Agency returns after the pandemic

Due to the dropping number of COVID-19 cases, in most European countries restrictions are being loosened both from governmental and employer side. After our review about how weCAN agencies are coping with the situation two weeks into the lockdown, we are checking back on them to see, if they are ready to get back to the office and what their key learnings are about the past months spent in home office. In our next article we are going elaborate on the future of the ad industry from CEE experts’ viewpoint, so don’t miss it!

Since the quite unforeseen lockdown in March, businesses from every industry felt the pressure to adapt to a new life with social distancing and health regulations – and as a consequence with almost-mandatory home office, dropping number of orders, and uncertain prospects for the future in general.

Gradual return

As the home office mode was mostly voluntary, the details of repopulating the office is also up to the agencies to determine. Consequently agencies are in different phases: some of them are still fully enjoying home office, some of them have returned back with a full house, but most of the agencies are ‘half in, half out’. The tendency is that agencies have just opened their gates, so for example Croatian creative agency Pink Moon is open for group projects, otherwise people work from home and Ljiljana Bojanić, Account Director of Serbian New Moments says they started work one day per week from the office, and for the rest of the week from home. Romanian Brandstalk has an elaborate plan for minimizing the risk of returning: “The agency’s managing director has been taken care to structure the teams so that in the first phase no more than 25% of the people will return to the office, in the second phase no more than 50% of the team members will be present and only when the restrictions will relax can we see each other in full formula”.

Online interview with Maja Bajić Rudinac from New Moment Bosnia and Herzegovina

As most agency representatives concluded, going into the office is primarily up to the employees, but there is a visible and – frankly – understandable pattern in returning, which spans across borders: mostly people with small kids (especially in small apartments) are keen to revisit the office space, along with those, who are alone at home.

Safety first

Evidently, returning means restrictions introduced by companies will apply: rules established by local authorities are the minimum, but most of the agencies confirmed the admittance of additional measures. Social distancing is finding its way into office spaces, meaning that employees either must keep a certain distance (1.5-2m), or the number of allowed people is determined by the volume of rooms. Anita Király, COO of Media Services in Hungarian Café Communications says the capacity of the media room, which formerly seated 15 people, will be reduced to 6. Daily office sanitation and hand sanitizers are available in weCAN agencies, some of our partners mentioned that gloves and masks are at the employees’ disposal at any time, when they are in the office, and in Romanian and Ukrainian partner agencies body temperature will be constantly monitored.

Home sweet home office

Colleagues are gradually returning – but are they happy to do so? We asked our partners about their experience of complete communities working remotely, and emotions are almost identical in the region. Without exception, all our interviewed partners reported the same level of productivity – in case some are even increased – compared to the times before the pandemic.

Social distancing at Comtech_CAN office, Czech Republic

From time to time, people came to demotivated stages, but everyone felt the urge to get back on track, and quickly did do. Tereza, Copywriter at Czech Comtech_CAN said, that at the beginning, she was drawn to her bed, but “after this rather short “Yoko & John phase”, overcoming home temptations the first day and dealing with Teams connection struggles, I think the work efficiency reached at least the “before pandemic” level”. Bojan Popović, Managing Director of Ascanius Media Slovenia said that efficiency actually increased, as they were well prepared before the national “shutdown”, and Ascanius Media Croatia admitted, that each of their agency departments had even higher workload during the crisis due to increased needs for reporting and researching.

The happiness over returning is also widely shared amongst the weCAN partners: as mentioned before, people with small kids, smaller homes are generally more eager to return to the office. Creative agencies recognized, that personal meetings, brainstormings are crucial to their work, and were highly missed in creative processes, although agency employees often saw the beauty of staying at home: the changing of environment, spending more time with the loved ones, even the presence of children boosted the creativity of some.

Ljiljana Bojanić also mentioned one significant downside of working from home: when different tasks (work, family time, chores, entertainment, sport…) which were separated before, now come together at one sole location, it’s harder to differentiate between these roles, and on many occasions, work takes over. Co-workers at numerous agencies expressed their hope, that returning will have a positive effect on their mental health.

Key learnings

weCAN partners obtained pleasant experience from the past months regarding work efficiency, working remotely and hosting online meetings, which have been leading to conclusions shaping future workflow. “We had bad misconceptions about home office and about the independence of our colleagues. People have been loving to have to solve their own tasks.” – as Peter Zsembery, Associate Creative Director at Hungarian Café Communications put it. The general acceptance and admittance of home office sky-rocketed, as more people realised, that work can be done from home, sometimes even more efficiently, than from the office. In the future, people getting inspired by the solitude of their home will be a more frequent phenomenon, and whenever they are needed in a meeting, they can join online, since the software and knowledge background is there.

Ioana’s workspace with shy, but judging colleague, Brandstalk, Romania

However, physical presence is crucial in certain projects, and it can overall improve performance. As Mirjana Mandic Jovanovic from Croatian creative agency Pink Moon summarized: “Now we all know which meeting is necessary to have, and which one we can do by Zoom or call. On the other half, now we are totally aware how human interaction is important for every project.”

Andrej Andruschenko, CEO of IPG Mediabrands Ukraine explained why they had been familiar with such circumstances: “It is not unique situation for Ukraine, when we have to work from home. Last time we faced a similar situation in 2014, so we were ready for remote working from a technical point of view. We will increase the number of online meetings both internally and with clients, because it helps to cut travel costs and solve issues more promptly.”

A note on the importance of personal contacts

As a network of agencies all over Central Eastern Europe, members of weCAN have always worked together remotely, so from this point of view, only a few things changed in the past three months. However, since we mostly collaborate via emails and phone calls, we value those moments extremely, when we have the chance to meet in person, and our spring CANnual Meetings and autumn CANnual Conferences are these rare occasions for the broader network. Unfortunately, our CANnual Meeting was cancelled due to the virus, and as Vanda Virovecz, Regional Business Director of Café_CAN International expressed, we are truly sad, because nothing can replace the long awaited personal get together and drinks. We really hope make it up at our CANnual Conference!

In our next article, Central Eastern European agency experts share their view on the future of advertising in the region, come back to check it out!

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