A lot of my B2B and FMCG current clients are already back in their offices – presumably because if the factory has to go back to work, so do they. But I only know of one agency that is doing face to face client meetings and even they’re not back in the office yet.
The difference may be that many clients still have an actual office with walls and a door to hide from germs inside or have access to lots of empty meeting rooms to work in, while agencies tend to favour open plan layouts with desks crammed together (one agency I used to work for’s solution to lack of space was – smaller desks) and usually never have enough meeting rooms at the best of times.
Agencies just aren’t well suited to social distancing. One senior agency friend told me that their board had worked out that only 30% of the agency could be in the office at any one time in order to keep sufficient distance between everyone. Another agency had purposefully designed their shiny new open-plan offices to encourage communication and collaboration at close quarters, which I imagine that they’re now regretting. A global pandemic is just not the sort of thing that used to pop up on risk assessments and health and safety guidelines for the knowledge industries
The future of agencies, in John St’s witty 2014 video Reactvertising
The entire industry is going to have to radically rethink what a place of work looks like and how it serves the agency business and team. From what I’ve heard so far, it looks like the best solution anyone has come up with is to reimagine the agency office as a ‘team working and support hub’, with facilities for pitch and client teams to work together-but-distanced for a week or two at a time on a specific project and with representatives from support services like IT and HR available for staff to drop in and see or drop something off with if they need to.
Working from home has undoubtedly been very difficult for some people including parents, but if/when we’re on the other side of Covid and proper, reliable childcare is back in place, I can’t imagine that agency staff or indeed other knowledge workers are going to be keen to get back into a regular routine of commuting into a city centre office five days a week having tasted the freedom, flexibility and extra free time gained when working from home.
From a personal point of view, I hope that agencies will be more open to working remotely with freelancers, which in the short term has vastly increased the number of agencies that I can potentially work with and has already led to work from Manchester and London – and likewise, it has presumably given agencies all over the country access to a bigger pool of talent as well.