While conceding that COVID brought about a critical conversation about work-life balance, many senior executives privately admit frustration that the balance has swung too far. Reluctant to mandate a full-time in-office schedule for fear of losing employees, they are hoping that the hybrid schedule the industry has adopted will naturally evolve into more days in the office as employees see the benefit of collaboration.
As one agency CEO put it: “You can’t build a career on Zoom.”
There’s no hard consensus on what is the “right” path—even among founders. Jeff Goodby, co-founder of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, said he works a hybrid schedule while his partner Rich Silverstein is unfailingly in the office every day.
“We did an employee survey not long ago. A quarter of our employees never want to come back to the office,” said Goodby. “Fifty percent say they want to come in one, two or three days. The other 25% want to come in all the time.”
“As a manager, you have to straddle that,” he said. “If you make strict rules of four or five days in the office, you narrow down the workforce you can hire.”
The agency now requires staffers to be in on Wednesday and another day of their choice, Tuesday or Thursday.
“We have encouraged people to begin spending more time in the office without mandating anything yet,” said David DeMuth, CEO of Stagwell Global's Doner. DeMuth says he has seen a steady improvement in attendance and on a typical day he will see about 40-60 employees come into its Michigan office, out of around 300 employees. He said there will likely be “some tweaks” in the coming weeks that will be a “baby step towards spending a bit more time in the office.” Anything more “radical” will likely come in January, he added.
Ad Age found only one agency that is said to have mandated a five-day-a-week schedule: Omnicom’s Zimmerman Advertising, which did not return requests for confirmation or comment.
Wednesday is the new Monday
Many shops require employees to be in the office a few days a week but do not have set days. TRG, formerly known as The Richards Group, requires three or more days in the office per week, which are up to the employee’s choosing. WPP’s Ogilvy requires in-office work two to three days a week. Terri & Sandy asks employees to be in two to three days a week and the independent shop is trying to encourage people to come in on Wednesdays with free lunches. Of 60 employees, more than half were in the office last Wednesday, said Co-Founder Terri Meyer. Mother’s New York and Los Angeles offices ask employees to be in the office three days a week, Monday to Wednesday.
Indie OKRP has designated Wednesdays as one of two days a week the Chicago-based agency asks people to be in the office.
“We’ve been feeling more and more just a natural gravitation toward people coming in more and more often,” said Tom O’Keefe, OKRP's founder and CEO, particularly now that the agency is energized by a big new client in Burger King. Industry attempts toward mandating attendance, he said, “squeezed too hard” and now, “things are happening more naturally, and people are coming back at their own pace.”
Asked whether clients are concerned about remote work, O’Keefe said, “Clients at the end of the day are going to make sure they are getting the work and if they are I don’t think they care whether you are doing it remotely, in the office, hybrid or whatever, because they are going through the same thing.”