“Flexible working” has been a phrase synonymous with the world of work for many years, but it was perhaps seen as a ‘benefit’ or ‘nice to have’ – the COVID-19 pandemic changed all that.
And it’s clear that performance marketers value the choice – but in a way that suits them. While a number of our survey respondents were happy with the flexible options they have at their current employer, there was still a sizable proportion that would be tempted to move to an organisation if they got a better choice in how they work.
Add to this that flexible working options were a ‘top three’ priority for almost four in 10 of our participants and it’s clear that it’s both important – and very personal – to us. The options of remote working, different working patterns and adapting to incorporating work/life balance beyond late hours and leaving ‘on the dot’ are far more prevalent than they were before.
As part of our Performance Marketing Workforce series, PMW took a look at the practicalities of working in a post-pandemic world, and how both staff and organisations are responding.
Flexibility means options - not just 'WFH'
It may sound obvious, but there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to flexible, remote or hybrid working, with many differing opinions on what being flexible entails. More than that, it’s a case of semantics, as ‘flexibility’ clearly means different things to different marketers.
“We've moved to a scenario where everyone is much more trusting. And people have had to take on responsibility for their own time, which I think is a really great thing — that people do have to take responsibility for their workload.”- Matt Dailey, Chief Performance Officer, Havas Media Group
Some of our survey respondents were adamant that a working from home option is essential in any job they now do, with a number remarking that the pandemic has made them realise that the office isn’t always the optimal place to get work done.
But others were more concerned that the ability to be contacted more flexibly outside of the office meant work/life balance is now out of kilter, arguably more so than before, with comments of fewer boundaries between the two. There were also questions around the effectiveness of learning and development in an entirely remote environment.
A common sentiment across many of our respondents is that ‘all or nothing’ is not the answer. Those in the industry want a mix of home, office and out of office when it comes to where and when they work.
It’s something Wavemaker has observed, says its Global Head of Performance, Marc Pearson, pointing out that organisations and staff need “the ability for people to feel trust that they can manage their workloads and delivery in a way that suits their lifestyle”. But the importance of flexibility is not “at the expense of seeing the value of culture”.
He adds that a number of staff – particularly in younger age groups – have been keen to come to the office at least some of the time – which he admits surprised him, but is clear that it highlights the importance of culture, being part of a team and simply seeing your peers.
“I think everybody appreciates that. They're embracing some of the structures we're putting in place in terms of managing [your time] yourself, but that we want you to come in and spend time with your direct team and your peers. They've been the people who've most actively grabbed hold of that and are doing it as well.”
Be available – but you can be trusted
Many organisations have installed ‘core hours’ into working days, namely, a part of the day when you are expected to be working unless official arrangements have been made. However, this does not mean being chained to your desk at those times, says Matt Dailey, Chief Performance Office at Havas Media Group
“There's an expectation, but I think there's a lot more leniency and a lot more understanding in that. What core hours means is 90% of the time, this is what we'd like you to be doing. But if you have to pop out, everybody's more understanding and there's less of that feeling that it's skiving. People are genuinely still being productive.”
A common theme across the arguments for flexible working is trust, with a view that if you’re not able to work flexibly in a way that suits you, your employer doesn’t trust you to manage your time, or workload. This aspect of presenteeism is becoming a thing of the past, says Dailey.
“I think we've moved to a scenario where everyone is much more trusting. And people are able to take on responsibility for their own time, which I think is a really great thing — that people do have to take responsibility for their workload.”
When in the office...
Being in the office has clear benefits for team collaboration, but our commentators are also quick to highlight the benefits of making staff's time there more worthwhile in the day-to-day.
Rakhee Jogia, International Managing Director at Rakuten Advertising has seen the shift in using the office, rather than simply being in it.
"If you had told me four years ago, I would working full time at home, I would have laughed and said there's absolutely no possibility that I would give up my commute into town and the energy I'd get from the office and the conversations. But what that's taught me is a routine in the type of work I do. So when I'm doing a lot of deep work, I need the silence to do the work. But when I want to draw energy from my teams, I'm spending [time] in the office. I won't go into the office if I have six hours worth of calls, there's no point to do that type of thing."
Andrew Spurrier-Dawes, EMEA Head of Precision at Wavemaker meanwhile points to the attitude of leadership in how to make spending time in the office valuable.
"The out of office from our UK CEO today says basically, 'just to let you know, I'm in the office, so I'm going be spending time with our people and our clients'. And that is such a wonderful leading light for our industry, having an 'in the office' on and saying, 'I'm using the space and the time and the people for what it's best for' - building those connections and the creative work and the softer side of things."
Getting ready for progress
But it’s not just about the choice – being inherently less flexible when it comes to flexible working may well result in losing staff, says Adam Walker, Head of Performance Marketing at Feel Unique.
Speaking at PMW’s Performance Marketing UK event in June, Walker said: “Businesses that aren’t comfortable with remote working are going to find themselves as dinosaurs. If people are moving for more money because you are making them commute daily into the office, then you need to understand you’re adding cost to people who then are naturally going to search for money as a response to that problem.”
Investing in the ability to offer that choice, and flexibility in ways of working – and developing your staff will be the key to stay competitive as an employer of choice, says Jogia.
“I think this is just going to continue to evolve and that is what's going to make the landscape incredibly competitive and drive this work revolution.”- Rakhee Jogia, International Managing Director, Rakuten Advertising
She highlights that what we are experiencing is not necessarily the much talked about “Great Resignation” – but more “the work evolution - because people have choice”.
“If a company wants to be ready, they're going to have to start thinking very progressively. I think they're going to have to lean into employee feedback. They're going to have to understand what is happening in the industry. And they're going to have to be very progressive with working practice,” she says.
“I think this is just going to continue to evolve and that is what's going to make the landscape incredibly competitive and drive this work revolution.”
Working well, working anywhere
As a network we are uniquely set up to enable not only the internal mobility of our people, but deliver fluidity of work and talent across our offices. We operate as one business in the UK, with the strongest regional footprint of all the holding companies with over 3,000 people across London, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Stafford and Edinburgh. Our performance marketing teams often work on the same accounts across multiple offices, providing a huge opportunity for people to work on challenging, boundary-pushing pieces of work for great clients from any office location. Working in this way provides an unrivalled opportunity for our people to work with local and big-ticket clients alike regardless of their location. Additionally, Our flexible working policy also allows employees to work in another international location for up to 30 days cumulatively per year.