Suddenly, the thought of returning to the office doesn’t seem like such a far-off concept for the advertising industry.
The world’s biggest marketing services companies have set out their roadmaps for returning to their usual places of work, albeit amid unusual circumstances for the foreseeable future.
The so-called “big five”, which have thousands of employees spread across various locations in London and the rest of the UK, are beginning to signal when offices will reopen. Smaller networks, which have fewer staff and offices to juggle, have generally been able to set clearer timeframes for office reopenings.
Unless there is a resurgence in coronavirus cases because of lockdown restrictions being eased this month and schools partially reopening in June, we can expect the UK’s biggest agencies to reopen their doors between July and September.
Crucially, however, all companies have indicated that their return-to-office policies are meant to be flexible and voluntary, given the apparent success of individuals adapting remote working.
This means it now looks likely that a very large number of employees won’t return to the workplace again in 2020. Within just a year, the industry may have moved from working from home being seen as a perk to par for the course.
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In contrast, the holding company that owns Carat, Merkle and iProspect wants to bring in a “globally aligned, phased approach” that will be put into place by mamagement in line with each country’s public-health guidelines.
A DAN spokeswoman told Campaign that it has a phased plan in which a gradually increasing number of employees are offered the chance to return to the office. However, each phase will only be brought in “at least 14 days after local government policy allows it”.
Havas announced the first major London office reopening last week, with its King’s Cross headquarters set to be open on a limited basis from 1 June.
The company said that it will provide staff with face masks and only allow 50 people to enter the building each hour. Every employee will have their temperature checked upon entry and will need to follow a one-way stairs system. Meeting-room capacity will also be reduced to 50% and no external visitors will be allowed.
Chief executive Michael Roth has insisted that Interpublic will “take its time” and that employees do not need to rush to return to the office. It has already reopened offices in countries where lockdown measures have eased, such as China, New Zealand, Singapore and Sri Lanka.
The parent of McCann Worldgroup, R/GA and MullenLowe appears to be using this time to see how other industries fare with returning to the office before committing to its own plans.
In a note to staff, Roth wrote: “We have proven without a doubt that we can accomplish the fundamentals of our work responsibilities and service our clients with 95% of us working from home. Which means we can learn from watching how other industries such as retail, manufacturing and hospitality return physically to the workplace ahead of us.”
It’s a similar story at Omnicom, where agency leaders are clearly advised that no employee should return to the office if they feel uncomfortable.
The company behind DDB and BBDO has laid out a three-stage approach for returning to the office, having been the first ad company to close a London office this year after a PHD employee tested positive for the virus while on international travel.
Publicis will unlock its Chancery Lane building on 1 July. That office, home to Saatchi & Saatchi and Leo Burnett, will reopen with a limited capacity for up to 225 people, monitored via a booking system.
Publicis has said that it plans to open one office per city, meaning its other London sites – including White City (Publicis Media), Baker Street (Publicis.Poke) and Kingly Street (Bartle Bogle Hegarty) – will remain closed for now.
It is also saying that no employees will be made to return to the office before 2021 and it will share its “STEP” (safety, travel, environment and people) plans for returning to work in mid-June.
The owner of Ogilvy, Wunderman Thompson and MediaCom has talked about a “slow and measured” process that varies depending on market. In London, the company is not expecting significant numbers to return to the office until September at the earliest.
Importantly, chief executive Mark Read told employees last week that returning to the office will be “voluntary and flexible”. There are also likely to be limits on the number of people who can go into places of work due to anticipated social-distancing restrictions.