How major PR firms Ogilvy and Weber Shandwick are preparing for the new hybrid workplace

A panel discussion at Insider's Future of Work Event, June 29, 2021, featuring Insider's Tanya Dua, Gail Heimann, CEO of Weber Shandwick, and Devika Bulchandani, North America CEO of Ogilvy.
Insider’s Tanya Dua (L) interviews Gail Heimann (C), CEO of Weber Shandwick, and Devika Bulchandani (R), North America CEO of Ogilvy.

  • Businesses are investing in processes and technologies to manage the new normal.
  • Two CEOs said now is an opportunity to foster inclusion and positive well-being in the workplace.
  • This was part of Insider’s “What’s next: CEOs on How Talent Drives Transformation” presented by ProEdge, a PwC Product.
  • Click here to watch a recording of the full event.

As the US opens up, more and more employees are telling their bosses they want flexible and hybrid working arrangements.

“Three-quarters of our individuals around the world said flexibility is what they want,” Devika Bulchandani, North America CEO of Ogilvy, said.

Bulchandani said that Ogilvy, like many other firms, is also looking at a 3/2 working model and considering other positive changes it can introduce.

“We also shrunk our real-estate footprint because that allows us to reinvest into different areas of the business and reinvest into our people and what they need going forward,” she said.

She added that they’re instituting three compulsory days off per quarter for each employee to manage burnout.

“Just because we did it doesn’t mean we’re going to do it again,” she said. “Things like, do people need to travel to a meeting? Let’s ask ourselves why.”

Bulchandani said that she’s telling her staff to question whether there’s a perspective missing from the room in terms of gender, race, or disability, as well as capability.

“I have a different skillset, would this team do better? And then my question is, ‘Am I just thinking about New York, or should I be thinking about somebody from our Minneapolis office?'” she said.

In a similar vein, Heimann said that the “democratic” and inclusive nature of the virtual world is something her firm is trying to maintain as employees return to work.

Office space, she said, “will be a creative nexus, it will be a collaboration nexus, it will be a team nexus.” As for remote offices, Heimann said that they’re looking at a broad range of technologies that do more than simply combat “Zoom fatigue.”

“I think that the new age is going to be a little more immersive, more gaming-like, and those are the ones we’re testing,” she said. Weber Shandwick also hired a chief workforce innovation officer and a chief impact officer to push leadership toward “transformation that puts inclusion at the heart.”

“We talked to client after client about the need to solve at the intersections and therefore put together agile, cross-functional teams to bring that ability to clients again,” she said.

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How to ask your boss if you can keep working from home as offices reopen

student working from home
There are benefits to working from home, but make sure you don’t just want to escape.

  • As business leaders call teams back to the office, many employees are hesitant to give up WFH.
  • If you want to ask your boss for a flexible work schedule, be clear about how it will benefit you both.
  • Also consider if staying home is really what you want – and what’s best for your career advancement.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The email from your boss that you’ve been dreading has finally landed in your inbox. It’s the message announcing the date everyone in your company is expected to be back in the office full time. So, what’s the problem? You don’t want to go. The past year has shown you that work-from-home life is the life for you. You’ve come to love the freedom and flexibility and you’re convinced you’re now a better employee, too. The question is: How do you convince your boss?

You may be tempted to drop an ultimatum and say, “If you make me go back to the office full time, I’ll quit.” But your company could call your bluff, and if you enjoy your job and you’re paid well, walking away may not be the answer.

So how do you ask your boss for a flexible work schedule without looking like you’re asking for special treatment?

First, remember that you’re not asking for something outlandish.

“I think a lot of leaders know we don’t want to go back, and many corporations have had flexible or hybrid work environments for a long time,” said Kimberly Cummings, founder of the professional development company Manifest Yourself. “So don’t feel like you’re being a diva or asking for too much.”

Read more: 7 things you should do when negotiating a work-from-home agreement with your boss – and 4 things to avoid, according to a negotiations expert and MBA professor

Do your homework

You must lead the conversation about a flexible work schedule with a discussion of what you bring to the table, not just what you want and why you want it.

“The biggest thing that people forget is that you’re negotiating based upon value, not overall desire,” Cummings said. “Think about what you’ve accomplished over the past year. Think about how you’ve proven that you’re able to work remotely.”

Approach the conversation armed with evidence, too.

“Show examples of how your productivity increased and how having a flexible work schedule made you a better worker,” said Martha Underwood, founder of ExecutivEstrogen, a mentorship program for women in corporate America.

Maybe you work in customer service and your flexible schedule allows you more time to research complex issues and give customers a more thorough response to their questions.

The goal is to show your employer how a flexible work schedule would benefit them as much as it helps you.

The work-from-home boom will lift productivity in the US economy by 5%, according to one study. A recent survey by PwC found that 83% of employers say the shift to remote work has been successful for their company.

Underwood says it won’t hurt to present findings like these to your boss, too.

“And so many women have dropped out of the workplace that it benefits employers to allow the flexibility to keep strong women talent in the ranks,” Underwood said.

When asking your boss for a flexible work schedule, clarity is key.

“Give a full proposal about what your schedule will look like,” Cummings said. “Are you looking to never come back or are you looking to only come back when there are important meetings?”

If you’re open to coming back into the office for some meetings, say so.

“Bosses want to have a sense of a team,” Cummings said.

Is working from home the best option for you?

Before talking to your boss about keeping your work-from-home life alive, do some soul searching to be sure it’s the best fit for you.

“Were you OK working remotely? A lot of people were not,” Cummings said. “As a people leader myself, I 100% agree why some leaders want their team to come back. A lot of workers like flexibility, but they took advantage.”

If you were at the bar with your friends before the workday was done – and before your work was complete – you may want to start by proposing a hybrid schedule of working from home just a couple of days per week.

“Offer to do a trial of this for 90 days and then reassess if it works,” Cummings said.

Superstar employees need to also weigh the pros and cons of remote work.

If you have your sights on promotion opportunities or if your job has a relationship-driven company culture, being out of the office all the time could hinder your advancement.

“You have to know the culture of your organization and if it would be beneficial for you to pop your head in sometimes just to make sure they see your face and you have some of that in-person connection,” Cummings said.

There are ways to stand out even when working from home. Ask great questions in virtual meetings. When a meeting is cancelled or ends early, use that time to hop on a call with a leader at your company.

“You have to be proactive and build those relationships,” Cummings said.

Take some time to consider why you truly want to work from home, too. Do you simply enjoy the freedom and flexibility or were you miserable at work?

“Make sure you’re not just trying to escape,” Cummings said. Does your job allow you to work according to your strengths, passions, and skills? If not, it may be time to dust off the resume.

Cummings’ new book, “Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning Into a Career You’ll Love,” is all about helping professionals navigate the world of work.

“It is possible to find a career and a job that you love,” Cummings said. “If you can’t find joy in the day-to-day work you have, working remotely may not solve that.”

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