What talent want and have always wanted: flexibility and culture

In this first of a two-part opinion piece talent direct at Hidden Talent, Nicola Barrett, shares some of the insights from a recent study the consultancy undertook late 2020 and what agencies can learn from the findings.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that our industry was ready for a shake up. Now the dust is starting to settle, a new study shows we’ll need to reimagine how we work if agencies want to be future proof and fighting fit.

Our study of talent from top-tier creative agencies in Sydney and Melbourne provides a fresh set of insights into what talent are really looking for. We looked at how remote working affects efficiency, communication, creativity and culture. What I discovered, was an opportunity for agencies and talent to create a better way of working.

Let’s take a quick look at the numbers.

The most important one is zero. Yes, 0% of people surveyed wanted agencies to go back to way they worked before. That got our attention.

A lot of respondents wanted the option to work from home, but 96% of them said simply having more flexibility would help them perform better.

This is not new, talent have been seeking flexibility with their work for years, with minimal success.

Agencies have tended to resist working remotely, yet it can yield incredible results. Now we have proven that a remote work environment can work well, very few want to return to back to work as it was.

One way to view it is that flexibility isn’t just about where you work, it’s about bringing out the best in people and helping them work better.

When we took a closer look at the impact of remote and flexible work, some standout benefits were productiveness and efficiency. Around 45% of people said there was ‘a big improvement’. With less time spent commuting and the constant interruptions of working in a busy office, people were a lot more productive throughout the day.

It wasn’t all good. We found that team collaboration and communication did fall short compared to physically being in the office, and to some degree the working experience became more transactional and less collaborative. What people really missed was human connection. It scored highly as the main area people missed while working remotely.

When we look at the creative product, 37% of respondents felt meeting in person boosted creativity, and having human contact sparked better ideas. Interestingly though, only 17% felt creative output was compromised during the pandemic.

Remote working is almost invariably a dosage issue. There’s an optimal point, and then there’s diminishing returns. The question is not, “is it good or bad?”, but “what is the right amount to reap the benefits?”.

Ultimately, the agency of the future will be able to strike a balance, and the optimum would likely be a hybrid of the two. That means allowing people to benefit from flexibility but also bringing people together at work sometimes, to bring out the magic that happens within a collaborative agency culture.

The ‘What Talent Want’ study showed that just the right amount of workplace flexibility could fix a lot of problems we face as an industry, including burnout, disconnection and miscommunication. Making the shift now could help agencies attract the best talent, get the most value from talent, and ultimately lift bottom lines and reputations.

Other numbers that were interesting (and slightly unsettling), were that 46% of talent were concerned about the future of agencies and nearly 47% looking to move out of agencies.

A lot of candidates are looking for client-side opportunities, and while this isn’t new, it’s now easier for them to make that transition. Clients are now more open to talent who are customer-focused and with less traditional marketing backgrounds.

Happily, the magic of creative agencies is still luring great talent. People are attracted to the agency culture, and the chance to collaborate with interesting people to develop brilliant work.

Culture is incredibly important as it is the #1 reason people will leave an agency. Over 50% of talent in the ‘What Talent Want’ study said culture was at the top of their consideration list as an ‘absolute’ when then they are looking for a new opportunity. Culture is multifaceted and if you get it right, it provides an opportunity to attract and retain brilliant talent.

I embarked on this study to provide a fresh set of insights into what talent are looking for. What I discovered, was an opportunity for agencies and talent to create a better way of working.

That in itself is a conversation worth having.

Nicola Barrett, is the talent direct at consultancy Hidden Talent. 


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