Advertising Week New York: Reevaluating and Renegotiating Office Culture

While advertising agencies across the world are working overtime to master an ever-evolving market, the work itself is only one factor impacting success these days, and it may not even be the biggest one. Managers and leadership have returned to offices only to find them vastly different than they were just a few years ago. Employee expectations, office culture, and perceptions of safety have all changed as a result of the pandemic.


Recalibrating the Work Culture Landscape

In the Advertising Week New York 2022 panel entitled “Creating an Engaged Office Culture in Unprecedented Times,” Judy Courtney, NYI’s VP of Human Resources, led a discussion with Pam Sacree of FIRST, Dr. Evaristus Mainsah of Amazon Ads, and Christena J. Pyle of Dentsu on the future of the office and office culture.

“The landscape of the workplace has changed tremendously over the last couple of years,” said Courtney. “It was obviously evolving to begin with, but once the pandemic hit, a rapid change occurred. We knew it would never be the same.” Now, employers are tasked with an incredibly nuanced and difficult job: finding a working model that works for everyone. Should employees be returning to the office? Is a hybrid schedule the perfect middle ground? And what does remote work mean for office culture? So far, the solution to this problem vary in each office, as everyone has developed their own protocol for their return.

A Workplace that Works for Everyone

The first step to developing a new office model that works may just be admitting that the old standards weren’t without their issues. Pyle asserted that, “the way we worked previously didn’t work for everybody.” Now, she says, employers have a rare chance to build their workplaces with the needs of those who were most impacted or disadvantaged by old systems at the center. To move forward, employers need to “build from all types of experiences and not just design a workplace that works for a small few.”

The panel agreed that this is not just some of the most important work that employers will face in the coming years, but it’s also the most interesting and impactful work of the era. “Over the last three years, we’ve gone through, all of us, trauma in one form or another,” said Mainsah. Building new workplaces after such a monumental event will take creativity, flexibility, and an unprecedented level of care.

Culture From the Ground Up

A big question on employers’ minds now that most offices are juggling remote, hybrid, and in-office work all at once is how to build and maintain a company culture. Businesses love to take pride in the unique spaces they create, and it isn’t immediately obvious how to extend that to digital and remote workspaces. Previously, culture was built on in-person connection and physical spaces. A company could convey their culture in their facilities, perks, and work style. But now that people aren’t necessarily in the office eight hours a day, businesses need to find new ways to unify their employees and maintain their culture.

“A lot of culture isn’t written down,” said Mainsah. Instead, it grows from relationships, conversations, and the care that people feel for one another. What makes culture, according to Pyle, is the act of gathering, and companies need to learn to gather better in virtual spaces. However, in the end, all this needs to benefit the client and the client’s needs, say Sacree, emphasizing that a business’s culture is meant to further its goals.


Retention for the Future

As they wrapped up, the panelists explored the issue of retention in a world where employee burnout is at all-time highs and in-office connections are becoming increasingly rare. Mainsah highlighted two key ways to keep good talent around. The first is to focus on getting new hires connected to their peers in the first 90 days of employment. During this crucial period, they need to feel like they are part of a community and that their work is linked to something bigger than themselves. Later, he says, employers need to encourage employees to live their lives outside of work. Many employees are afraid of being quietly reprimanded for taking time for themselves, their families, and their hobbies, and instead employers need to make them feel secure. They are entitled to those vacation hours after all.

Sacree believes it’s important for a business to show employees that they care through their hiring practices. No one should feel overwhelmed with the amount of work they need to do, and companies need to hire accordingly, so that work is reasonably distributed. She also emphasized the importance of connections. “It’s important, based on feedback from my employees,” she said, “that they feel connected and that they have friends at work.” Pyle called the synthesis of these ideas “caring for the whole human.” Employers, managers, and leaders have a responsibility to view and treat their employees as whole people, who need support in different ways and different areas of their life.

It’s clear to these leaders and innovators that, in order to maintain successful and engaged workplaces for the years to come, employers need to focus on care and community now more than ever. An engaged workplace is a successful one, and that takes connection, care, and flexibility.