For years now job seekers have been keen to seek out and secure job opportunities that allowed them to work from home or at the very least urge their current employers to adapt and become more flexible. However, overall marketing agencies have been reluctant to embrace this model at the fear of losing productivity and changing the internal culture of their businesses. This is more noticeable in smaller agencies.

Then Covid-19 came along and everything changed. Businesses found themselves being forced to adapt and quickly. With the sudden scramble, Zoom, Skype and Teams become household names and tech and software solution firms saw a sharp rise in sales to help cater for these new times.

Three months in Jefferson Talent Group looks into the marketing agency arena and investigates the current mindsets of both employees and employers. Suffice to say the results aren’t what we expected.

Without question over the past couple of years we have seen a steady rise in candidates seeking job opportunities that would allow them to either work from home on a regular basis or perhaps even work part time.  And although some agencies were able to provide this, most agencies have resisted up until now.

Due to the recent outbreak, over the past three months employees have mostly all been allowed to work from home. However, after interviewing over 1,000 employees who work within the marketing and creative arena, the feedback has been as follows:

Want to return to the office full time: 28%

Want to split their time working between home and office: 64%

Would prefer to work from home most of the time: 8%

Employee response:

Out of the people who’d like to return to the office on a permanent basis, a vast number were creatives, followed by client services.

From a creative’s perspective, they felt that they weren’t able to properly collaborate with other team members over apps like Zoom and Skype compared to being face to face, where you are more able to pull ideas apart and allow the creative process to flow.

From a client services point of view, it was more about the isolation and lack of emotional support they felt from working from home. Plus, the lack of personal interaction and the feeling of being part of something. As one interviewee said… “you don’t join a marketing agency to be locked into your own home. You join to be part of the creative process and join the camaraderie and commitment that comes with agency life”.

It was strategists, developers and operational employees who were more comfortable with the idea of working from home on a more permanent basis. In fact, with less distractions around they felt they were achieving more.

The overall consensus from an employee’s perspective was that over the past few months they have all felt that they have been more productive but at the same time have reached burn out far quicker. This surge in productivity appears to be more due to the lack of outside distractions but also has given them something to focus on beyond the current state of affairs.

In fact, what was far more alarming was the number of people feeling isolated with the lack of control, the change in relationships with their co-workers whilst also not feeling as “connected” to the agency. And in most of our conversations nearly all felt deflated, and in some cases depressed.

Now this more than likely won’t be purely down to adapting to working from home but rather a combination to ongoing changes and uncertainty in our society at the moment with the underlying fear of still being at the mercy of Covid-19. Either way the mental health and wellbeing of all employees should be carefully monitored on an ongoing basis more so now than ever!

What did come out of this research is that over 64% of employees have the desire for more of a work/life balance, with the vast majority saying that they’d happily work slightly extended hours during the week so they could adjust there working days to 4 days per week whilst maintaining their annual salary.

We are aware that some forward-thinking agencies have already embraced this model with good success albeit it did have teething problems to begin with. However, I also appreciate the concerns some agencies might have committing to this.

Employer response:

For agency owners and leaders, it has been a trickier time for some. The smaller more agile agencies have been able to adapt with pace. The larger agencies though seem to have struggled a little at first with very few not coping at all.

However, the leaders we surveyed overall confirmed that during this last quarter, for those within the agency who weren’t furloughed, the business performed exceeding well. Productivity levels were up with projects and campaigns flying out the door.

Some of these agency owners have already confirmed that they won’t be returning to a structure where everyone has to be office based. Rather now they are changing employment contracts so that everyone has the option to work from home or in the office.

The mid term goal, should this continue to be a success for those that choose this option, is that agencies are considering changing the office environment to more of a hot desk model and some are even going as far as to say that they will look to either move their offices out of city locations to areas where rates and rent aren’t so high and in some cases considering downsizing the office completely.

With regards to whether agencies would embrace a 4 day working week. Most of them didn’t necessarily rule it out and said this option is always under review. In the same breath though the overall concern here seems to be around the clients needs and speed of response.

In a market that doesn’t quite know the longer term effects of the past few months, keeping hold of clients and over servicing seems to be main focus. In which case a 4 day working week might not blend with this response right now.

Conclusion:

As it stands at the moment, it would appear that although the concept of working from home at first seemed like a great idea, for most employee’s it doesn’t fulfil the idea of what working for marketing and creative agencies is all about. And that isolation and the sense of being disjointed from the business is already showing signs of having a negative impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing.

A possible compromise between working from home and the office might work and for those that are hiring, this would potentially open up the talent pool to those based further afield.

However, the most overwhelming positive response has been the option to work 4 days per week instead of 5, which would also open up the talent pool market quite considerably.

For the agency owners who are going to continue or start to embrace a stronger work from home mentality, then we’d certainly urge businesses to look into and invest in mental health and wellbeing programmes for all employees. As this current approach could not only see more people reach burn out quicker but also have a very negative impact on the mid to long term success of the agency.

Albeit it seems that although agencies have embraced the working from home model for now, it’s the smaller agencies that are showing the most concern about this as a long-term solution. As they feel that being a smaller set up their agency might lose some of its culture and rhythm if a majority of the agency were working from home.

I think agencies will have to closely monitor what the positive and negative impacts on working from home might be on the business and perhaps make some tough decisions based on what kind of agency they want to be.

One thing is certain…. The agency landscape is evolving once again.