Why a TBWA NEBOKO executive thinks a return to the office will save the agency’s culture
Almost two years after the pandemic changed the way people work, businesses and agencies are still doing their best to navigate the new normal. As the future of work continues to take shape, marketing and advertising firms have seemingly taken a noodle-on-the-wall approach, trying everything from experiments with hybrid work and location models to company-sponsored travel. facilitating meetings between colleagues, to see what sticks.
With the so-called big resignation looming over many employers, they are not only looking to retain talent, but also to maintain the corporate culture. At least this is the case with the Dutch creative agency TBWA NEBOKO. According to General Manager Patritia Pahladsingh, the best way to go is to go back to the office for in-person collaboration.
Digiday recently sat down with Pahladsingh to talk about a face-to-face return to work amid a renewed partial foreclosure in the Netherlands and how mentoring ties into corporate culture.
This conversation has been edited slightly for clarity.
Tell me about your approach to revive the corporate culture. Why choose to work in person and how did you come to this conclusion?
Above all, we want young people to come because young people need to learn. They need to be guided and supervised. So we asked our seniors and juniors [staff] come together to have a touch of culture. We have grown a lot and have a lot of new people who arrived while we were in lockdown and who don’t know the culture of the agency. If you look at the culture of the agency, we work hard, but we also play hard. Nowadays, “hard play” was really hard to find because we are all at home. Yes, we went virtual [happy hour], but it’s really different to have and feel the energy of the people you work with. This is the hardest thing right now with remote working. How do you adapt and culture people, especially new people?
Much of the culture is the energy of the agency. We are really in people’s business. Winning pitches isn’t about big, big, creative ideas. It’s a question of chemistry between people. If you are not together, it is really difficult. We invited the right people to meet. Wear a mask if you like, but just to feel the energy. I also learned something about myself: I’m not very good with a screen. You need to feel my energy. When there is a pitch, you have to feel my energy and my enthusiasm… because creativity needs energy.
How do you approach this conversation with the staff? Are they ready to come back to the office?
We give people the choice, but some people are still really scared. In the Netherlands, we are not allowed to ask if people are vaccinated. So we opened our doors to say come in, you have the right to do so. Just scan your code and we’ll know you’re in the office. We just made a smooth opening. We watched people who entered and watched those who did not come at all. We had a one-on-one conversation because people are our essence. We need our people, but you need to understand their motivations, their desires or their barriers. Why don’t they come in and what do they need us to get in?
So this is more of a suggestion than a requirement. Are there any COVID-19 precautions for those entering?
We followed the rules of the Dutch government. So if they say stay home and work from home, we advise all of our employees to stay home. So what we say to our people is that if you [mentally] do not feel well, you are allowed to enter the office and we will help you. Come in and we’ll help you connect with people, walk around with your manager, have coffee and then get home. It’s really hard right now.
We just wanted people to feel comfortable. We don’t think you should make people come. We just let the juniors know that it’s good to feel the atmosphere of the agency, so come in. And we asked the seniors that if there are juniors in the office, come in, guide them, help them and coach them.
Poll after poll, most employees want a flexible work environment. What makes you confident that working in person is the answer to maintaining the corporate culture?
Because we have good energy and we’re a creative agency, people think that if they need to be creative, we get better results when we’re physically together. The vocation of the building will change. You will come there to connect with people, create and have coffee. If you need to type a deck or do an house assignment, you do it at home because it’s more efficient. But for creation and connection, they will come to the office. People come to work together.