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Welcome to Ad Age’s Office Hours newsletter. If you're reading this online or in a forwarded email, here's the link to sign up for the newsletter.

In a matter of months, the pandemic has transformed the way we communicate, where we conduct business, the technology we use, and how we juggle home and work life. Every Thursday, Ad Age looks at how these changes are impacting our professional lives.

The pandemic has certainly upended the very fundamentals of the ad industry—striking deals over long dinners, schmoozing in the South of France and glitzy upfront presentations to kick of TV dealmaking. And while the hope is that a vaccine in 2021 will allow some of these norms to return, the reality is that the way the industry does business moving forward has fundamentally changed.

Here are some predictions on how we will work in 2021.

Re-imagined workweek  

Hybrid work models started to emerge in the fall, as some marketers and agencies slowly began re-opening their doors for employees to return to the office. This mix of time in the office and working from home will certainly continue into 2021 and beyond. But aside from the ability to work remotely, companies will also look to re-imagine the work week. Unilever, for example, is testing a four-day work week in New Zealand, and earlier in the year digital ad tech company Polar began experimenting with closing its office on Fridays. Spain’s government is even analyzing shortening working hours and cutting the work week to four days.

This surely doesn’t mean the ad industry will go dark on Fridays, but we could be entering a new era in advertising where success isn’t driven by just how late you worked on an account pitch, or stayed up to strike a deal. Work-life balance will be prioritized, with new policies and benefits arising to ensure employees are not burning out. Which brings us to …

Mental health prioritized

The ad world wasn’t exactly a beacon of work-life balance, pre-pandemic. But COVID has allowed the industry to speak up regarding supporting employees’ mental health. Throughout the pandemic we’ve seen agencies and brands offer stipends for counseling and mindfulness apps, as well as access to other types of counseling services. At Periscope, for example, senior leadership is conducting regular wellness checks with employees to check in on their mental well-being;

There is certainly still plenty of work to do in this area, as even amid a global pandemic, there is still a culture of guilt in the ad world for taking a sick day, according to Digiday.

New types of benefits

With in-office perks like free snacks and commuter benefits no longer relevant, companies will need to rethink how they remain competitive. New types of stipends include allowances to revamp home offices or upgrade internet speeds, as well as perks dedicated to childcare, tutoring services, and homework help for children who are attending school remotely, often sitting with their parents at the same dining room table why they try to work. PR firm Weber Shandwick is giving employees director-level and below $250 for home office needs, and a menu of benefits aimed at easing the stress of everyday life, like discounts on meal prep, tutoring services and pet care.

Offices takes on new role

Full returns to office buildings continue to be pushed back. Apple said this week that staff won’t return to the office until June, while Google doesn’t expect its offices to be in full swing until September 2021 at the earliest. Still, at some point in 2021 we could see a more substantial return to the office. But upon return, things will likely look very different.

“I think office time will become incredibly intentional, and that’s a powerful thing. Certain magic simply can’t be replicated online, such as young talent learning by osmosis, or the serendipity of in-person brainstorming for creative teams,” says Kathleen Saxton, exec VP and managing director EMEA, MediaLink. “My hope is that wasteful meetings will fall by the wayside and in-person gathering will serve a purpose.”

In 2020, ad agency leaders have discussed the role of the office as being one of collaboration and connection. In 2021, we will see how that thinking takes shape. There will be more downsizing of square footage, following holding companies like IPG and Omnicom who say they plan to reduce their real estate footprints.

Investing in more than one DE&I role 

Companies will be held accountable for the initiatives announced in 2020 to ensure diversity of their workforces. If 2020 was about setting goals, the New Year will be about showing evidence and progress. Agencies and brands will be measured, not just by the new hires they make, but by their ability to retain these employees. This year saw the hire of several new diversity, equity and inclusion officers, but one role will not change the makeup of an organization. Will new DE&I hires be given the resources to build teams and help companies follow through on their goals?


As a vaccine starts rolling out in the U.S., the next question will be if companies mandate the vaccine in order to return to the office. Facebook came out this week and said vaccination will not be required.

And finally, if you are looking for a gift for your overworked co-worker, Microsoft has partnered with Starbucks to offer a personalized eGift that you can send to a colleague right in the Microsoft Teams chat.

That does it for this week's Office Hours. Thanks for reading and we hope you are all staying safe and well. For more industry news and insight, follow us on Twitter: @adage. 

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