‘My mind is opened to different possibilities now’: 5 ways agency work will change going forward

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This is part of a special package from Digiday about what comes next, looking to the other side of the current crisis to explore the lasting changes that are coming about.

Over the last four months, employees and employers have adapted to a new way of working that’s not only remote but more flexible. Doing so has, of course, come out of necessity due to the on-going coronavirus pandemic. But agency executives and employees believe that some of the workflow and workplace changes will stick long after coronavirus is under control as old beliefs about what can be accomplished outside of the office have been proven false. 

Remote work and shared work spaces will be normalized

With employees working remotely for the last several months and productivity levels still on par with normal in-person activities, agency executives say that they are changing their minds on having employees work from afar. 

That’s true for David DeMuth, CEO of Detroit-based ad agency Doner. The last four months has led to an “epiphany” of sorts about remote work for him. Prior to the pandemic, DeMuth believed that it was necessary for employees, especially those in senior roles, to work at the agency’s office. The past few months, however, have proven that working with employees wherever they are is a viable option. “Now we might not require someone to move,” said DeMuth. “My mind is open to different possibilities now.” 

Going forward, agency executives believe that a hybrid model of employees working remotely some days and in the office on other days will likely be popular once the coronavirus is controlled. That model will likely lead to workspaces shared by more that one agency. 

“Clients don’t want to pay for everyone’s overhead anymore, so it’s an industry that’s ripe for shared work-space with access to common resources,” said Caveat co-founder and managing director Josh Greenberg, adding that shared work-space can be beneficial because “creative professionals and creative service companies all need many of the same tools and vendor resources.” 

A focus on diverse talent 

Without the need for employees to live close enough to commute to an office each day the geographic restrictions of searching for an employee near said office will be removed, according to agency executives. Employers will then be able to open up the talent pool and potentially hire candidates outside of their area. For some agencies, the ability to do so could help with the diverse makeup of their employee base. 

“They’ll be able to hire outside of major cities or typical places they recruit from,” said Michael Tonge, founder of The Culture LP and freelance creative strategist. “That enables people to go further outside of their immediate networks. At a minimum it will lead to diversity in thought.” 

In recent weeks, agencies have been grappling with the lack of diversity (especially in mid-level and management roles) and looking for ways to address the problem. Simply hiring more diverse candidates isn’t enough as there are systemic issues inside agencies that need to be addressed to “enable true diversity and inclusion at all levels when it comes to talent,” said Tonge. 

That said, agency executives believe going forward a focus on “hiring, training and recognition for diverse teams and inclusive management becomes the norm,” said Mack McKelvey, founder and CEO of SalientMG. 

Benefits packages will change

Employees with home offices prior to the pandemic were ready for the transition to working remotely. Those without such amenities have had to figure out what’s necessary to make working at home bearable. Some employers will likely make changes to their benefits packages — like a stipend for office supplies or cell phone bills — part of their benefits package going forward, according to agency executives who say they have to account for the new ways of working. 

“Companies will need to rethink benefits,” said McKelvey. “We cover employees personal cell phone bills and home wifi (always have); but in the future, companies should find ways to offset costs (childcare, home office stipend, etc.) creatively for this new hybrid of in-office/remote work.” 

More of a focus on work-life balance

With employees working from home, the boundaries between work and life have come down. Agency leaders and execs say that now, months into this shift, there’s an awareness that the separation of work and life will need to be rebuilt or remade to make sure that employees aren’t burnt out because those boundaries are gone. 

“It will be more important than ever to recreate some sort of limit so work doesn’t end up invading too much of our personal lives and ultimately creating resentment (which ultimately leads to burnout),” said PJ Pereira, creative chairman, and co-founder, Pereira O’Dell. 

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With the lines between the professional and the personal blurred physically, some believe that the boundaries of work hours will become more flexible to account for that. 

“Work schedules and individual availability will no longer be as commonly and collectively Monday-Friday / 9-5 (or 9-9, in agency life), but instead be more limited or flexible depending on individual circumstances,” said Matt Wurst, U.S. managing director for branded content shop Revelation. “Successful businesses and companies will be the ones that recognize, embrace, celebrate, adapt and build upon on these differences.” 

More flexibility

For years, agency executives and marketers have used “agile” and “nimble” as buzzwords to set themselves up as modern and differentiated. The need for teams to be both “agile” and “nimble” has certainly been proven in recent months. That said, the ability to quickly change course due to unforeseen circumstances will be part of agencies’ process long after this moment. 

“‘Pivot’ feels like the word of the year,” said Katy Wellhousen, senior account director at influencer marketing agency RQ. “While agencies and brands have always needed to think through ways to adapt campaigns to cultural shifts, the last four months have proven that there are some things you simply can not predict,” she said. “The biggest learning point for me has been putting aside ego and pride and letting go of a concept that no longer fits within the cultural climate.” 

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