Suzi Williamson

It’s well documented that many employees who WFH are more ‘productive’. By design, WFH eliminates opportunities for nuanced physical interactions at work, and learning by osmosis. Which of these are more important to a manager in this industry – productivity or organic workplace communication and progression?  

Think of all the extra people we’ve opened the door to by integrating more WFH; people who live regionally, neurodivergent people who can only manage fewer or shorter days in office environments, people with caring responsibilities, people with disabilities, and the list goes on. Now consider the many benefits to teams working in the same room that can’t fully be replicated through technology. The random chats over the toaster with people you’d usually never work with that give a different perspective. The opportunity to address tension head on when you accidentally catch the eye of someone you’re beefing with over email. And yes, learning by osmosis (including, listening in to other people’s calls and meetings to learn how they deal with difficult conversations). We should encourage people to harness the pros of both options, more people we can bring in through flexible work conditions, and then spending as much time together as feasible.

Critics of WFH would say that while efficient, it’s a sanitised, socially atomised, individualistic way to work. Does this matter to marketers? Why/why not? 

I don’t think WFH is necessarily always frictionless and sanitised. People with kids/pets/parents at home might be cleaning up poo or vomit between meetings, having real life interactions with real people in their life (not just people in the advertising/marketing bubble). WFH is often messier and more real life than WFO.

Where agencies need creativity to differentiate themselves from their competition, how can it be fostered through Zoom meetings and Slack messages? 

We all learned from lockdown times, if we didn’t already know, that online collaboration tools are fundamental in tackling massive complex problems and it would be impossible to do it without them even if we were all in the same building. While Zoom and Slack aren’t always ideal for in-depth discussions or for building strong interpersonal relationships, it’s flat out wrong to say they can’t foster or facilitate creativity and collaboration.

In 10 years’ time, how different will the industry be to how it was 10 years ago, thanks to the WFH divide? 

I hope it will be more diverse because it’s more inclusive (more parents, regionally based people, older people, people with disabilities etc.), retention will be higher (again because it’s more inclusive), more people will be living where they want to for their lifestyle, and that the darker side of our industry – where sexual harrassment, bullying, and toxic culture has been able to bubble along – will be gone as people have more ability to choose employers with safe and supportive work environments and we all value the time we have physically together.