November 22, 2021 by Kimeko McCoy
Nearly two years ago, the pandemic reshaped the workplace. Companies and agencies continue to try their best to adapt to the new reality. As the future of work continues to take shape, marketing and advertising agencies have seemingly taken a noodle on the wall approach, trying everything from experiments with hybrid work and location models to company-sponsored trips facilitating co-worker meetups, to see what sticks.
With the Great Resignation rising above many employers they are looking to not only retain talent but also maintain company culture. The Dutch-based creative agency TBWANEBOKO believes so. Patritia Pahladsingh is the managing director and says that the best way to do it is to return to the office to collaborate in person.
Digiday sat down with Pahladsingh recently to discuss a return to in person work in the midst of renewed partial lockdown in The Netherlands, and how mentorship ties in to company culture.
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Talk me through your approach to revive company culture. What prompted you to choose the in-person route? How did that decision come about?
We want young people to come in, because they need to learn. They should have guidance and coaching. We asked our junior and senior [staff] colleagues to meet up to share some of the agency’s culture. We have seen a lot of growth and we now have many new people who joined us while we were locked down and are not familiar with the agency’s culture. The agency’s culture is one of hard work and play. Today, it’s hard to find the “play hard” because everyone is at home. Although we did virtual [happy hour],, it’s not the same as feeling and getting the energy from the people you work alongside. This is the most difficult thing about working remotely. How can you adapt to new cultures and share your culture with them?
A large part of culture can be described as the agency’s energy. We are really in the people business. It’s not about having great ideas. It’s all about the chemistry between people. It’s very difficult to be with someone you don’t know. We invited people to get to know each other. You can wear a mask if necessary, but it’s just for the fun of meeting people. I learned something about my own abilities: I am not good at using a screen. You must feel my energy. You need to feel my enthusiasm and energy when you pitch. Creativity requires energy.
How are you approaching that conversation with staff? Is it possible to get them back in the office?
We give people freedom of choice, but there are still people who are really afraid. We are not permitted to ask people if they have been vaccinated in the Netherlands. We opened our doors to let people know that they are allowed to come in. To verify your identity, you will need to scan your code. Just a soft opening. We monitored the people who came in, and the people who didn’t. Because people are our essence, we had a one-on-1 conversation. It is important to have our people. However, it is also crucial to understand their motivations and desires. What are their reasons for not coming in, and what do we need to do to get them in?
So it’s more of a suggestion to come in rather than a requirement. Are there COVID-19 precautions for those that do come in?
We followed the Dutch government’s rules. We follow the Dutch government’s rules. We are telling our employees that if you [mentally] feel unwell, you can come to the office and get help. We’ll help connect you with people, walk with your manager and have coffee before you go. It’s very difficult right now.
We just wanted people to feel at ease. We don’t believe that you should make people come in. We only advise junior staff that they should feel at home in the agency’s atmosphere. We also asked our seniors to tell the junior staff that they should come in and help, coach, and guide them if they have any.
Survey after survey has noted most employees want a flexible work environment. How can you make your employees feel confident at work?
People feel that when they are together, it is easier to express themselves creatively. The building’s purpose will change. It will be a place where you can meet people, have coffee and create. You can do it at home if you have to create a deck or complete an internal assignment. They will, however, come to the office for creativity and connection. It’s not unusual for people to come into the office to collaborate.
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