The Future of Work within Advertising

March 30, 2023

The Future of Work in Advertising: Key Takeouts

The World Media Group hosted its latest Smart Briefing this week, a discussion around what the future of work looks like for the advertising industry. Chaired by Spriha Srivastava, UK Bureau Chief & International Executive Editor, Insider, the debate covered many of the issues keeping leaders up at night – from balancing new ways of working to how to attract the next generation of talent.

The panel comprised Ally Owen, Founder of ADcademy and the Brixton Finishing School; Alex Wood – Managing Director, Forbes EMEA; and Jim Brown, Founder and Head Coach, Ground + Air. It was clear from the discussion that while some of the new ways of working implemented during the pandemic have had a positive impact on the workforce, there is still work to be done around flexibility, diversity and career development. Here are some of the highlights from the panellists’ conversation. You can watch the full discussion HERE.

The legacy of working from home

The pandemic proved to even the most cynical managers that employees could get just as much done working from home, if not more. Fewer people are now willing to be tied to a 9-5 in-office role, five days a week.

“When we’re hiring for roles and when I’m interviewing candidates,’ Spriha Srivastava noted, “the first question is, ‘How flexible are you?’ People are just no longer willing to go into an office – not five days a week and sometimes not at all.” Brixton Finishing School’s Ally Owen has reaped the benefits of this change in thinking. “We’ve mopped up amazing talent by being flexible,” she said.

Virtual onboarding needs improving

There is a downside though. One of the issues is that we’re not yet good enough at onboarding emerging talent virtually. Jim Brown believes that leaders and managers need to dedicate time to “genuinely contracting with a new member of staff.”

This goes beyond the onboarding process and needs to be specific to the individual: “It’s that personal contract you agree with someone. It’s says: what do you need from me in order to flourish here? Let’s really understand each other. This is what I need from you,” he says. “Be authentic, unapologetic and clear about that, and then manage it through from the day they start”.

The benefits to business

The productivity of the remote workforce does not appear to be an issue. The pandemic was a period of growth for Forbes, and Alex Wood’s team’s productivity didn’t suffer. As an international team, Forbes supported them in travelling back to their home to see their families when they could, and that flexibility has become the norm.

“One of my team members I affectionately refer to as our Madrid correspondent because she just loves Madrid and she likes to work from there,” said Wood. “And why the hell not? This has been really positive for her wellbeing.” By giving people flexibility on the personal side, the business is seeing its own benefits. Team members who choose to spend most of their time in France can meet up with clients who are based there, for example.

Attracting a more diverse workforce

For Owen, the ability to offer a flexible work schedule has allowed her to attract some incredibly talented woman to her team, particularly senior women who, because of family or carer responsibilities, may have been excluded by traditional work structures.

Gender stereotyping still an issue

Nonetheless, gender stereotyping is still apparent. Srivastava moderated a few panels during her maternity leave and was often asked who was looking after her baby. “When I said his dad, there was shock on people’s faces. I’d ask, why are you so shocked? If his dad travelled to work, would you ask him who’s taking care of the baby?” This assumption that the mum is the primary caregiver still exists.

Wood has come across similar issues as a same sex parent. “In a work context, people like to put you in a box,” he said, “A lot of people asked which one of us was going to stay at home.” In fact, Wood and his husband were able to share most of their parental leave, but this is rare. He believes the media industry should be taking the lead on this issue.

How to stay creative

One of the things that Srivastava said she struggled with during isolation was creativity. “When I feel like I’m not able to put my mind into creative ideas, I go for a walk, take a paper and a pen, step away from my laptop, write down notes, and then come back,” she said. The panel had a few of their own hacks to get the creativity flowing.

For Owen, who has an ADHD diagnosis, it’s about leaning into her natural rhythms. “I get up really early and I tend do the creative and the big thinking stuff between 6 and 9am,” she said.

Wood is using the ‘time boxing’ method, blocking out time in his calendar for every single task. He finds Zoom meetings “a suck of your energy” so limits them to two hours and then does something physical.

Find your flow

Brown referenced the science behind Flow, and the Flow Cycle. He describes Flow as that ultimate sense of engagement. “We all know what it feels like when we’re in the zone with something. We’re really focused; the task is at the outer reaches of your capabilities, maybe a bit beyond. Time may stand still, or go really quickly – everything is clicking.”

He says to get into the optimal creative zone, you have to pass through the Flow Cycle, and you can’t short-cut it. The first part of the cycle is Struggle – trying to get into whatever it is you’re doing. “That’s the bit when you’re most likely to check your email or push yourself off-task,” Brown said. It typically takes 12 minutes to go from the Struggle stage to the next phase, Release, before you can get into Flow.

“The Release stage may involve going for a walk or getting your head out of the situation by doing something else before getting into your Flow,” he explained. Taking your mind off the problem is almost always the solution to the problem. “It gives our brain the opportunity to pass learning from conscious to the subconscious mind”. “Then you can get into Flow, always followed by Rest & Recovery (the final part of the cycle)”.

The future of work

The final question for the panel was about what the workplace may look like in 5-10 years’ time. Owen thinks there’s going to be a schism. Employers that are flexible, inclusive and optimise talent will become “like beacons that people want to work at.

“They’ll attract the best people with disabilities; the best people who are older. They’ll get the best talent because they are open to all talent. And then you’ll have employers who want to do things the traditional way – they won’t be optimising talent and they’ll be getting the same people they’ve always got,” she said.

Brown thinks we are going to see a workforce spanning four generations and all the arguments and opportunities that creates. He thinks that despite the post-lockdown enthusiasm for flexible working, it’s going to be a rocky road.

“Everybody can see the opportunities flexible working brings and they know how to navigate that with more measurability around outcomes,” he said. “The problem is that as soon as we realise we can squeeze five days into four, greedy business owners will wonder what they could do if they had five days a week and I think the yo-yo between these two states will continue.”

Nonetheless, our panellists agreed that the flexibility we now enjoy is making for a more successful workplace – for both employees and employers. For more insights into the future of work in advertising, watch the full discussion HERE.