With an unprecedented talent crunch hitting at the same time that agencies and advertisers are navigating the question of if, how and when to return to the office, we conducted a survey of senior industry execs to gather data on how in-office policies will affect talent.
The shift to work-from-home last year was sudden, but the return has been anything but. The desire of employers to have their teams return quickly to pre-pandemic work environments is creating a tension between the majority of senior agency employees who want a flexible workspace but need to see clients and coworkers in person.
The issue is not just about when we go back to the office, but whether to return to the office full time. According to our recent survey of senior ad execs, only 13% plan to return to the office full-time, so where does that leave everyone else?
The assumption that offices would reopen and business life would revert to its fast-paced, hectic days with long commutes and demanding travel requirements is under heavy fire. We’ve seen what can be accomplished when things are done differently. It works. And in many ways, it works better.
However, our survey results indicated that the majority of senior ad execs are not clamoring to get back to the frenetic past. They want options. Some want to be back in the office, but others want the flexibility to be there part-time or not at all. If there’s any certainty in this transition, it’s that going back to the way things were threatens to cripple agencies by draining an already shrinking talent pool.
In our survey, those who are not planning a return to the office were closely split between continuing to work remotely (47%) and working on a hybrid schedule (40%) with flexibility to be in the office on occasion. And respondents had some strong feelings about keeping it that way.
“After working remotely now for over a year, I can’t ever see working face to face again,” one full-service agency ad exec wrote. “Going forward, working remotely will be a must for any future job I take.”
Another, also from a full-service agency, is planning a move to a nearby state and declared that quitting would be a serious option if hybrid work isn’t available.
Many corporate giants are listening to these sorts of sentiments.
Facebook is giving most of its employees the option of working at home up to half of the time once its offices fully open in the fall. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that, over the next decade, as much as half the company could be working remotely permanently. This is a unique top-down nod to hybrid working, as Zuckerberg himself declared that he will be working this way, as well.
Executives at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC are so committed to remote work that they’re taking efforts to make sure that those who aren’t in the office don’t fall behind in promotions and pay.
But what will happen in the ad world? Frequent, lengthy in-person meetings have always been the norm, even if it meant extensive and expensive traveling. Is that the only way for a company to stand out, to retain clients? Already travel is picking up. While only a small portion of our survey respondents intend to return to the office, 55% said they’re already traveling again for business.
The pressure to return to the office isn’t coming from clients, according to our survey. The majority aren’t pushing their agencies to return to the office. But there may still be expectations for live meetings that agencies will have to navigate. And there’s a sentiment that being onsite with clients is the way to stand out and stay ahead of the competition.
However, agencies that push for that traditional structure and a return to the way things used to be will put themselves at a competitive disadvantage in the long run. We’re currently experiencing the groundswell of a post-pandemic exodus from jobs. LinkedIn has named it “The Great Resignation.” Spurned by burnout and the drive to return to the office employees are ditching the jobs that provided them security during the lockdown in search of employment flexibility and a better life balance.
This is reflected across industries. Nearly 40 percent of U.S. adults would consider quitting if their employers aren’t flexible about remote work, according to a Morning Consult survey on behalf of Bloomberg News. That climbs to nearly half among millennials and Gen Zers, who are filling in the ranks and building the leadership pipeline.
By eliminating a flexible or remote workforce you’ll be feeding the talent shortage.
Companies set up for remote work will be in the best position to attract top talent. With an openness to hiring from anywhere, the talent pool essentially becomes an ocean. These companies will be able to hire the right person for the job, not just the right person who lives nearby. And from our experience working in a fully remote company for the past 6+ years, employees are motivated to perform hard to retain that kind of life-balance flexibility.
Offering hybrid options provides similar benefits in attaining and retaining talent. Nearly 70% of workers say a hybrid workplace is ideal, according to Prudential's Pulse of the American Worker Survey. If a company doesn’t offer remote work options long term, 42% are ready to look for an employer that will.
These trends indicate that agencies have significant opportunities moving forward -- and significant lessons to learn from the recent past and from other sectors like big tech. Going back doesn’t have to mean going back to how things have always been done. Employees have expressed their preferences to stay remote or to move to a hybrid working environment. A tension will remain between agencies and their employees if the company is unwilling to provide that.