Pulse – Hybrid working and the return back to the office

cma pulse hybrid working

Pulse is a Q&A series answered by and for our members that provides insights on the important content marketing issues of the day. 

Google recently announced to employees in the Bay Area and other U.S. locations to return to offices on April 4 expecting them to work three days a week from the office.

The company says it plans to “help folks transition to their new routines” in preparation for “our hybrid working approach.” 

With many companies following suit, we wanted to find out from our members their views and experiences on transitioning to hybrid working.  

Meet this month’s Pulse contributors

andy seibert

Andy Seibert, Imprint

Andy founded Imprint as a content agency in early 2013 after almost two decades in the content industry. His experience at American Express, GE Capital, Time Inc., Hearst, SmartMoney and Dow Jones gives him both a client and publisher perspective on content marketing. He has created successful, long-running programs that combine a deep understanding of customer behaviour with creative talent to here

Selena Cameron, SJR

Selena is an award-winning communications and content strategist, with more than two decades of experience in agency leadership and working with global Fortune 100 / FTSE 100 companies. She’s the CEO of SJR, one of the world’s best end-to-end content consultancies with a newsroom of journalists, creatives and strategists that is bigger than many actual newsrooms.

selena cameron
zoe francis cox

Zoe Francis-Cox, Dialogue

CEO of Dialogue, Zoe is an award-winning strategic business leader with proven experience in driving efficiencies and growth in the agency space. Skilled in leading, inspiring and managing a full service content agency. Expert in creating and executing end-to-end strategic channel-neutral global content solutions for clients including Harley-Davidson, Center Parcs, Bentley Motors, Brittany Ferries and Jeep.

Aileen Lamb, New Media

Aileen is the CEO of South African agency New Media. She has over 20 years’ experience in all aspects of media, including in the UK. Since taking the helm of New Media, Aileen has led the company’s transition from a custom print publisher to an internationally award-winning digital content marketing agency that delivers measurable ROI to a wide variety of blue-chip clients. In 2020, she drove New Media’s acquisition of tech solutions agency Swipe iX, supercharging New Media’s storytelling with best-in-class platform development.

aileen lamb
dan barrett

Dan Barrett, NRCM

With over a decade of knowledge & experience working for successful digital marketing agencies developing web solutions for brands & organisations all over the world Dan Barrett founded NRCM Web Design in 2018. Having established long-term relationships with clients has enabled NRCM Web Design to become one of the leading Award-Winning WordPress web design agencies in the region creating innovative applications, plugins & bespoke solutions.

Pulse : Returning to the office

Are you becoming more or less confident going back into the office?

The responses we received to this question were members feel generally more positive about going back to the office. 

Chief executive of Dialogue, Zoe Francis-Cox said, “More confident – although I truly feel the hybrid is the way forward. Now there are no restrictions around mask wearing and social distancing people are feeling much more relaxed in the office.” 

Founder and CEO of Imprint, Andy Seibert echoed Zoe’s comments, “We’re back! It’s not mandatory but folks are generally coming in Tues-Thurs and Tuesday is the most popular. Last Tuesday we had almost everyone in the office.”

Do you feel the new hybrid way of working is permanent and the ‘new normal’?

We received mixed responses to this question. Some members said there was no ‘new normal’ as of yet because the world continues to change whereas other members said that they had adjusted to this new way of working for the long term. 

Global CEO of SJR, Selena Cameron made the point that countries around the world are coping differently so each office is not the same. 

She said’ “If there is anything we’ve learned in the last two years, it’s that there is no “new normal”.  Change is still coming in fits and starts and it’s not distributed evenly across the globe. Our office in London is much more open than ours in Toronto, and New York, Sydney, LA and Paris are all operating under different circumstances. But yes, we all know that the great hybrid experience is certainly here to stay. Just what that looks like is still very much a work in progress.

Andy Siebert shared similar views, “The work environment will continue to evolve. Some people will be hybrid and others – whether they want to be with people or work better with other people – will be in the office. So probably best not to try to predict a permanent scenario when the world is still in flux.”

For companies like New Media which adopted a remote working environment as soon as the pandemic began the transition has seen incredible results. 

Aileen Lamb, New Media’s CEO said, “The pandemic has been an opportunity to reimagine work. In March 2020, New Media began to work entirely remotely, yet we managed to show remarkable engagement statistics in our 2021 annual spirit-level survey. Our net promoter score was 84%, up from 81% in 2020, and 95% said they were proud to work for New Media.

“Now we’re embracing the next stage of our reality. As a creative business, we require occasional ‘face time’ to thrive. The ability to bounce thoughts off each other in real life and real-time leads to great opportunities and ideas. However, we’ve learned through frequent surveys that most of our people prefer to only come into the office occasionally. We’ve taken this into account, while being mindful of our business objectives, and introduced a hybrid working model. This will help us maintain our culture of collaboration while continuing to allow our people to work in the way that best suits them.”

Dan Barrett, founder of NRCM along with Zoe shared enthusiasm in the new way of working. 

Dan said, “Yes, even in a small town like Northampton there has been a rise of ‘shared office’ locations appearing vs the traditional private office rental market. I do feel this will be a permanent way of working moving forward.” 

Zoe is equally enthusiastic about the ‘new normal’, “Yes – this has benefits all round from increased productivity at home combined with the social inspiration when groups and teams meet in the office on occasion.”

Has hybrid working impacted your wellbeing positively or negatively?

The pandemic had a large impact on people’s wellbeing all around the world and we wanted to understand if hybrid working was a positive or negative factor on people’s wellbeing. 

Of course,  it differs from person to person and there is no general consensus when it comes to our own personal wellbeing but all the respondents agreed it has been positive overall. 

Dan said it has impacted him positively because the flexibility has allowed him to have a greater work-life balance. He said, “I can work around my own time and schedules a lot more, especially for times like school summer holidays I am able to choose to work from home whilst my wife works in her workplace.”

Zoe highlighted the time saved during a long commute back and forth to work. “Positively!” She said. “No more two hour daily commutes!” 

Andy made an important point about hybrid working is not for everyone, particularly people who require mentoring, which we need to consider. “While it has been a positive experience for most of us, some people need the discipline of being in-person and/or need the mentoring that is so much better in person.”

Is the new hybrid way working as productive as the pre-Covid era? What are the pros and cons?

While many people espouse the benefits of hybrid working, it was interesting to find form some of our members it is not as clear cut as one might think. 

Selena said her team at SJR are still determining the pros and cons of hybrid working.  

“We’re still working this out. While personal productivity is sometimes higher, does this equate to team and organizational productivity? That’s the big question that most employers will try to answer in 2022. What’s become clear is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. And that we all have to be open to trying new things and while we work through it.”

Andy had nuanced thoughts also. He said, “Productivity? Yes. Inventiveness and innovation? The industry is producing good work but BORING. We’ve recognized this and pushed innovation this past year with great results. But that is a conscious act. Most content marketing agencies that are hybrid are not moving forward.”

Zoe agreed that productivity is high but, like Andy, agreed there is a ‘certain something’ missing when people are not in the same room together. 

“My teams are much more productive when working at home away from office distractions. The cons of being remote all the time is the social interaction and ‘happy accidents’ that happen when people are together and chatting, overhearing other conversations etc. Creative teams definitely need time spent together as a team for them to bounce off each other. Then they go away and create amazing work, and lots of it, from home.”

What could organisations be doing to further support their employees with hybrid working?

If hybrid is the new way of working (at least for some of us) we wanted to understand what employers could be doing to help facilitate it. 

Zoe said employers will have to ensure that those who don’t want to return to the office again have to. At least occasionally.  

“I think employers need to ‘force’ teams together a little more – inevitably there are a few who just don’t want to ever return to the office and are very productive from home, and who don’t feel they ‘need’ the social interaction… but they do… and sometimes I’ve brought teams into the office for non-work related activities just to ensure they all still feel part of the team rather than getting reclusive.”

Dan shared a slightly opposing view due to the pandemic’s impact on people’s mental health. He said, “It’s still a new concept and we need to show compassion and less pressure on ‘forcing’ people to go back to a permanent workspace. These last two years have had a huge impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing.” 

Aileen and Andy believe that hybrid working can be successful as long as managerial teams implement good practices. 

Aileen believes company values are core to making hybrid working successful. “The key to making hybrid working successful is in creating and implementing strong company values. During the pandemic, we authored a new set of values collaboratively with a cross-section of our people: we show up, we team up, we speak up and, ultimately, we level up.”

Andy said success with hybrid working is about good communication. “Organizations need to establish regular lines of communication in order to ask questions and get feedback. We’re figuring this all out – and will continue to – and so like any good relationship, communication is key.”

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