The pandemic has had a huge impact on the way we work. Working from home and flexible hours have become the norm and marketing companies are developing new guidelines to help steer their employees through the changing environment. As we leave the most serious consequences of the pandemic behind, which elements will remain? We take a look.
Work-from-home, office or hybrid?
Back in 2020, the marketing industry was relatively well equipped when the first work from home orders came in. Marketing is highly digitalised and marketing teams were already well versed in the art of digital collaboration tools. Many marketing employees were happy at the prospect of having time where they could really concentrate on their tasks away from the office in peace and quiet. Employers seemed to mirror this enthusiasm: LinkedIn reported that as of May 20th 2021, the percentage of paid marketing jobs posted on LinkedIn that offered “remote work” had risen by 457% compared to one year earlier and these postings were seeing twice as many applications as conventional listings.
Now that pandemic restrictions are easing, many companies are engaged in a radical evaluation of this time spent at home and how the future of work should look.
Companies enjoy several advantages resulting from remote based teams. Companies can reduce or eliminate real estate costs, hire and use talent from anywhere without the need for expensive relocation costs, and, research indicates, perhaps enjoy productivity gains. Workers can choose where they want to live and perhaps avoid expensive “hubs”, eliminate their commute and enjoy better work/life balance. However concerns persist around communications, teamwork, company culture and camaraderie. Marketing is an industry which relies on creativity and ideas and many marketers have recognised that brainstorming and collaboration in person are far easier, more productive and less tiring than their online equivalents.
How should companies reconcile these positive and negative aspects? Many companies are considering a hybrid model where workers spend part time in the office and part time at home, which on the surface at least offers the best of both worlds. A pioneer here is online beauty retailer flaconi which is offering its employees the choice between the Traveller model (more time working remotely, help in setting up a home office, no fixed work station) and Settler model (more time working in the office and a fixed work station). Employees are asked to spend at least two days working in the office each week, with one day dedicated to team collaboration and the second day reserved for cross-functional cooperation between different teams. The company recently won a Modern Workplace Award for this forward-thinking approach.
“Can you see my screen?”
If a hybrid location model is looking likely for workers going forward, many marketing teams are now discussing how they can prevent internal communications and collaboration suffering when colleagues are out of the office.
When the pandemic hit, many organisations discovered the benefits of tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom which enable group video calls, chats and even events. Many rejoiced - suddenly it was possible to link up with colleagues and make decisions quickly at the touch of a button despite remote locations. However, many found that soon their calendar was full of video calls. Their solitary concentration time was decreasing, making way for meetings where perhaps the agenda was only partly relevant to them. There were no strict rules on how to behave in video calls, and some found direct broadcast of their private space to colleagues intrusive.
To combat this, many teams are now developing guidelines for remote communications. The general consensus is that video calls are useful for information transfer and and one-on-one discussions, but less useful for group creative discussions and networking. To guarantee employees some meeting-free time, teams are also considering whether to block a time each week when no meetings are allowed (during lunch breaks and Friday afternoons, for example, giving colleagues the chance to work on their own projects which require concentration). Rules for video calls are under discussion - under what circumstances should you be allowed to turn off your screen and go on mute? For what kind of calls is it necessary to add a corporate background, and when is it enough to simply blur your background?
The question of hours
The pandemic has opened eyes to the possibilities of flexible work — not only in terms of where people work but, more quietly, when. The pandemic ensured that working time is no longer understood as a weekly continuum, but as a flexible contingent that can be adapted to individual situations and phases of life.
Some marketing teams are considering flexible times for when workers are in the office, allowing them to adjust their office hours to avoid the rush hour or start and finish early so that they can have family time in the afternoon. However, while many feel that when workers do their hours should be a matter for them, there is general agreement that there needs to be a time during the day when everyone can be contacted.
Some countries are even starting to experiment with a shorter working week which studies have shown can make people happier and no less productive. In February 2021 the Spanish government agreed to pilot a 32-hour workweek without cutting employee pay. In 2020, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern touted the four-day workweek as an approach that could pump up productivity, work-life balance, and even domestic tourism. High-profile employers and leaders are excited about it too. Google cofounder Larry Page has called for the end of the 40-hour workweek for years now. And Sir Richard Branson, billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, does not feel that the five-day workweek is set in stone.
There is no doubt that the working world is changing as a result of the pandemic. That more ambitious proposals are under discussion such as a shorter working week is a strong signal of the potential for change. Working from home and flexible working hours are now realities which are highly likely to stay with us. At the team level marketers need to decide which arrangements work for them, maintaining focus on their objectives while creating happy, fulfilled employees.