- Ad agencies are planning for a return to the office after 15 months of remote work.
- Approaches vary, with some agencies going all remote and others calling for staff to return.
- Those adopting stricter policies may have trouble recruiting and retaining talent.
Advertising and PR agencies are solidifying their return-to-office plans.
These companies want to encourage collaboration that can come with in-person work while protecting employees’ health and maintaining their pandemic-high outputs. But their plans are all over the map, which has led to confusion as employees compare policies and wait for the official word on how often they will be required to return.
Industry insiders also say companies with stricter policies may lose talent to those offering more flexibility.
IPG PR firm Weber Shandwick expects most employees to be back in the office three days a week starting in September, CEO Gail Heimann said. Brookyn-based agency Mother will require staff to work from the office from Monday through Thursday while Fridays will be permanent work from home days. Employees will also get 15 days a year they can work remotely.
Ad holding company Omnicom is expected to require people to work in the office most of the week, and WPP execs believe their company will do the same.
Vaccination policy is also a sticking point, with millions of Americans still unvaccinated and employees voicing concerns over their health and privacy. Omnicom is requiring returning US staff to present proof of vaccination, the first holding company to do so, while Publicis and Dentsu are taking a softer approach.
A Dentsu spokeswoman said the company expects everyone to follow proper safety protocols but that it views vaccination as a “choice.” One Dentsu agency exec said managers were told not to ask whether employees are vaccinated.
Another holding company, Publicis, will require all employees to fill out a daily health questionnaire and for unvaccinated staffers to mask and socially distance when it reopens US offices July 7, read a June 30 memo obtained by Insider. A person with direct knowledge said Publicis will use the honor system when it comes to vaccinations.
“Given that the nature of our work and working styles is highly diverse, flexibility is key,” said a Publicis spokeswoman.
Several agency execs said that after months of working remotely, prospective hires are pushing back on in-office requirements. Recruiting difficulties could challenge agencies’ recovery from steep pandemic declines. There’s also the concern that as people return to commuting, it’ll depress productivity.
A May survey by remote staffing company WorkReduce found that only 16% of senior ad execs want to return to the office.
“I have had senior people call me to say, ‘If they make me go back, I don’t know if I will go back — I’ll just go someplace where I can go remote,'” said WorkReduce CEO Brian Dolan.
Other agencies have taken a more liberal approach — and seeing the recruiting benefits.
Austin’s Proof Advertising let its 60-person staff go permanently remote last month. CEO Bryan Christian said this move has helped the agency hire; Proof recently added a pair of New York-based execs who otherwise wouldn’t have been on its radar.
LA’s Exverus Media will let its 25-person staff work remotely; CEO Bill Durrant said he plans to use the savings on office space to pay for gatherings like a summer party for employees.
One ad holding company exec said the process of getting thousands of people to pivot away from work-from-home setups is “10 times harder” than the transition to a fully remote workforce in 2020.
Other agency employees are eager to return.
Kansas City-based Barkley’s CEO Jeff King said he expects most of his 350 employees to work from the office full-time by the fall.
Will Campbell, CEO of LA’s Quantasy, said nearly half of his 70 employees indicated in polls that they want to come in most days. But the agency is moving slowly.
“We never want to be type of place that controls employees,” said Bill Durrant. “We think control and fear drives a lot of the ‘you must be back’ conversations.”
Tanya Dua contributed reporting.