Office Hours: The future of commuting, from faking it to luxury
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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.
We’ve gotten to the point where, in an effort to add some sense of normalcy into our lives and carve out some much-needed “me” time, we may need to start fake-commuting. According to a recent survey of more than 10,000 Americans by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, 35% of office workers are using the time saved by not commuting to put in more hours at work. Instead, that time can be used to fit in a walk before starting work, exercising or meditating. Commutes essentially serve as a time to switch off from the roles of home life, like being a parent or a spouse. Of course, home life is now work life and professionals are often doing both at once.
On to a totally different kind of commute now. Many Manhattan professionals abandoned the city and flocked to summer homes and the suburbs amid lockdowns. And now, even as offices and schools open, some are choosing to keep their families perched outside of the city. But this doesn’t mean they are staying away from the office. Instead, Manhattan’s elite are utilizing airline taxi services like Blade to fly in from, say, the Hamptons during the week, turning what would be around a two or three-hour commute into a 35-minute trip, Bloomberg reports. Could this turn areas not typically accessible for daily trips to the city into potential Manhattan-accessible suburbs? Not unless you can afford nearly $300 a seat.
The role of space
McCann Worldgroup is evaluating its real estate and rethinking the future of office space for a post-pandemic world. “I don’t think you need the footprint that you currently have because there will be an acceleration of a hybrid model,” Bill Kolb, who was named CEO and chairman of McCann Worldgroup last month, said during an interview on Ad Age Remotely.
Kolb predicts the agency will eventually operate with employees working in the office three days a week and from home the other two days, or some variation of that. “I think we will always need offices to drive culture and community and they will continue to play a role. … Space plays a whole bunch of roles—it's community, belonging, culture, physical act of work.”
McCann has reopened its offices in many markets, but Kolb says only about 2% to 4% of staffers are returning at this point. Still, he said, there’s value to going in to the office, especially when it comes to collaboration and ideation. “You need to be in the same room.” To facilitate this, the agency is creating “wide-open spaces” for people to collaborate in its locations around the world.
Kolb, who takes the reins from Harris Diamond, hunkered down in Detroit, Michigan amid lockdowns, taking his last flight on March 9. He only returned to New York City about two weeks ago, right around the time the agency’s succession plan was announced.
“It was the longest I’ve been in one place without a plane ride in about 20 years,” he said. Kolb doesn’t have any plans to get on a plane again any time soon. In fact, he drove from Detroit back to Manhattan.
He also doesn’t expect clients to push for agencies to get on planes to come and see them for in-person meetings, but says client meetings have started up again. To ensure safety, Kolb says meetings are taking place in large rooms and there are half the people or less than were in a typical meeting before the pandemic.
One priority for the agency coming out of the pandemic is to improve work-life balance. For 2021, McCann is evaluating the work week, rethinking unlimited personal time off and looking at overall flexible time programs for 2021. It’s also focusing on the mental health of employees, gearing up to introduce an app that includes content on how to manage stress levels and work-life balance. There will also be monthly presentations that address mental well-being.
Watch the full interview here.
As agencies and brands rethink how they are utilizing their office space, it’s creatives who have perhaps felt the separation from colleagues the hardest. The Drum interviewed creative duos from several agencies on how they’ve kept the spark alive during remote work. For instance, Bianca Guimaraes and Kevin Mulroy from Mischief @ No Fixed Address stay on speakerphone for hours, but much of the time they are in total silence. Meanwhile, Leo Burnett’s Andrew Long and James Miller have begun using their Apple watches as walkie-talkies.
The pandemic has certainly left many employees feeling stuck, both physically in their homes and, for some, in their careers. The New York Times provides some guidance on how to progress professionally during this time, including proactively asking your supervisor for feedback and staying visible on Zoom and Slack. Wonya Lucas, who was appointed CEO at Crown Media Family, parent of Hallmark Channel, in July, said its OK to seek more feedback than usual and to check in to clarify directions.
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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