As more and more people were actively getting vaccinated and the number of Covid positive cases were dropping, advertising agencies were gearing up to get back to offices. Many agencies had started to follow a hybrid model where employees were required to report to offices once or twice a week.
However, the rising number of Omicron variant cases of Covid has come as a new concern for people, and the advertising industry might have to wait a little more until agencies can resume the work from office mode.
Saurabh Varma, Founder, and CEO at Wondrlab India, said they are in a wait and watch mode as far as reopening offices is concerned. He added that, for the time being, they have let the employees decide the frequency with which they want to come to office.
“Over the last month and a half, we have noticed that more and more talent has started to come to the office. However, now we are telling them they can’t come to office more than twice a week, therefore, creating a couple of bubbles. So that even if they do want to come to office, they will remain in those bubbles,” Varma said.
Azazul Haque, Chief Creative Officer, Mullen Lintas, said they were mostly working from home, post-pandemic, and were getting into discussions on how to reopen offices but post-Omicron news everyone has been in the mood to wait.
“Though all the employees are now fully vaccinated, we need to see how the world responds to this new variant. Soon we will take a call regarding going to office for work,” Haque said.
He stated agencies need to decide the way forward as work from home has been effective but physical meetings too are important. “Most of the other businesses have started working with total occupancy but agencies haven't started because of the nature of the business. I have started travelling for shoots and a few physical meetings with clients.”
However, Nagessh Pannswami, Director, Curry Nation, said the work from home decision has fared well for them. He said they are happy that they are not exposing employees to any risk, and the productivity and happiness quotient has shot up since WFH started.
“For us, WFH will continue to be the first choice. We do not wish to put at risk our Curry Nation family. The virus is here to stay for a few years. And there will be these sporadic bursts that will create chaos. We will try and insulate our team by avoiding public transportation or stepping out for unwanted work,” he added.
Mukund Olety, Chief Creative Officer, VMLY&R, said their offices are open for those who want to come but they are keeping a close watch on the situation. He said international travel anywhere in the network is still by exception. All international travel needs to be pre-approved by your global CFO and they are following WPPs guidelines.
“As government advice is updated, we will of course be prepared to respond to any new guidance and to make changes to the above, at a very short notice if required,” he said.
Manish Bhatt, Founder-Director, Scarecrow M&C Saatchi, said they intended to resume work from office from January, but now will wait to find out how the Omicron situation pans out. He said it is important to be watchful of how cases could explode, especially after the festive season.
“We were speculating that 90% of people will be vaccinated by December. We delayed going back to the office as much as we could and were preparing for it. A few team members had started going to office on and off. However, most of us are still working from home.”
According to Bhatt, while most agencies had started calling employees on a rotational basis there is no clarity on how that prevents infection. He said even if one person gets infected the entire progress will come to a standstill again.
“Two of our clients had started their offices but had to shut down because they found a Covid case. Before Omicron, most agencies had opened up but this thing has been a small hurdle. It all depends on how the situation pans out because until a week ago there were no cases and today cases are in two digits. We need to understand this.”
Will the hybrid model be the first choice of agencies now?
While many employees have grown comfortable with working from home, leaders say the hybrid model might be the future till absolute normalcy returns.
Rajesh Ramaswamy, Founder of The Script Room, said although they are currently working from office on alternate days, there is no compulsion on anyone for coming to office. He explained that while many agencies are providing options to employees, offices will open up fully only when the situation becomes clear and risk-free.
He explained that many employees had gone back to their hometowns when the pandemic started, and when they return to cities, they will have to figure out rents, among other things. He said people will only return when the situation is certain.
However, Haque stated that variants will remain a reality for some time so agencies need to figure out how to function, adding that most agencies will continue to opt for a hybrid model.
Olety said that his personal belief was that the hybrid working model is probably here to stay. It's an evolution of sorts to an industrial era definition of work space.