From our thought leaders: “How do you think this WFH period will permanently alter the way we work?”

A new normal has been established as most of our industry settles into working from home. Here, a few of our thought leaders answer the question of how this new normal will permanently alter the way in which we work.

Paul Head, CEO of the Comms Council:

“What a crazy time we’re all living through. Our society is almost totally disrupted and many of the old ways of doing things simply don’t work anymore. But aren’t we an amazingly adaptive species. Within a week we’ve all changed how we work and communicate with each other. Yes, it’s out of necessity, but often significant and lasting change by events beyond our control. And let’s not forget that the change is enabled by technology. Even a decade ago we wouldn’t have been able to work as seamlessly as we are.

But I think the idea of having significant numbers of people working from home at any one time is something that will have bedded in by the end of the crisis. It makes sense from so many perspectives. It’s better for the environment. It will enable organisations to downsize premises, saving on rental costs. One of the questions over working remotely has always been how you keep people connected. But in the past week, we seem to have cracked that problem. Friday drinks on Zoom (with no drink driving risks), 10 am “water cooler” chats via video about what we did in the weekend and what happened on the latest reality TV episode. When we come out the other side of this, I think many of us may choose to work in a different way.

Until then, stay safe, stay healthy.”

 Paul Shale, CEO at FCB:

“It’s early days but five thoughts feel worth discussing.

1: You don’t break old habits or make new ones in four weeks, but the lockdown could accelerate trends that were already changing the way we work.

2: Just like a Christmas break, we will soon return to the comfort of familiar routines. The permanent change will more likely come from longer-lasting financial impacts, like reduced working hours and increased job-sharing.

3: Short-term digital changes won’t become permanent without reliable infrastructure. Over past weeks IT departments upgraded to enable remote working but the explosion of mobile/home/videoconferencing still overloaded networks. Post-pandemic, the government need to invest in digital highways as much as concrete ones.

4: Global health concerns got surreal with the lockdown and more stressful with overnight job insecurity. Working from home quickly turned into living at work. Can video conferencing become real enough to permanently replace “being there”, for work and for each other?

5: Four weeks from now we’ll crave freedom as well as increased security and control. When your workplace reboots, will you turn back towards the old? Or will you grasp this opportunity to reset and change for good?”

Elaine Koller, CEO of PRINZ

“COVID-19 will change the way we work in several ways.

People who didn’t appreciate that relationships are paramount, now will. Each of us will remember how we were treated by our employers, colleagues, clients and everyone else we deal with in our day-to-day working lives when the crisis hit. Many people are working around the clock, others suddenly find themselves without work or unable to work from home, and everyone is just trying to get on with life as best they can. Respect, empathy and compassion go a long way.

There will be an increased appreciation for clear and transparent communication. People need to understand what is happening, what it means for them, what they need to do, and what the next steps are. Just compare how the New Zealand government’s response to that of some other nations.

The prevalence of working from home will increase. This event has certainly hastened WFH for those organisations that did not previously have the capability and there is no doubt that the technologies we are using to communicate virtually will become increasingly adopted into the working environment even once we return our physical premises.”

John Miles, CEO of the New Zealand Marketing Association:

“This is an interesting question, as I think there will be stages post lockdown before there is any semblance of what was previously normal. The key determinant being when a vaccine is available. We might be out of lockdown, but our borders will be closed. So, the obvious changes to work will be employers more sympathetic to WFH, less travel, an influx of zoom meetings, less socialising, more localised conferences/online conferences, higher demand for online learning etc.

However, the change that I hope for is that business will be focused on how to creatively generate revenue rather than where do we cut costs. Mark Ritson made the following comment concerning marketing in a COVID-19 environment: “The wheels of industry need to keep turning so workers are paid and families are fed. Those wheels are best greased by effective marketing. We need to drive demand like never before”

The change we need is for marketers to have proven their value to businesses as the “revenue champions” rather than the first targets of cost-cutting.”

Murray Streets, BC&F Dentsu managing director:

“Amidst the cost reviews and the repeated reforecasting it’s all too easy to miss the opportunities to work smarter not harder once the crisis has passed.

First, agency operations will be entirely digitised once and for all. Gone the paper WIPs and the endless Excel spreadsheets, hello new platforms and ways of working that drive up productivity.

Second, less collaboration porn. That is, an appreciation that we’re all way more productive when we collaborate sensibly not just for the sake of it. Getting the right blend of digital, face-to-face and solitary problem solving, tailored to achieve specific goals, is what produces effective work.

Third, in a genuine crisis, everyone values the outcomes rather than fretting over the inputs. Long may this continue. The pandemic could reinforce the true value of our advice as agencies as opposed to the current obsession surrounding the number of hours on a job.

Finally, when agency management are challenged to lead their teams authentically from their homes and on screens, then the core skills of effective servant leadership are put to the test: clarity, communication, empathy, human connection. Leaders who simply aren’t up to this task will be found out.

The short-term pain is undeniable but the potential to transform our businesses for the better is all around us right now.”

James Mok, managing director of VMLY&R:

“We’ve all had the technology ready to make our lives easier but it’s not until we’ve been forced to do it that it’s been adopted en masse. Typical humans – you can lead a horse to water etc. The last two weeks the team at VMLY&R have gone from full office presence to complete #WFH mode, connecting and sharing on Teams, Zoom, Bluejeans, Slack as well as trusty email and phone calls. There have been some VPN challenges, we’ve worked out that turning off the mic sound stops feedback, turning off video is better for bandwidth, and our IT Manager is now a supreme God. We’ve adapted our new ways of working with minimal fuss.

But is it the permanent model for the future? Certainly we’ve proven technology and flexible working doesn’t compromise productivity and maybe it’s even improved people’s engagement in meetings. The need for office seating for all staff all the time is questionable. Having to travel to meetings, especially international travel, will be questioned, saving massive costs as well as reducing potential health risks (we’re all a bit more paranoid now).

But ours is a human business and we can’t underestimate the delightfully random benefits of socialising to generate unexpected ideas and opportunities. And some people need social contact more than others. We’ve seen goodwill and humour get us through the early stages of isolation but we have yet to see the downsides of 4-8 weeks of WFH. 

I have no doubt the world will be different once the dust settles and humans and businesses will be living a new normal.”

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