The beginning of the pandemic brought uncertainty and fear around how we would ever again be able to safely gather in schools, restaurants, and the workplace. Now as we map Brands2Life US’ return to work, we must anticipate the potential confusion and trepidation that comes along with the relief and joy of our teams finally seeing one another outside the boundaries of a screen for the first time in over a year. Just as importantly, we learned a lot about focused productivity, balance, and communication in the pandemic’s “Great Remote Work Experiment,” and can’t just ignore those lessons and return to the way it was before, for the sake of the familiar.
Giants in finance, like JPMorgan, have called their people back to the office unequivocally, citing competitive needs and the intense on-the-job training required of their new analysts. Tech companies like Amazon, Salesforce, and Microsoft were among the first large corporations in the US to announce long-term remote work early in the pandemic, and they’re now experimenting with hybrid models, some fully remote staff, and the use of the latest collaboration technology to create an inclusive experience for all. In our industry, plans run the gamut from 100% remote agencies, minimum office time hybrids, and fully in-office models. There is not yet consensus on the *right* return to work model, and there may never be. It’s up to every company to decide what model works best for their team, their clients, and their business.
Thankfully, one of the most recommended books on our shelf, Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering, is a particularly helpful resource in this case. Parker, who is trained in conflict resolution and has spent 15 years bringing communities in transition together, takes great pains to underscore the importance of “why” in gathering people (emphasis ours): “Having a purpose simply means knowing why you’re gathering and doing your participants the honor of being convened for a reason.” Applying Parker’s lens, the challenge of figuring out who needs to be where and when becomes a tremendous opportunity to rethink why we convene as a team in the first place.
Mutual respect is a core value at Brands2Life. We trust each other! Our office time is not a means for supervision, so we don’t expect a fully in-office work week at Brands2Life US. Besides, this is a relationships business – with our clients, with journalists, with industry influencers, with other communications professionals. Pandemic or not, great PR often happens when you get away from the desk. It always has.
Like many white-collar professionals, and certainly most PR firms, we found a combination of cloud-based collaboration, engagement and project management tools held up to the rigors of the job during lockdown. Our team continues to achieve our clients’ goals working remotely, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the flexibility remote work has brought to how we live our day-to-day lives.
Of course, there are times when we miss seeing one another in person, but this past year featured lots of remote happy hours, Happy Birthday toasts, and celebrations for landing a great piece of coverage. Camaraderie is not exclusive to the office.
Ultimately, whenever our people choose to gather in the Brands2Life US offices in San Francisco, Minneapolis, or New York, we want there to be a clear and meaningful reason for doing so. Maybe an account team could benefit from hashing out a campaign idea over lunch or collaborate on a piece of content that would benefit greatly from the energy of being live in the room together. Perhaps a new Account Coordinator wants to sit with an experienced team member and learn from them as they pitch journalists, or a mentor and mentee decide that their monthly catchups are more enjoyable to do over coffee. The office space is always available, so our teams are welcome to come in and help a new hire get comfortable with a pitch, use the space for our quarterly book club, or have a chance to get out of the house and have a comfortable space to spread out.
All of our team members can get to their home office with a days’ notice, so the local team in each city is always on hand to host journalist interviews and new business pitches as well as welcome visiting clients, colleagues from London, or a friendly face from one of our global partner agencies. And our full US team is looking forward to getting together in the same city twice a year for team development activities.
Our meaningful model may not be the right workplace solution for all PR firms. But for our team and agency built around ambition, integrity, commitment, mutual respect, and enjoyment, it might just be a perfect fit.
Written by the Brands2Life US leadership team