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The only winners of a 100% work at home situation are Adobe, Zoom, our pets and the divorce attorneys. Here’s why it’s now time to implement a hybrid approach to working in the office.

The pandemic ha reaffirmed a collective solace, purpose and permission to transform the everyday moments we may have taken for granted, into even more meaningful experiences. Still, while the benefits of working from home are many, it can’t be the end-all. Because, in many ways this moment has also re-affirmed the need to be in the office — at least part of the time.

I haven’t had to travel for work or commute to work since that fateful day in March when we closed our offices and mandated remote working. It’s by far the longest home stretch for me since I started working nearly three decades ago. The upside? My lower back stopped hurting. I was getting more sleep. I was getting more work done with less interruptions. I was having dinner with my family every night and our teenage children even stuck around to talk with us long after our meals were finished.  We cooked more and spent less. In fact, my wallet had actually gone missing in the house, having not been opened for weeks. I have squeezed in more works-outs with less stress. Oh, and the kicker? I didn’t have to suffer through having dinner with certain family ‘friends‘ on the weekends who I never cared to be around. Isolation seemed to serve me well. It was a nice break in my routine, for a short while.

So, now what? Should we all still work from home full time or should we try and encourage a safe and smart return to the office?

Having everyone work from home was a novelty and actually a luxury in our business. But make no mistake, having a 100% remote workforce is becoming a slow-moving, insidious, catastrophic event for brands and agencies alike. It’s simply not sustainable. We must get back to the office and start interacting with each other again, of course with new safety measures in place and even if it's just a few days a week to start in shifts. 

Honestly, the only real winners benefiting from an indefinite work-at-hom (WAH) world are the likes of Microsoft, Adobe, Zoom, Slack, our beloved pets and divorce attorneys.

Our performance, individually and collectively, is in large part dependent on continuous collaboration and engagement. Spontaneity, work-station fly-bys and impromptu huddles all lead to greater levels of creativity and success for us and our clients. 

I am also concerned that professional development, asynchronous and organic, has been severely inhibited in this virtual environment. If our kids are telling us they’re learning less virtually, I can guarantee you the same is true with the younger staff. Yes, we’ve added more programming to our agency ‘knowledge series‘ but Zoom sessions are not the same as being in person, face-to-face without distractions. Being in person encourages and allows for real ‘convo-flow,‘ feedback loops and real-world exercises.

We’re at the point now where work at home is increasing meeting volume and decreasing productivity. And why does every meeting now have to be on video? We recently implemented ‘screen free Fridays‘ at our agency to let people know it’s okay to just dial in without having your camera on. Then again, I was also starting to get annoyed at people who never turned their cameras on. You know those people. 

It was fun and sometimes a little weird seeing staff dialed in from their parent’s homes and sometimes I was able to catch a glimpse of a Cabbage Patch Kid or Holly Hobbie doll resting peacefully on a distant bookshelf. And I also enjoyed ‘meeting‘ my colleagues’ pets and the Zoom bombs from their kids. Now it’s time to move on. 

I’m a huge believer in flexible working and am excited to see more of it in our industry, post-pandemic. Doing so will improve access to a wider, non-geo contingent talent pool and allow staff to better manage work/family/life needs. Now that we know the outer limits of both WAH and working in the office, I think we can all agree that there’s a happy medium to be pursued. The office is calling!  

Aaron Kwittken is chief executive officer, KWT Global and HL Group