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Here's how major ad agencies like WPP and Omnicom are planning a return to the office

Published by Business Insider on Wed, 07 Apr 2021


<p><img src="https://static5.businessinsider.com/image/5fdd33a7c910a400192e8809-2400/mark read reuters.jpg" border="0" alt="Mark Read Reuters.JPG" data-mce-source="Toby Melville/Reuters"></p><p></p><bi-shortcode id="summary-shortcode" data-type="summary-shortcode" class="mceNonEditable" contenteditable="false">Summary List Placement</bi-shortcode><p>As more people become eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, ad agencies are gradually planning for a return to office.</p><p>Some companies are adopting hybrid work models, prompting them to rethink their office space and reduce real estate. They're considering permanent remote workers and burnout in their plans, aware of the mental toll longer hours have had on staff and the loss of connection between teams when employees work from home.</p><p>While their plans may vary, and most still don't have a set date to return, many agencies realize the post-pandemic workplace will be fundamentally changed.</p><p>"We'll never go back to what we did before," WPP CEO Mark Read said. "By the time we go back to normal, we will forget what normal looked like."</p><p>Insider spoke to seven advertising companies who detailed their return-to-office plans.</p><h2>WPP is rethinking 'normal' and saving millions</h2><p>WPP <a href="https://www.wpp.com/investors/calendar-and-events/investor-events-2020/accelerating-growth-investors-and-analysts-presentation">CFO John Rogers said</a> in December the company planned to <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/wpp-agencies-ogilvy-akqa-cut-nyc-office-space-2020-12">shed 15% to 20% of its real estate</a> and build 60 global campuses with more meeting space, collaboration space, and "much less people sitting behind desks responding to emails."</p><p>"People are ready to come back to the office," CEO Mark Read said. "But it's much easier to ask 100,000 people to work from home over a weekend. You just have to deal with what's in front of you."</p><p>Read said 5% to 10% of employees have gone back to most of WPP's offices and expects more to return this summer, though there is no set date or mandate for reopening. He said WPP is figuring out how to safely reopen its global offices as well as how to "embrace the flexible ways of working we learned in the pandemic."&nbsp;</p><p>Read said the holding company of agencies like Ogilvy, VMLY&amp;R, and Wunderman Thompson would adopt a hybrid model, with offices being reserved for collaborative work and employees handling other solo tasks remotely.</p><p>He's also mindful WPP will have to train managers to ensure all employees have the same opportunities to avoid excluding people who are remote.</p><h2>Omnicom is being 'extra cautious'</h2><p>Omnicom Group CEO and Chairman John Wren said the company demonstrated it could work remotely, which will allow the holding company of agencies like BBDO and TBWA to be "extra cautious in bringing people back."</p><p>When it does, Omnicom will shift toward a hybrid work model, keeping in mind the importance of maintaining culture.</p><p>Wren said some employees will have to return full-time, many who will be partially remote, and about 8% of staff will be permanently remote.</p><p>"You can't create culture remotely," he said. "With new employees, we'll insist, to the extent that it is safe, to come back to the office so they become familiar with the culture, and as a result we'll have to bring managers back full-time."</p><p>Still, Insider learned of one Omnicom ad agency, Zimmerman Advertising, that some employees <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/zimmerman-advertising-employees-say-agency-is-pressuring-them-to-return-2021-3">accused of recently pressuring staff to return</a> to the office. An agency spokesperson said at the time that the agency "follows Omnicom's guidelines, which is that no person is required to return to the office if they are not comfortable in doing so."</p><p><img src="https://static1.businessinsider.com/image/5fca5595037cbd0018613d68-909/john wren omnicom.jpg" border="0" alt="John Wren Omnicom" data-mce-source="Dominique Charriau/Getty Images"></p><h2>Most of Weber Shandwick will go hybrid</h2><p>The IPG firm's North American offices remain closed and the firm will give several months notice to employees before they reopen, which it expects to do in the fall as local government guidelines permit.</p><p>When it does, it's committed early on to having most employees working three days in the office and two days at home, with schedules varying depending on individual needs and managers' judgment, CEO and president Gail Heimann said.</p><p>Weber Shandwick is redesigning its offices to use space as effectively and useful as possible and allow for social distancing, said Brian Offutt, chief workforce innovation and operations officer.</p><p>He said an employee survery last October revealed that about 75% of Weber Shandwick's staff prefers to work three days or less in the office.</p><p>"We're listening to our employees and planning as best as we possibly can," Offutt said. "We'll give it our best shot and we'll learn from it. The things that will need to be tweaked, we'll tweak."</p><h2>MDC addresses burnout</h2><p>Like WPP, MDC Partners <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/mark-penn-mdc-partners-moving-nyc-world-trade-freedom-tower-2020-2">was reducing real estate</a> before the pandemicincluding in New York where it moved most agencies into one building at One World Trade Centerbut since the crisis it's been remodeling to safely and more effectively accommodate employees.</p><p>Jason Cammorata, MDC SVP and head of global operations, said the office is spaced to allow for social distancing and all technology is voice-activated and touchless "for safe use."</p><p>Remote work has also shed light on <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/burnout-startup-employees-pandemic-we-want-to-hear-from-you-2021-3">burnout</a>&nbsp;as employees work longer hours from home. The holding company of agencies like CPB, 72andSunny, and Anomaly have started support groups for employees experiencing burnout.</p><p>"I know this first-hand, as in the last year I became a new dad while also taking on an expanded role," Cammorata said. "But we have a strong community at the agencies extending up to corporate who support open conversations. We understand burnout is real, and leadership teams are ensuring open lines of communication, while also exploring evolved metrics to determine success, more clarity around benefits and resources available, etcetera."</p><h2>A Virginia agency designed an office for hybrid work</h2><p>When Growa 50-person independent Virginia ad agency that is also embracing hybrid workgoes back to the office, it won't return to the same office it had before the pandemic.</p><p>Grow will move into a new, 100,000-foot Virginia campus named Assembly that will rent space to other companies.</p><p>Grow Founder and CEO Drew Ungvarsky said the campus provides a blueprint for a hybrid workplace that makes efficient use of its space. Thirty percent of the campus will be shared amenities including event space, a podcast booth, a library, and bike storage, while many offices will accommodate hybrid employees, with features like "hot" or shared desks, he said.</p><p>Ungvarsky&nbsp;said nine companies including startups, an architecture firm, and a branding marketing studio are renting space in the campus.</p><p>"It makes so much more sense to share amenities with like-minded businesses," Ungvarsky said. "We can take less space knowing our workforces won't be here 100% of the time."</p><p><img src="https://static1.businessinsider.com/image/606cc28070954f001919582b-1123/Assembly - 01 Common Area &amp; Reception.png" border="0" alt="Assembly, Grow agency" data-mce-source="Grow" data-mce-caption="The inside of Grow's new West Virginia campus headquarters, Assembly."></p><h2>M&amp;C Saatchi is making LA office permanently remote</h2><p>M&amp;C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment North America decided not to renew its LA lease last year and that team is now permanently remote, like teams in San Francisco, Hawaii, Florida, Atlanta, and New Hampshire.&nbsp;</p><p>That let the sports and social content marketing agency expand its New York headquarters to a 5,500-square-foot building in SOHO from a shared space, taking advantage of historically low rent.</p><p>That New York office will begin reopening this summer and offer remote and in-person work, North America CEO Steph Lund said.</p><p>"We purposely designed an open floor plan where there will be no designated desks," he said. "We will implement the necessary social-distancing mandates and mask-wearing while in the office. Additionally, we will not be mandating that any employees in the New York City area return to the office before they're comfortable doing so."</p><h2>Maine agency is considering remote workers in physical spaces</h2><p>Independent Portland, Maine ad agency Via wants people in the office most of the time but is taking remote workers into account, aware of the disconnect among teams when they're not physically together.</p><p>Via CEO Leeann Leahy said the company is redesigning the office with more open space and social distancing for people returning while figuring out how to accommodate those who remain remote.</p><p>Leahy said Via will put things like rotating tables in conference rooms so employees tuning into meetings via video can easily see presentations and the people in the room, and provide daily updates on Slack so remote workers don't feel excluded.</p><p><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/wpp-omnicom-mdc-others-discuss-plans-to-return-to-office-2021-4#comments">Join the conversation about this story &#187;</a></p> <p>NOW WATCH: <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/how-parasite-delivered-one-of-the-best-twists-in-cinema-2020-2">What makes 'Parasite' so shocking is the twist that happens in a 10-minute sequence</a></p>
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