They say you can never go back — but why would anyone want to “go back”? Yet I see the leadership in agencies across the country switching into reverse gear to roll back the changes of the pandemic. They want to return to our old working habits, ignoring employee protests and a fair amount of common sense.
Take working from home, a trend that our industry resisted despite the technology existing for years. Maybe we hesitated out of fear. Maybe we worried we’d miss out if we were the ones calling into the meeting instead of the one calling all the shots in the room. As an industry during the pandemic, we made the change to a virtual workforce without any of the disasters we had predicted.
And yet, I am reading about a broad range of tactics being adopted to encourage employees back to the office. From the offering of free snacks and unlimited drinks as an incentive to set foot inside the door to firm and almost threatening mandates. I think these tactics are wrong-headed and harmful.
I say this from experience. More particularly, I say this as a co-CEO writing from her home 3,000 miles and a continent away from the agency she leads.
Working from a continent away
The pandemic has put us through the wringer. As cliché’d as it sounds, I am a firm believer in not letting a good crisis go to waste. If the last 18 months has taught us anything, it is that adaptation is not only possible, it's essential for our collective progress.
The truth is, while we all complained about Zoom, poor WIFI, pets or kids underfoot, and uncomfortable seating 18 months ago, many employee surveys at present seem to indicate that our folks do not want to go back to the office. Not back to the old way of using the office anyway.
We have spent 18 months getting up at 8:15 a.m. for a 9 a.m. call, instead of the usual 7 a.m. to make the 7:45 train to the office each morning. We have sat at the dinner table with our families most nights — all while still being able to complete an eight- to 10-hour workday. We have watched a ton of great (and not so great) movies and shows. We have taken up new hobbies, exercised more, cooked more, and yes, eaten more.
But we have actually rediscovered that life cannot just be all about work. Life is about working to make money AND time for those we care about the most — the people we love — including ourselves. The pandemic gave us the one thing we’ve failed to find in this business: perspective.
I for one refuse to go back to the way things were. I refuse to give up this new-found time and re-energized relationships with my family. Especially with my children, now grown and returned to the UK. I will not give that up to, once again, spend 3 hours commuting in a car each day. I want to live where I want to live. Not where the job expects me to live.
And for me, today, that means living near my family, instead of over 3000 miles away from them. So, while I work for a New York agency, I have moved back to the U.K. after 22 years of living in the U.S.
Now, each day, I get up at 8 a.m. and spend time doing things for myself and with my family. At 2 p.m. each day, I log on and start my first Zoom call. Yes, I frequently finish my last meeting at midnight, but that’s okay. Because while my days are topsy-turvy, having free time at the beginning of the day instead of at the end suits me just fine.
If I can lead the way by showing my team that this is possible, then they will believe that they too can work this way. And if a C-Level executive can work effectively from a continent away, it’s not hard to believe anyone can.
A “Work From Anywhere” commitment
I believe that agencies that refuse to offer each employee the choice of where they work from will miss out — big time. That’s why at DiMassimo Goldstein (DiGo) we made two commitments to our employees this year.
The first was to be an agency that ONLY works with clients that are committed to positive behavior change (helping people do the things that they know are good for them but that they find hard to do).
The second was to be a Work from Anywhere agency. Yes, we still have our New York office. It has become the hub, where some people like to work every day, and where others come in a few or less days a week. For many, including myself, it is the place we come to be together, to work on pitches and client presentations, or agency gatherings.
Half our employees do not live in New York. Not all are abroad like me, but several live in California and others are scattered across the country. We do not create restrictions around the percentage of people who can be out of office at any given time, as some agencies are doing. It is 100% the employee’s choice.Yes, Work From Anywhere comes with some complexities. For example, people have to stick to Eastern time — a very important factor in making this work. We have to make sure that opportunities for each employee are equal, regardless of where they choose to work from.We have to spend more time thinking about taxes and benefits in each location, especially in different countries.
But doing so has opened the door. Avoiding hiring global talent for fear of visas and red tape now needs to be a thing of the past. We can literally hire the best and most diverse talent from anywhere in the world today — if we offer them Work From Anywhere.
I know that many companies are not in a position to be able to make these kinds of choices. But we are. And I believe that to be progressive agencies in 2021 and beyond, we MUST offer choice to our employees. Because as has been proven since time began, happier employees stay in place longer and do better work. When those two things are true, everything else falls into place.