place, including a limit to 50 people allowed to enter per hour. 

Some of the big players have also made their position clear, with Google announcing that their staff will work from home until the end of 2020 and Twitter announcing that they are going to allow their workforce to work from home indefinitely.

But how are things working for those that are already returning to the office? We spoke to Matthew, Head of Marketing with a large property firm in Manchester. He returned to the office on Wednesday, having been brought off furlough.

How did your company inform you about your return to work? 

We had 'keep in touch days' throughout the furlough period, typically an hour call with the team once a week, just checking up on everyone. In early May and after the announcement of the housing market opening back up, we discussed a phased return among senior management. There was a phone call notifying me of my intended return to work date, along with an email confirmation from HR. I was then responsible for notifying the initial phase of team members returning to work using the same methods.

How did you feel about it initially?

You do get used to being furloughed, making your own schedule and deciding what to do with your time. I'm very logical and was unsure how long furlough was going to last, so I set out a plan from the start - a combination of both personal and professional goals. I knew I wouldn't get this opportunity again during my life, to have so much free spare time whilst being supported through a government scheme. I set out a combination of professional goals such as online courses and my CPD to ensure I got in hours to become a chartered marketer. Additionally, and more importantly, I set out time to get out and make use of my daily dose of exercise, either running or on the road bike.

I had tunnel vision on both personal and professional goals and was solely focused on them, resulting in my initial thoughts being negative; I wanted to remain on furlough. I soon got passed that, switching my mind-set to my role within the company, and realigning my goals with those of my employer.

Do you see the benefit of being in the office? 

Yes, we are able to work from home, but I prefer the office, the structure of 9 am - 6 pm. If I work from home I'm more productive on large tasks and can get my head down without interruption, but this has a negative effect on my team and our communication. In order to WFH to operate effectively in a national organisation, with regional offices, a comms team and systems need to be in place - furthermore, cross-functional departments in a rapid growth company need that face to face engagement along with stakeholder management. It's difficult and challenging to see how this would operate with a prolonged and companywide WFH policy.

And how has it been, what measures have they put in place to make everyone feel safe but still productive? 

The measures put in place are great. The office was spacious prior to the pandemic. And we're currently at 30% occupancy in the office with some staff on rotational WFH and Office based. We have 2metre hazard lines taped on the floors along with wipe down areas at each printer including antibacterial hand gel throughout the office and each employee is given their own hand sanitiser. Inductions by office managers are also being carried out for each employee when they do come back.

Thanks Matthew.

So, it looks as if a return to office is achievable with the right measures in place. But the situation is going to be different for every company and each individual. Matthew for example is able to drive or cycle, those who have to take public transport to the office may feel now is too early to return.

The situation in London may differ dramatically from other parts of the country. Our Marketing Manager Tom Jonson gave his perspective.

“I agree largely with what many of those industry people were saying in the piece by Campaign. We are all missing our colleagues and the enjoyment that comes from the office environment but I think in an office based industry where working from home should be relatively easy, there should not be a rush to get back in.

With many crucial industries where workers simply can’t work from home, it would seem irresponsible for people who can, to be using public transport, particularly in London. If people are able to walk or cycle to the office and feel comfortable with the measures put in place by their employer, then I can see the argument for giving them the choice.

But ultimately it is still very early days in terms of the lockdown easing and I think it’s important to remain cautious and take things day by day. From a personal point of view, here at Stopgap we have transitioned very well to all working remotely and it helps perhaps that we are a relatively small business in terms of head count. There are pros and cons to both of course, productivity can increase without the distractions an open plan office brings and reducing travel and emissions is certainly a plus.”

So time will tell over the next few weeks as to how many industries look to return to the office and how effective or not it may be.

What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Email Tom.

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