The pandemic has forced us to rethink how we work and manage our business. It is remarkably interesting to watch how everyone is forcibly adapting to working virtually. Historically, agencies have resisted working virtually as our industry is so reliant on collaborating and building chemistry, which tends to happen best in person.
I’m reminded of how we created a virtual office environment at Chiat/Day back in the early ‘90s. Technology was not where it is today, so we were truly ahead of its time. In the Venice, CA office, in what was the “binocular” building, we set up kiosks where staffers could check out laptops and mobile phones. These phones only worked in and next to the building. A true benefit to those who wanted to step outside for a smoke. This was before the proliferation of cell phones and we had to learn a completely new form of etiquette.
For example, when we started meetings, we all had to turn off our phones as they inevitably rang during meetings which was so interruptive. It was also very strange when the phone rang while you were in the bathroom.
Reception was able to redirect our phones to our homes so when a client called, it was seamless. And think about the IT nightmare of managing all of this! The mail room would take all incoming mail, scan it and email it to us. We also had a locker room for our stuff. Paper was the devil. If Jay Chiat came across a file of papers, he would go ballistic! The biggest problem was the media department. They kept hard files of media kits and they filled up those lockers very quickly.
As an account person, one of the bigger challenges was finding creative teams as many would plant themselves on the beach to work, out of contact from us. This certainly did not engender collaboration. Also, people are creatures of habit. As a result, folks tended to go back to their same “space” every day. They would leave things there overnight to claim their spot for the next day.
The other benefit was that not as much office space was needed as there would always be a certain percent of the staff working offsite either from home or out at meetings. The same held true for the laptops and phones, there were not enough when the entire staff was in the office. Ultimately, the concept was scaled back but it was the first real test of what can be done virtually.
The New York office was even more radical. There was a large piazza with small tables, and you would just grab space whenever it was vacant. Again, the hope was that the majority of the staff would be offsite, so the real estate footprint could be smaller and, therefore, less costly.
Since those days, agencies have embraced the idea of having some or all staff working remotely. As everyone becomes more comfortable with this way of working, it will no doubt become the norm than the exception. Research shows that employees work just as productively remotely as they do while in an office. If anything is sacrificed, one can argue that it is collaboration and chemistry.
Both are critically important not only when managing day to day client relationships but when pitching new business. Calls over platforms like Zoom can actually support collaboration and chemistry. When you are on a shared call, you must be attentive because everyone will see if you are multi-tasking.
People also seem to be talking more rather than hiding behind emails, perhaps a result of being forced into isolation. It is also quite endearing when there is a stumble; who doesn’t relate to someone’s child interrupting your call or when your pet barks or meows? This reveals our human side, and everyone can relate to that! It is also entertaining to see customized virtual backgrounds as well as the chance to gain a glimpse into people’s homes. How you dress your background can certainly give people a peek into your personality.
Once the pandemic is behind us, I believe working remotely will not only be the norm, but it will thrive and continuously evolve. I also predict the death of those long worktables filled with digital staffers. They go completely against social distancing. The office space of the future will have to revert to more spacious workstations so people can feel more comfortable. But this will balance out knowing that a large percent of your staff is permanently working offsite.