This WFH question is something I’m hearing a lot from agency owners at the moment.

Before the pandemic, WFH was a topic that gave many agency leaders the shivers. How will we know our people are working efficiently – or at all – if they’re not at their desks?

Now the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. COVID-19 has proved WFH is possible. For many, it’s desirable. What’s more it works. You don’t have to be in the same room to have a productive meeting.

Clients don’t mind talking to our people sat in their living rooms. Our senior developers now do some of their best work sat in their pyjamas.

Yet, as we edge back to some sort of normality, the headaches surrounding WFH remain. Some people find it easier than others. Zoom fatigue is now a thing. What are we going to do about the city centre office space? What’s our WFH policy going forward?

WFH decisions decisions

Agency owners are facing a lot of challenges at the moment. WFH is just one of them, but it’s fundamental to how the business operates and office space is a major cost. It’s a subject that demands urgent attention and lateral thinking.

Sadly, whilst we’re all in the same storm, none of us are in exactly the same boat. WFH is here to stay, but I can’t tell you how to make it work for you in the future. Whether your agency needs your current office and/or the ping-pong table now I can’t say.

What I can tell you is that whilst WFH presents logistical problems, it comes with an even bigger challenge; maintaining your agency culture.

Soul searching

If people are the heart of an agency, culture is its soul. In a world where remote working will be the norm rather than the exception, protecting your company culture will be paramount.

You’re going to need all your leadership skills, and some new ones, to safeguard the soul of your business. Having the right mindset will be vital. You must relinquish any lingering doubts you have that everybody should be in the office all the time. Trust will be your closest ally. You must trust your people far more than you ever have. Allow them to get on with the job and give them the freedom to manage their own time and productivity.

The 3 C’s of agency culture

Whilst mindset, leadership and trust are important, they’re not going to be enough on their own. You’re going to need to provide your teams with something more tangible. Namely the 3 C’s of agency culture.

1. Clarity – Providing clear direction is your most important task as an agency leader. Doing this in a changeable environment is hard, but its even more vital you deliver. Even if you can’t give your people absolute clarity on key issues and the direction of the agency, give them as much as can. A little information is better than none at all and they will always thank you for it.

2. Communication – In itself, comms technology is useless if you don’t have the will and desire to talk to your people. If your teams are WFH more, you need to communicate more. This means both one-to-many and one-to-one communication. It’s vital for you to work harder at presenting your human side to a distributed workforce. Its not as easy to have a chat with someone as you’re passing their desk or making a coffee. Make sure you schedule more one-to-one time and make a point of asking your staff how they are.

3. Community – I’ve seen lots of agencies make valiant efforts to bring their people together online during the pandemic. Virtual quizzes and  beers are not to for everyone, but ensuring your people remain connected must be your priority.

I actually think remote working provides agencies with an opportunity. In an office, people tend to pick their social groups based on their team or department. How can you help your people form smaller groups based on their individual interests rather than who they might sit next to?

A new way of working, a new life

A post-pandemic world with a more distributed workforce is a different reality for us all, but it will present its own opportunities. The way that different working practices have enabled us to integrate our work and leisure time will surely benefit our health and wellbeing in the future.

As people businesses, agencies are perfectly placed to capitalise on this. Make sure your agency does so.

Gareth Healey has 25 years experience in the agency sector. A business coach and mentor, he is the founder of specialist consultancy, Beyond Noise. He works exclusively with ambitious owner-directors of established independent marketing agencies.