Where do you work? It used to be the simplest question, the icebreaker.
This is a question that is slowly going out of fashion.
Before Covid-19, there was the indie culture led by Gen Z; our terms first. Why engage? I can’t say I blame them. Then the consequences of Covid-19 and “The Great Resignation”.
A generation of employees or potential employees finally stepping forward for a change.
There have always been three factors that governed your career choices as an employee (if you were lucky enough to have a choice).
Who do you work for? It may be the business and the values of that organization, but I think it’s primarily and most motivating the leadership, the mentors, that person you have the privilege of being in the same room with and solving the same problem.
What are you working on? There are those clients who wake you up in the morning and give you the chance to do your best. Often they are synonymous with certain agencies – Nike and Wieden & Kennedy, Ikea and Mother, McDonald’s and Leo Burnett. Or the customers you can make a meaningful difference with, at the forefront of sustainability or equality.
Where do you work? The location. Benefits. The path. Building. Liquors and lunch options. The people and culture around you.
But over the past two years of Covid-19, that last question has diminished to the point of being totally reassessed.
It’s understandable. When your work life was the same as your home life, it all comes down to who you regularly see in the little virtual windows and what fills your brain.
Delete the where, then it’s much simpler. Or it’s a two-legged stool.
But now we have options. There has never been such an employee market.
And where do you work?” is the most important professional question you can ask yourself right now.
I think the issue can be broken down into three components: culture; impact; terms.
You know what it is. The hardest to build. The easiest to lose. What is the culture of where you work?
We all know the strong cultures, the Mothers, the BBHs, the Creatures. A strong culture that can sometimes be a professional gang. This is what makes the agency more than a building full of people. In other cultures, you have to walk with your shoulders back and your eyes wide open. You know the contract you voluntarily enter into: “Come here and you will do the best job of your life. But you’ll sweat for it. As the start of notoriety (one for the Gen Z-ers out there).
Agency culture has arguably been the hardest to define since 2019. Culture happens in the interstices, in the pub, in accidental chats, in ideas upon returning from meetings, in late nights, in the great reviews. It is difficult to build a culture virtually, perhaps even more difficult to maintain a culture virtually.
So now we have a chance, a culture reset, a return to IRL CLTR. A chance to correct what was never quite right and to set new habits. Be proud of the culture in which you work.
The mark you leave on the world. What is the impact of where you work?
It could be the magnitude of the work you do. Where I work we have McDonald’s and BT in the building. It’s the scale. You won’t miss the work we do for them, so we have a duty to live up to the impact we have. BT’s “Hope united” makes us all proud. Having the ability to have that impact is why we roll out of bed or start businesses (in the case of Uncommon and British Airways).
But impact is also the care you leave behind of the work you do. The responsibility we have as an industry should produce the best creative work. My favorite project in the Group at the moment is the work that MSL is doing with Puma on a fully biodegradable sneaker.
Doing good with good work is the creative holy grail, the things that make you most jealous but just want to see them go all the way – the thrills of Kyan Prince or Grenfell Athletic.
So look around you and measure the impact you could have where you work.
Benefits. The soft stuff and the hard stuff. How you work where you work.
A mix of scale, individually tailored seems to work for us.
Strength in numbers brings the best social benefits. I look at our family-friendly policies, our menopause policy, the work we do to make our workplace inclusive, and I haven’t seen anything like it.
A responsibility to realize how you work that works for you and for everyone else. You can change the world from your kitchen table, but it certainly helps talking to others in the real world to arm yourself with ingredients. An agency is a hub. Ideally, with their own pub.
The terms of how and where you work will continue to evolve, no doubt. As long as the conditions are shared, it can only be beneficial for our agencies and our collaborators. People have always come to the agency, now we can meet more than halfway.
So what are you looking for? How and where do you work?
It is a welcome return to the question which is much more than an icebreaker.
Where do you work?
Ben Mooge is Creative Director at Publicis Groupe UK