With months of successful remote functioning, would agencies continue to spend big on office spaces in the post-pandemic world? We ask agency heads.
Agencies functioning in the advertising and marketing domain, especially the big ones, are known to have huge offices in prime locations - be it the sprawling mill compounds in Lower Parel, Mumbai or swanky HQs in Gurugram & Noida, not to forget the funky & humble set ups in Bangalore, Hyderabad and many other markets . Real estate factors in as an important aspect that adds to their value, as a leader in the domain as well as the reputation of being a good workplace. The role of agency office spaces is diverse.
Office spaces for agencies hold creative value too. Bigger the office, more the scope of dedicated corners for various creative processes. However, with the changes the raging pandemic has brought to the lives of agency professionals, would such office spaces continue to hold the kind of prestige they do? Would agencies have that kind of cash in the reserve to spend on office spaces? Are we at the cusp of a change?
Co-working spaces to the rescue
Though professionals can function in remote settings, there will always be times when a physical space is required to come together for an offline experience. Here, co-working spaces could come to the rescue as they offer the flexibility of space as well as finances.
"The future of offices will be more of co-working spaces. There will be less of fixed seating and more flexible seating. Agencies will invest in bigger mingling spaces like cafeterias so that employees can use that for work, meetings and to have enough room during peak lunch hours so as to provide proper social distancing," feels Rita Verma, Executive Vice President & Head HR, DDB Mudra Group.
Infrastructure, Verma feels is built to bring people together to create an environment that would serve the purpose of the business. So, while investment in office campuses or tools that bring people together might change in its nature, they will continue to happen as per need, she feels.
"Logistically, the focus will be on having better connectivity for employees wherever they go, be it work, office or while travelling," adds Verma.
Looking at practical feasibility
According to Sunil Seth, Head HR Business Partner- South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network the current situation has pushed corporates to relook at their policies to balance WFH and WFO and to utilise offices spaces optimally.
"This will now prove to be a good opportunity to look at the flexibility such as building office spaces with no fixed seating, more meeting rooms and essentially look at 60-40, 70-30 or 80-20 occupancy rate," Seth tells us, adding that effective time management and adoption of innovative methods of working in groups/batches will be key.
Seth further points out that offices also double up as spaces to store physical records and we are far away from being completely paperless. Thus, the need to have such spaces will continue for a few more years for which physical space is imperative, he explains.
WFH won't work long term
The WFH and remote working model isn't one anyone could have anticipated being the norm. COVID-19, social distancing and mandatory lockdown have made it into a necessity to keep the engines running and ensure quality/timely client deliverables. However, how has it impacted the employee and team morale?
Rana Barua, CEO, Havas Group India tells us, "Our outlook is simple – can’t wait to join back and work from an office environment. Our entire business is about communication, interaction, meetings, bouncing off ideas, spontaneous ideas brainstorming, catching up with clients – so the sooner we all go back (once it is safer to do so) the better for us both mentally and physically."
"There was a reason why we behaved differently at the office and at home – now that line is broken. We got to keep both places distinctly different and respect their importance, and boundaries. Can you ever imagine taking the home to office? Since we cannot then let’s not think working from home is a long-term solution," he adds.
The office is a second home to many
Highlighting the perception of physical agency office spaces as a second home, Bhamini Painter, HR Director, Madison World tells us how the office experience is being missed by agency professionals in the current circumstances. Though she feels the frequency of working from office/home may change as restrictions are relaxed, she doesn’t see working from home to be a permanent solution.
"In the short term, the work culture may emerge as a hybrid of – working from the office and working from home. The need to meet and connect face to face to establish trust and relationships is extremely important and no matter how well done, this can never be achieved through a video call," she says, adding that agencies in future will only become more available than before to their clients as they are going to be better equipped to meet their client needs from wherever they work.
In regards to the finances for an agency spending on office spaces, Painter explains that leaderships have always been cautious of the operating cost even before the pandemic and will continue to curb investments into fancy offices to manage operating costs.
To get work done effectively
In the last several months, agencies have gone above and beyond to stay within restrictions and still function. However, it was all need-based with little to no choice at play. Once work from office becomes doable, is this model something that can be sustained is an important question, feels Rohit Ohri, Group Chairman & CEO, FCB India.
"For a creative business, the role of physical proximity, brainstorming and working together collaboratively is critical to the creative process. While you can do it remotely, the effectiveness needs to be considered. A lot of the dynamics, chemistry and magic that happens gets lost online," he tells us, adding that as things start to get back to normal, going back to work and working from office would be important.
Further, he talks about the importance of an organisation's culture and how it is made up of the people who work there. "If you recruit someone new, it is very hard to induct them into the creative culture of the organisation virtually. Experiencing the organisation as a living being and the ability to build trust gets compromised.
Sharing his views on the financial feasibility of office spaces, Ohri tells us that right sizing is bound to happen in many aspects as businesses have shrunk. This is likely to include giving up excess space.
However, given the importance of physical spaces and interactions in sparking ideas and creativity, these spaces would very much exist.
While it is still early to truly predict how things would look in the future, it would be safe to say agencies and agency culture/life will look much different in 2021 and beyond. And, it will keep evolving, constantly.