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COVID-19 has fuelled the ongoing debate around office working versus remote working. Do we need to be in an office 100% of the time to produce our best work? Does working remotely all of the time allow us to collaborate as best as possible? With so much at play, it doesn’t feel like this debate is going to be settled any time soon, or even if there is a correct answer.

There’s no arguing that we’ve all learnt a lot about ourselves and the way we work over the past few months. Some of us have thrived working from home, embraced the challenge and managed to produce some of our greatest work. Whereas others have really struggled, missed the human contact, found new types of collaboration difficult, as well as managing the added pressures associated with personal lives. If you’re anything like me, you’re somewhere in the middle.

Now as measures start to ease, agencies are planning for the future, and trying to establish what is right for them and for their employees in terms of their workplace.

What’s right for the agency?

A number of large businesses have already voiced how they are planning for the future of work. Barclays have publicly said that they want to get their employees back into the office over time. They added that they feel it is important for people to get together physically to evolve and improve collaboration and culture. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have tech focused businesses such as Facebook, Twitter and Shopify, who have all said that they are happy for some of their teams to work remotely indefinitely, quoting that they understand the ways in which we work have forever changed.

Ultimately, each business is going to have a slightly different approach regarding what they are looking to achieve from having their employees return to the office. Agency offices are renowned for being creative environments, places where people can bounce ideas off of people, boosting the argument for having people in an office. Yet at exactly the same time, we’ve proved we can work successfully remotely, still collaborate and produce some great work. So, what’s the answer?

The answer is flexibility. In a post-COVID workplace, flexibility is going to be key for agencies in terms of having people in the office and its setup.

In agency land, there are always going to be times where physically being with the team is preferred: collaborating on pitches, sharing ideas for new projects, getting the creative juices flowing. Then there is of course the company culture and employee engagement side. Physically being in an office definitely helps boost employee engagement, and also makes it easier to maintain and grow the company culture businesses have strived for. 

But agencies need to be aware that people are now accustomed to working this way and in many cases, enjoy the benefits it brings. It may be the case that you want your team to come in twice a week for team meetings, say every Monday to kick the week off, and  Friday afternoons to review the week and see the weekend in as a team. Getting the agency together in this way will help keep your company culture, boost employee engagement, and still keep that “buzz” whilst being flexible for your team. The physical office is therefore going to need to change in line with this.

The traditional office environment has always been a place to get work done. But following the working from home trend we have all adopted in the past few months, its need is going to change significantly, especially for agencies. Office spaces will evolve with the agency to become places for collaboration, building relationships, creating a great employee experience and embracing agency culture.

What’s right for your employees?

We all know there are many employee benefits of remote working.

There’s the financial benefit – not spending money on commuting to and from work, forgetting your lunch and having to buy a sandwich, nipping out for that cup of coffee, paying for your parking, the list goes on. Then there’s the work-life balance benefit – you can be flexible with your schedule, enjoy that extra hour in bed you would have been commuting, be able to do the school run and generally help balance your personal life alongside work. There are also the environmental benefits – reducing emissions from you commuting, energy being wasted on running the offices, not sending that document to the printer just so you can throw it away again after.

All of these benefits are great, and definitely do add to the argument for us all to work remotely. But after having lived through the last few months of remote working, it’s not that simple and does have its drawbacks.

Being able to separate work from home is hard, especially if you’re set up in your kitchen, at your dining room table, or a make-shift desk in your bedroom. On top of this, more and more of us are working longer hours than we ever did before, making it harder to switch off.

Then there’s the feeling of isolation. The best work we do as agencies is normally when we’re all together, collaborating, bouncing ideas off one another. But it’s not always about the work. We didn’t spend our whole workday sat at our desk, head down, not speaking to our colleagues. We’d have a chat with the Finance Director about her running, show the Marketing Exec that hilarious YouTube video, or argue with the Design team about what music we should listen to today. All of the usual human interaction has been somewhat lost, and it has definitely affected us all.

But it could also be argued that emotional engagement with our co-workers is at an all-time high. Obviously, we haven’t been together in the office, but working remotely we’ve got to know a different side to our colleagues, a side that we wouldn’t have ever seen if we were in the workplace. We’ve got to know them at a deeper level, a less “work/office persona”, but more from a personal stance. And we’ve all been through the same struggles together: kids having breakdowns in the background, constant internet frustrations, dogs barking and the never-ending pile of washing up.

So again, when we ask ourselves what’s best for our employees, it comes back to flexibility. Having the flexibility to work from home on certain days of the week, to plan your personal life around work, to improve your work-life balance. But also, the flexibility to know that there is a workspace available for you, a space to go and spend time with the team, to work together, to build relationships and break the shackles of remote working.

Conclusion

Truth is, there really is no right answer. Each agency is different, its employees are all different, and therefore the way in which they work are all going to differ. Having a more flexible approach to work is going to be imperative for agencies and employees.

But there is a definite wrong answer. So much has changed over the past few months and the way in which we work has undoubtedly changed for good. If agencies are unable to recognise that the ways in which we work have changed, and that flexibility is going to be key, then there may be further problems ahead.

Original article featured on HRnews.