Working from home is common in adland but offering staff the flexibility presents a unique set of challenges to a business which thrives on creativity and diversity of opinions.
In May this year 51% of Australia’s adult workforce, or an estimated 5.6 million people, worked from home according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
For Miles Joyce, the chief executive of STW digital firm The White Agency, allowing staff to work from home is the exception and not the rule.
“We have a fantastic culture here of creativity and that is borne by people being in the building and we want people to thrive on that,” Joyce told B&T.
“You need the team spirit and to work in collaboration, it is difficult to get that at home.”
The missed opportunity of hallway conversations is a major drawback of home work, agreed CHE Proximity’s managing director Chris Howatson.
“Spontaneous conversations with people at the coffee machine, chip bowl, at the bar or just by walking between departments are lost,” Howatson explained.
“It’s those moments of spontaneity that actually creates brilliance in advertising agencies.
“The home work process is more linear rather than just a chaotic moment where lots of opinions meet and you get a solution really quickly.”
That being said both agencies do allow staff to work from home. The White Agency has two to three people out of its 100-plus workforce working away from the office for at least part of the day every week and CHE Proximity has flexible arrangements in place for mothers and the option of working from home is available for others.
“We are really flexible in how people manage their time and we monitor people based on output rather than presence,” Howatson added.
Placing telework on the table as an option for employees has a positive impact on staff morale, according to Dean Shell, the commercial director of independent Melbourne media agency Kruse Media.
“There are a lot of large multinationals…which have a fixed rule that you have to be in the office between the hours of whatever they are and you are expected to do work at home as well, but outside of hours.
“There is a bit more flexibility with a smaller independent agency.”
However, in ACMA’s report it was found larger businesses were more agile when it came to staff working locations than the smaller shops.
More than half (55%) of medium-sized businesses – with between 20 and 199 employees – allow their staff to work away from the office at least one day a week. Just 38% of businesses with 19 employees or less let their staff do the same.
While a group environment is better for getting the creative juices flowing almost every role includes solo work. For these tasks, working from home or a cafe away from office-distractions can boost productivity.
Andrea Kerekes, founder and CEO of Access PR, believes the biggest benefit of telework is “lack of interruptions and the ability to think in blocks of time rather than snippets”.
But, similar to creative agencies, she says it only works when isolated work time is limited.
“We have too many client meetings and work very collaboratively so having people in the same place at the same time is vital.”
For the Red Agency, a PR and marketing communications firm which forms part of Havas PR, allowing staff to work from home once a month is about better work/life balance.
“We do a lot to attract the best staff and want to keep them and offering them a flexible working environment is also about staff retention,” Grant Titmus, principal of the Red Agency, said.
Demanding employees’ presence between set hours just wouldn’t work in adland, explains Howatson who says agencies must be responsive to client needs.
“Some Fridays we might get a call and everyone might have to work all weekend so naturally we have to have a work environment that is really flexible.
“The classic idea of everyone needs to go to work at 9am and come home at 5pm is outdated and incredibly irrelevant.
“We are living in an era where women are expected to be mothers and workers and men are expected to be family men….it is really hard to balance all of those competing objectives if you have a rigid workplace structure.”
A common barrier to working away from the office is trust in staff.
“Working from home is a privilege not a right,” Titmus said.
Kruse Media’s Shell says that while all staff are allowed to work from home if an unforseen circumstance arises its only senior employees that are allowed to do so regularly.
“It’s the more senior people who we trust with having the maturity to know what their task is and to do it,” he said.
“No disrespect to the junior guys, but the fact is you have to be really motivated and know what it is that you need to get done during that time at home.”
Titmus knows of companies that enable their staff to work from home on a regular basis and has never heard a bad comment about the practice.
“I think it is more about the perception that people think those working from home are sky-larking,” he said.