Global survey shows a seismic change in how and where agencies will work
Collaboration, communication, culture – these are the core tenets of PR and communication agencies around the world. The pandemic and many country-wide shutdowns forced agencies to rethink how they worked to best support their teams and service their clients, while remaining true to their principles.
As many agencies looked to “reopen” during the summer of 2021, IPREX – the $420-million global communications network – recently conducted a survey among its 61 partners that shows a seismic change in both how and where agencies will work.
With the recent rise in the Delta variant and vaccination rates in many countries and regions lagging, and inconsistent rules relating to mask wearing, PR agency owners have been grappling with the challenge of what a return to the office would look like.
Most agencies surveyed stated that they expect to reopen their offices after the third quarter of 2021, with some looking towards early 2022. Those that have opened, however, have taken steps to meet a continuously changing landscape.
Health and Safety – Vaccination is Key.
“In Australia, we had a combination of the lowest rate of fully vaccinated people and the breakthrough of the Delta variant, which led to second lockdown in Sydney from June 26, after not having a lockdown for 12 months,” said Kathy Lindsay, managing partner of the Sydney, Australia-based, Wells Haslem Mayhew.
Prior to the current lockdown, the Wells Haslem Mayhew offices had previously been open from May 2020 through June 26th of this year. Now, as the country awaits the import of more vaccines and the “all-clear” from the government, the second reopening poses another challenge.
“Mask-wearing is required, and we have enough space for social distancing, along with spaces to go outside and we continue to keep the office clean and sanitized,” Lindsay added.
The majority of those surveyed stated that their teams were either completely vaccinated or close to it. While mandating vaccinations varies from country-to-country, most say that their teams were eager to get vaccinated.
“When the vaccines were made available in the United States, we actually had colleagues texting and emailing each other on where and when they could get it,” said Tom Eisbrenner, CEO of MBE Group, in Detroit, Michigan. “The team took it upon themselves to find a way to get the shots.”
How & Where – Taking the Opportunity
Prior to the pandemic, 93% of IPREX partners had a “full-time, in-office” policy. Today, 86% say they are moving to a hybrid model, while another 3% say they will go full-time virtual.
Peter Mitchell, chairman and chief creative officer for Marketing for Change, who has offices in Alexandria, Virginia and Orlando and Tallahassee, Florida, said, “We officially reopened our offices on July 1 with a six-month pilot plan to support three types of workers: The office oriented, who will retain their own offices or desks and come to the office three to five times a week; flex workers, who live within commuting distance of an office and come to the office at least once a week, and remote workers, the four staffers who live outside the office metro areas and have formal work-from-home agreements.”
In Hannover, Germany, David Mache, CEO of MT-Medien, saw an opportunity to relocate and completely change the structure of the office.
“We were unable to open the office until July 2021 and used this time to select and remodel a new office with a new arrangement,” Mache said. “We changed from primarily small offices to a more open concept with docking stations, lounge furniture, a coffee bar and a rooftop terrace, which so far has been well received by the team, with a nearly 50-50 split of office and remote time.”
Long known for collaboration areas, ping-pong tables and high-end spaces, the physical offices of PR and communications agencies often played a key role in hiring and – in some cases – even winning new business. A widespread move to hybrid models means some agencies are completely rethinking their space.
The IPREX survey showed that 82% of employees preferred a hybrid work environment.
“We were hybrid well before the pandemic and will remain so moving forward,” Eisbrenner said. “However, we downsized and relocated our San Francisco office and invested in more internal communications tech like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to ensure we stayed in regular visual contact with our team and our clients, all to better support our hybrid structure.”
Wells Haslem Mayhew had a similar approach: A hybrid working model, with the goal of having team members in the office from Tuesday to Thursday each week. The recent shift has altered the plan, but the intent remains to get back to a more “normal” schedule.
Mason Williams closed both of its main offices in London and Manchester in the United Kingdom during the past year and will work fully remote for the foreseeable future. With a client base in the hospitality segment, the team plans to use its client hotel locations as team meeting spaces as needed.
“When the pandemic hit the U.K., we were forced to furlough the majority of our staff, apart from three account directors and the costs of maintaining an office that no one would use was not sustainable,” said John Williams, chairman and founder of Mason Williams. “Now we’re staffing back up and until very recently, all of our new colleagues had never met in person. Despite this, we’re finding exceptional levels of collaboration, responsibility and commitment.”
Tech – Move to Reliable Mobile Solutions
With more people working virtually, the tech must support it. While some agencies are investing in connected software and upgraded hardware, some are reducing costs related to “traditional” office needs.
“Other than a single phone line for general contact, we will eliminate all of our desk phones,” Eisbrenner said. “They’re a significant cost, we provide a mobile phone stipend for our team members and when we’re in the office we have other, more useful communication tools.”
MT-Meriden replaced older iMacs with MacBooks to support remote and added a remote software called “Anydesk” to enable employees to control computers from home and converted the company to Microsoft Office 365 for more streamlined communication.
“This has been a very reliable solution,” Mache said.
Across the board, making communications easier and clearer was a constant.
Culture & Collaboration – Nurture and Reinvigorate
With the increased push for more connected technology, came the need to fight “Zoom Fatigue” with many agencies now getting together for in-person gatherings to encourage reconnection and maintain their culture.
“To nurture our culture, reinvigorate our sense of community and make work a little more fun again, we will be asking all but our remote work employees to come to an office each week on what we are calling Team Tuesday,” said Mitchell. “It will also be a day we have some fun, with events like ‘tea-time’ in the morning, shared lunches, happy hours and special adventures that pull us together.”
Kathy Lindsay also instituted a team-wide Tuesday to include lunches or related social gatherings to encourage more face-to-face time, while Mitchell has started quarterly “Hub Days”, where he brings all employees to one of his office locations for an even larger gathering.
“Getting to travel again has made these team gatherings even more special,” Mitchell said.
The MBE Group team noticed a distinct difference in the workday when several team members were in the office during a recent client campaign presentation.
“The excitement and energy were higher than it had been in a long time,” Eisbrenner said. “It was obvious that everyone wanted to be there.”
IPREX conducted the research among its partner agencies in May 2021 as part of a global session on returning to the office.
Written by Frank Buscemi, CEO & Chief Creative Officer, Marx Buscemi Eisbrenner Group
Brought to you by your Marketing Committee, led by Caroline Heywood of Walsh:PR (Ireland).
- Tom Eisbrenner, CEO of MBE Group (Detroit, USA)
- Peter Mitchell, Principal, Marketing for Change Co. (Orlando, USA)
- Kathy Lindsey, Managing Partner, Wells Haslem Mayhew (Sydney, Australia)
- John Williams, Chairman and Founder, Mason Williams ( London, UK)
- David Mache, CEO, MT-Medien (Hannover, Germany)