With vaccine rollouts making a more comprehensive return to offices a possibility, agencies are taking a variety of approaches to how they’ll balance office and remote work going forward. In the case of holding companies, that may mean leadership weighing in on coordinating overall guidance, and Omnicom’s chief executive did just that this week with a message hinting at the network favoring a comprehensive return to office life.
Omnicom CEO John Wren sent a holding company-wide internal memo yesterday outlining guidelines for agencies returning to the office, seemingly in response to a number of inquiries from employees. Notably, Wren uses the phrase “office-centric culture” to refer to Omnicom’s planned approach.
A return to an “office-centric culture”
“We will return to an office-centric culture as our baseline,” Wren wrote near the top of the memo. “We believe it enables us to invent, collaborate and learn together most effectively.” Later in the memo he noted that a recent assessment found that most employees preferred working in the office most of the time while retaining “some flexibility to work remotely.”
This may suggest Omnicom doesn’t plan to provide most employees with the flexibility to work remotely on a frequent basis, but at the same time no strict guidelines are currently being set in place. At the very least, the language seems to communicate that Omnicom is leaning toward the physical office side of any hybrid model. The timelines around office returns will vary by country, Wren informed employees, anticipating such a return will be gradual. He noted that employees are already back in offices in many parts of Asia and that in the U.S., U.K. and parts of Europe, the network expects more employees to start coming into the office over the course of the summer months, with most employees back “by early fall.” Wren also ensured employees that Omnciom is maintaining strong safety protocols as employees gradually return office.
The announcement follows some controversy around one Omnicom agency’s push to get remote employees to return to the office back in March, when vaccinations were far less widespread. Employees of Florida-based Zimmerman Advertising told AgencySpy they felt pressured to return to the office as soon as possible, despite Omnicom’s official policy of no employees being required to return to a physical office if they feel uncomfortable doing so. After reporting around the incidents, Zimmerman founder and interim CEO Jordan Zimmerman issued an agency-wide memo about its office return policy, stating that the agency would continue to adhere to Omnicom guidance around not requiring employees to return to the office.
“Some flexibility to work remotely,” as a treat
In a section titled” The Future of Work,” Wren discussed the Anyplace Work committee formed by Omnicom last summer to evaluate its long-term plan for the future of work policies, comprised of members from agency, network and practice leadership.
“More recently, agencies in our largest offices, representing more than 80% of our employees, completed a comprehensive Anyplace Workplace assessment,” he explained, adding that the assessment asked agency leaders “think through the future of work, from new organizational structures, to how employees will work, to physical space requirements, to tools and technology.”
“We’ve learned that our physical offices will continue to be a destination for maintaining our culture, for learning, training, and collaboration, and for inspiring innovation and creativity,” he added. “We also learned that the overwhelming majority of our people still want to be in the office most of the time while having some flexibility to work remotely.”
Wren went on to explain that leadership teams will develop more specific plans for future agency operations in the coming weeks, “including policies for on-site, hybrid and off-site work, where appropriate” and promised further updates. For now there still seems to be a good deal of ambiguity around how much input the network will have on the policies of its individual agencies and to what degree it will allow for or embrace dropping office attendance requirements in favor of more comprehensive employee flexibility allowing talent to determine for themselves how and where they work best.
On the webpage outlining Omnicom’s return to work plans, the network includes a dial indicating progress toward “fully open” which currently is at the “soft open” phase in which employees are encouraged to return to work with the proper safety protocols. In stage 4 employees are “expected to return to the office for on-site work” while maintaining these protocols.
Here’s the memo in full:
Many of you have been asking for guidance around returning to the office and how we will work in the future so you can better plan the next several months (including planning back to school for those of you with children). We wanted to share our thinking and provide an update on our return-to-office guidance and our plan for “the future of work.”
We will return to an office-centric culture as our baseline. We believe it enables us to invent, collaborate and learn together most effectively.
The timelines for returning to the office will vary by country depending on the infection and vaccination rates, and we expect our return to the office to be gradual. In many parts of Asia, our employees are already back in the office. In the U.S., U.K. and other parts of Europe, we expect more people will start coming into the office throughout the summer, with most back in the office by early fall. Across the rest of Omnicom’s markets around the world, we expect return dates to vary depending on local conditions.
To facilitate the reopening of our office locations, we developed a workplace dial that anchors to five defined stages and allows us to quickly adjust our work sites depending on health conditions. Using the dial, we can assign a stage to each of our work sites depending on the current local health data and government guidance. The reopening stage by country and city will be available on the returningsafely.omnicomgroup.com microsite beginning June 1st and will be updated regularly. More details on the stages for reopening can be found here.
As a reminder, with only a few exceptions due to local market restrictions, Omnicom offices are open and many of our colleagues currently work from an office each day. We are maintaining strong safety protocols in our offices, such as temperature screenings upon entry, physical distancing guidelines, face covering requirements and office occupancy limits, where required or recommended. As we transition back to the office, please continue to follow health authority and local government guidance.
Future of Work
Last summer, we formed the Anyplace Workplace committee. The committee was created with members from agency, network and practice leadership to develop a long-term vision and to plan the future of work.
More recently, agencies in our largest offices, representing more than 80% of our employees, completed a comprehensive Anyplace Workplace assessment. The assessment asked agency leaders to think through the future of work, from new organizational structures, to how employees will work, to physical space requirements, to tools and technology.
We’ve learned that our physical offices will continue to be a destination for maintaining our culture, for learning, training, and collaboration, and for inspiring innovation and creativity. We also learned that the overwhelming majority of our people still want to be in the office most of the time while having some flexibility to work remotely.
Over the next several weeks our leadership teams will be developing specific plans for how agencies will work in the future, including policies for on-site, hybrid and off-site work, where appropriate. The results of the plans will be communicated locally by your leadership.
We will share updates as we continue to evaluate local market needs and the readiness to return to the office. The health and safety of our employees is, and has been, our top priority as we’ve thought about how and where people should work during the pandemic. Over the past year, teams have done incredible work under difficult circumstances, and we’ve learned a lot about the “pros and cons” of remote work. We look forward to the day, in the not-too-distant future, when we can again invent together—safely and in person—on behalf of our clients.
Thank you again for all of your hard work and for delivering unique solutions that create impact at this pivotal time for our clients, our company and for our talent worldwide.