The One Thing Agencies Must Do in 2021

Put employees at the center of everything you do 

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With the first Covid-19 vaccines now making their way to people around the world, the workplace reentry conversation has taken a more pragmatic turn. What are the implications for the advertising industry? Will we all rush back to HQ? Will we all stay home? All of the above, actually. The solution will be less about designing a new layout for the office, and more about creating a better model for collaboration. 

More than 20 percent of the workforce could work remotely three-to-five days-a-week without sacrificing productivity, according to a new report from the McKinsey Global Institute. Further, as McKinsey points out, this percentage varies widely across industries: fields like agriculture and construction simply don’t lend themselves to remote or even hybrid work arrangements. But in the world of advertising, and professional services more broadly, the potential of the virtual workforce is only beginning to be understood. 

The pros and cons of working remote

Everyone who had the benefit of working remotely this year likely learned a few things about the pros and cons. In our own experience, we have certainly missed the energy and spontaneity our offices always provided us: getting people in a room to figure stuff out, shooting the breeze at the coffee machine, the hurried corridor conversations that spark new creative pathways.

Despite that fact, we accomplished a lot that we might not have under business as usual. With a little practice and the right people, the remote working format produces beautiful campaigns, new business wins and powerful thinking informed by an incredible diversity of perspectives and capabilities. 

Moving forward, we believe a hybrid model will allow us to combine the power of proximity with the creative agility of a limitless network. We’re planning to call this model F&B Anywhere. And, above all, we want to make sure we hang onto the collaborative, grassroots spirit that gave rise to it. 

Agencies: Lead through employees, not managers

This points out the biggest opportunity for agencies in 2021. To adapt and compete, agencies will need to lead through employees, not managers. Whatever office reentry looks like, it can’t be driven by executive egos; it must be about what’s best for the teams doing the work. Sadly, this might not come naturally to many organizations in our field, but the act of treating employees as respected equals and eliminating hierarchy always leads to increased agility and smoother processes.

Remote work is now recognized as more culturally acceptable and operationally efficient than ever before—but it absolutely requires a supportive company culture to be successful. So, as we contemplate a post-Covid-19 world, and what we might wish to build or rebuild, we must also recognize that success requires organizations (in this industry and beyond) to flatten their hierarchical structures and build more equitable and inclusive workspaces. 

It starts by putting employees at the center of everything you do.