Could Your Agency Be at the Forefront of the Future of Work?

By Erica Walker, Managing Director, RAPP,

Forward-thinking agency leaders have seen the future of work — and it isn’t the factory work model of the Industrial Revolution.

Developed for efficiency and standardization, the factory model historically made sense. Goods that were once made by hand were crafted with the help of machines and assembly lines, so efficiency and standardization become paramount to the success of a factory. As a by-product, personalization and creativity didn’t have a home in this environment.

Today, this model is outdated and is losing ground to the hybrid work model. The hybrid model excels by customizing its approach to individual needs and team dynamics, making it especially useful for organizations in creative fields like marketing and advertising. In fact, advertising agencies are poised to lead the way and show companies inside and outside the industry how to leverage hybrid work to create a more agile, inclusive, and resilient workplace environment.

Upsides of Hybrid Work for Agencies

Though there are countless benefits of hybrid work model adoption for agencies, most fall into one of two categories: talent and operations.

From a talent perspective, hybrid work improves employees’ ability to flex their schedules, allowing them to have a better work-life balance. This, in turn, removes many personal obstacles that might hinder the focus and creativity necessary to develop unique deliverables. McKinsey & Company figures show that 87% of employees who are offered hybrid work arrangements accept them. This indicates the large value that workers place on being able to control when, how, and where they complete their tasks.

Unsurprisingly, this benefit of hybrid working spills over into talent sourcing. Agencies can widen their candidate pools when geography is less of a barrier. Not only does this help level the playing field to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion goals, but it can be a boon for talented individuals with responsibilities or disabilities that might prevent them from comfortably applying for a position. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, more people with disabilities are working than ever before, and hybrid work is a big reason why.

The advantages of hybrid work aren’t limited to the individual level. Hybrid work can offer significant cost savings for agencies, such as renting smaller spaces. Additionally, workers who are free to choose their working atmospheres tend to be more efficient with their time, thereby improving performance and effectiveness. One survey of managers discovered that nearly 6 out of 10 managers felt workers excelled at hybrid work productivity. And around the same number agreed that their hybrid employees were more motivated.

Hybrid Work Pitfalls to Avoid

The hybrid work model isn’t perfect, though. Hybrid work challenges can quickly arise, particularly in agency settings that haven’t fully prepared for the realities of a scattered workforce.

For example, it can be difficult to maintain team cohesion, communication, and collaboration among hybrid employees. As a result, culture can take a hit, as can employee health. Many first-time hybrid workers experience isolation and burnout because they haven’t been given the tools, resources, or guidance to successfully handle the empowerment and expectations associated with hybrid work.

Agency leaders may find it difficult to trust their employees or hold them accountable when they don’t see them regularly. Even if everyone’s duties are getting done, they may have trouble fostering the togetherness that’s so critical for innovative fields like marketing and advertising. Technological tools can help, but a ping or email can’t replace the personal touch (and tonality) of an in-person chat. Zoom brainstorming sessions are theoretically another answer to this problem, but a virtual meeting lacks a lot of the concrete tactic experiences that many creatives require to get their juices flowing.

How to Implement a Hybrid Work Model Successfully

Fortunately, there are many hybrid work environment best practices that agencies can use to construct an intuitive and rewarding hybrid work model.

First, leaders must let go of old-fashioned working methods and radically lean into change. This can be difficult at first, but it helps foster a culture of trust and accountability because employees see that their leadership team members want to do what’s best for them. Make no mistake: Agency executives, directors, and managers aren’t just there to be decision makers. They’re expected to be role models, too.

That said, moving toward a hybrid work culture demands time and energy to establish clear guidelines and expectations. As an example, the agency should outline how communication and collaboration will happen across the remote workforce. What technologies will individuals be asked to use? How often should talent touch base with the “home office” (if there is one)? Being proactive and constructing an adaptable roadmap that can be updated when appropriate helps drive early wins.

As people begin engaging as hybrid workers, they need to be reminded of their purpose. Feeling a sense of belonging assures employees that they haven’t fallen into the “out of sight, out of mind” trap. Through regular one-on-one check-ins and group meetings, leaders can stay connected with their teams and encourage members to do likewise with one another.

Obviously, technology will always play a major role in hybrid working. However, it needs to be used appropriately and not as a replacement for human touch. ChatGPT and generative artificial intelligence are hot topics right now, and it makes sense. Generative AI can potentially increase efficiency within hybrid working by quickly condensing notes into summaries, helping ideate topics, and more. But it isn’t a replacement for human creativity.

And to increase communication between asynchronous teams, there are also communication and collaboration programs, such as Slack, Loom, Zoom, and more. With all of these technological tools available, agencies should feel that their tech stacks support their hybrid culture and are not used to avoid difficult conversations or throw up walls between people.

Ultimately, it’s likely that the work environment of the future will be largely hybrid, and this working model will continue to open doors to talented employees of all kinds and from all locations. While this shift to a more asynchronous workforce will require a combination of effective technological tools and open communication, agencies are the perfect candidates to be at the forefront of this work evolution. They can pioneer a creative environment that is more empowering and equitable for all employees.

About the Author

Erica Walker is the managing director at RAPP, a company that focuses on critical, direct, and high-value relationships that link people and brands across the fast-changing digital landscape. With a passion for understanding the links between behavior and brands and igniting the spark that turns curiosity into action, Walker has over 15 years of experience leading client relationships and operations across a wide range of categories. She brings deep account strategy experience that extends globally. Walker partners with clients to help them build better product offerings and dynamic data-driven campaigns. She most enjoys building rockstar teams, provocative thought leadership, and helping her clients’ businesses grow.