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The Secret Agency Boss 

Secret Agency Boss: You will come back, whether you like it or not

Secret Agency Boss: You will come back, whether you like it or not

Returning to the office will be a true test of leadership but how do we even start to navigate the challenges?

Let’s face it, despite lots of great words and confident posturing none of us really have a clue what to do for the best in the debate about going back to the office.

Cue confident posturing by some of the more ego driven amongst us. And how could we? We’ve never done it before.

We’re all stuck somewhere between, on one-hand, wanting to show definitive but empathetic leadership, and on the other, shitting ourselves that if we get it wrong we will add to our already huge resource gap.

Thankfully, we seem to have moved away from the drivel written at points last year about supporting city centre retail as a good reason to force people back to the office.

But apart from that there is still basically a load of waffle. Or to be a bit more generous, lots of people saying what they believe, or think they should be saying, rather than what they know. Believe me, I am the same.

Some say it will create better work. Well that’s a bit derogatory about the brilliant work created in the past 18 months under extreme circumstances. Or is this people admitting that their current output isn’t quite as good as it should be?

It will make people more productive. Yeah, taking 2/3 hours out of everyone’s day to sit on a train always does that.

It will improve the culture. Now this has more merit.

Agencies are places built on and driven by culture, energy, ideas, and spontaneous moments of magic.

But if someone doesn’t want to be there will it really do that?

Arguably, at the moment the negative people are a bit hidden, or just keeping themselves to themselves.  In the office you can always tell when someone's got the hump. They mope about, or worse take it out on someone.

Having that person behind a switched-off camera on mute might be the best place for them.

On the flip side of course, what that also hides is mental health issues.

In the office you can usually tell if someone is really suffering and you can try to deal with it. Will coming back surface a mental health crisis, which hasn't been fully visible up to now?

There are a proportion of people who just don’t want to go back to an office at all, in any guise, for any period.

Their reasons vary but the strength of feeling seems consistent. This new way of working has made them realise this and they aren’t going to give up on it without a fight.

Maybe the problem is our desire for a one size fits all mentality, or constantly attempting to boil everything down to the lowest common denominator. Trying to find a rule that everyone follows is never easy and not always right.

You will have asked yourself how you feel about going back. How often, how many days, which ones. Then you will have consulted everyone and basically tried to get them on board with the route that suits you.

But ask yourself how you feel about being told what to do. We’ve all got a boss, so what if they rang up and ordered you to be in the office from next week two days, three days, every day? Not nice is it.

Maybe it is true that the account management team do need to be in the office (or at least not working from home) every day. Spending as much time with their colleagues and importantly their clients as possible.

On that point, how many physical client meetings/lunches/beers/wine have you had recently? Let’s remember, that’s been possible for a while now, even if just in a restaurant.

Most clients seem quite happy being at home most of the time too. Therefore, they don’t have as much time in the office as they used to, desperately needing to fill with something. Or in fact the opposite - they don’t have as much time that they are supposed to be in the office, which they can then avoid with a “day at the agency”.

Maybe, the search or data teams don’t need to be physically together to do brilliant work? But that still wouldn’t solve the culture question.

We all need to spend a bit more time talking to partners, wherever that happens. In meeting rooms, in pubs and restaurants - it doesn’t matter, but are we really being as open as we should be to people who want to sell to us?

That meeting you agreed to in a moment of slight weakness, or more positively perhaps it was just curiosity when you bumped into someone in reception. The one that turns out to be magical. That doesn’t happen now does it? Will it ever again?

Maybe, it’s not about teams or job functions at all. Maybe it’s about people, individuals. That beautiful uniqueness that makes us all human. Perhaps, we should let them decide for themselves?

What I do know, is that we don’t know.  We will all just have to do our best to find out.

The main thing we need to do is stay very close to our people over the next six months.

Listen more than we talk and try to be kind at all times.

Good luck!

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NickDrew, CEO, Fuse Insights on 8 Sep 2021
“In the long term, the consensus is that in-office working will return, probably with a slightly more relaxed view of what constitutes "in-office" - essentially a bell-shaped curve with the midpoint around 3 days a week.

The difficulty remains in plotting the path from here to there: that is the end point, but what does the transition look like? I'd suggest that one significant hurdle to be navigated is masks; while they were (are, depending on location) mandatory indoors, any return to the office was or is broadly unworkable. The minefield of sitting at a desk (no mask? mask), drinking coffee, eating lunch, walking over to the coffee machine is one dimension; but the practical difficulties of collaborative meetings and in-corridor discussions with masks on (both hearing slightly muffled point and trying to pick up on non-verbal cues) make any office return challenging.”