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Industry Contributor 24 Jun 2020 - 3 min read

MFA 5+: The WFH pitfalls we need to talk more about

By James Graff, Client Director - Woolworths@DAN

The COVID-19 crisis has led to the unprecedented use of the word ‘unprecedented’ alongside endless commentary on the ‘new normal’. While there is a lot of positive change to embrace, we must not lose sight of the WFH pitfalls we need to address as the gradual reopening occurs. This week Forbes examined the five key benefits the physical office environment adds to our working lives, providing a compelling case on why the workplace can’t simply disappear.

Key points:

  • Surviving is different to thriving. While we can work from home with some level of effectiveness, research is showing that the longer people work from home the more likely they are to report issues with sadness and fatigue.
  • Unplanned encounters at the office can enhance innovation, this is at odds with our new structured meeting to meeting schedule.
  • The office provides a critical sense of common ground, the physical experience of place fosters community and “in this together” mentality. The physical office is also the most visible artifact of culture.
  • Empathy and trust are enhanced through physical presence, important in communications industry where teams are critical to success (internal, agencies, media partners, clients).

Office downsizing shouldn’t be the first outcome of this crisis, instead exploring how we redesign our physical spaces to greater enhance social connection, collaboration, creativity. This is a real opportunity for innovation. Bloomberg hinting towards this stating, ‘The office might even become a more important amenity and culture hub’.

Flexible working will no longer be a policy perk spruiked between agencies, instead commonplace. Time or location should never be barriers to teams getting the best out of themselves. However, not everyone has an ideal WFH sanctuary to retreat to. There are people in packed share houses, new parents, busy families, and those living alone. So too fresh out of Uni entrants learning to work at a company. We need to support these groups, acknowledging there aren’t equal situations.

I feel we are starting to pass the peak of inflated expectations with WFH (to use Gartner Hype Cycle terminology). WFH isn’t perfect. By overvaluing flexibility, we undervalue connection. The ‘bump in’ and the conversation ‘chime in’ just sort of happen, and its these experiences that collectively make us better. Connection and experience broaden our world view, making us more empathetic and creative which are vital skills in our industry. While we have all made the best of a bad situation, we must embrace the benefits in favour of living only in our own bubbles.

This presents opportunity for agencies to further evolve their culture, in person and remote. Agencies and companies that can enhance their office spaces as truly creative environments and more than just a desk, whilst balancing the benefits of flexibility, will be best placed to retain and attract talent. They will also deliver better work. Ultimately, culture is imperative to strong teams and work. “If you break the culture, you break the machine that creates your products”.

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James Graff, Client Director


James is a committee member of the MFA's 5+ and Client Director at Woolworths@DAN (Dentsu’s bespoke offering for Woolworths Group) working across the Supermarkets business. Prior to this, James was an Account Director at OMD working across accounts including Qantas and Estee Lauder.

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