Agency leaders are currently navigating through the process of planning their troops’ safe return to offices. There is no single blueprint and there are numerous variables to consider, from the agency’s market conditions and local regulations to whether the agency owns and operates or rents its own offices.
Other issues include managing relationships with co-tenants (if that’s applicable), commutes to work -- and what about lunch?
While CEOs are hesitant to reveal specific strategies since every office will be evaluated differently, there are a few commonalities shared across many shops.
For one, many leaders are relying on their staff to help guide their return-to-work policies. Nearly all agencies contacted by MediaPost Agency Daily say they are using staff surveys to develop not only temporary plans but more future-focused guidance to reimagine their working environments.
Publicis, for instance, found that 90% of its employees have already expressed their desire to work differently post-pandemic.
Task-force formation is another widely used tactic. Several firms have multiple groups working in coordination to develop an overall roadmap. One team might focus on technology logistics while another concentrates on day-to-day details.
One leader notes the added complications of dealing with ecofriendly workplaces. It turns out designing buildings to save energy and operate more efficiently, with features such as windows sealed shut and open-floor plans, don’t help when battling a pandemic.
Moreover, the COVID-19 pathogen travels through air conditioning units, which are likely to be maximized during the summer months. Should the AC be cut off?
For the most part, agencies are erring on the side of caution. They are mimicking grocery stores with one-way traffic patterns and other preventive measures. Masks are to be worn at all times.
While some shops are reorganizing floor plans, others believe a smaller staff will naturally result in social distancing. Vladimir Jones, which is reopening both of its Colorado offices May 18, has assigned each staffer to an agency team. Team A will be in the office on Mondays and Wednesdays; Team B will be in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And to start at least, everyone works from home on Fridays. These rules will ensure the in-office team will never exceed more than 50% of the staff in either office.
Elevators remain a challenging issue. Some agencies are adhering to their building managers’ or landlords’ instructions in terms of total number of passengers. It goes without saying few people are likely to arrive “on time,” at least as defined by the pre-pandemic paradigm.
Perks like childcare and fitness centers are closed. Dogs are no longer welcome at the office.
Media Two Interactive’s food policy will place food from all outside sources in a lunch box that is then disinfected before being placed in the fridge. There will be no water-cooler chats, and break rooms have capacity limits. Travel bans remain in effect.
At least one agency recommended its team members take vacation during this crisis, with the understanding that vacation time would be limited once the office is reopened.
Flexibility matters. Several leaders admit these reopenings are going to be similar to the game Chutes and Ladders, with some progress made to move things forward before falling back behind. Several believe offices are likely to be shuttered at least once more due to flare-ups, particularly in large cities.
And then there are agencies who feel reopening is still months away. While StrawberryFrog has installed a task force to work on these return-to-office issues, CEO Scott Goodson believes his team will not be back at its Empire State Building headquarters until there is a vaccine.