How did we Solve the Problem of Hybrid Working?

Since the pandemic, the debate over productivity and effectiveness has been weighed in on from all sides... but are employees and leaders really listening to one another?

Published: Jul 5, 2023  |  

CEO of Armadillo, an independent CRM agency


Right now, there are two fundamental truths when it comes to getting people back into the office:

Firstly, creative businesses in particular need to have people in the same space, working collaboratively and solving problems together. Secondly, the world of work has changed and people have different needs and priorities now. Individually and collectively, we are all looking for something that diverges from the traditional office.

But agencies are still struggling to crack the code—I’ve spoken to plenty of leaders and industry insiders and asked: What does the perfect office space look like? And how do we get people to want to be there?

How did we get here?

Like many others, at Armadillo we let go of the lease on our office during the first kick of the pandemic. We worked from home, then relocated to temporary spaces that could bring some of us together part of the time. 

Ultimately, we saw that collaboration, our culture, and our ability to care for and develop our staff were all suffering. We needed to be together. 

As a sports fan, the metaphor that best explains this for me comes from Adam Grant: We need an environment that works for “high jumps, relays, and team sports”. When an employee is working on a task individually, that’s the high jump. Relays are those tasks where one person completes their element, then hands it off to the next person. And team sports are obviously those times we all come together.

We, as an industry, have to recognize that each of these activities requires different things, flexible ways of working, and new structures. 

How do we get there?

There was no sense in trying to retrofit the old styles of working.  We decided to start from the ground up. A new office, with a custom fit-out based on how things are now and how they can evolve. 

We all know that the “return to the office” rhetoric can cause concern, frustration, and disengagement among employees, not only in our industry but everywhere. So, we went straight to the source and consulted our people, gathering their insights, needs, wants, and thoughts about what the office of today should look like. 

Our Chairman, Chris Thurling, arranged one-on-one interviews with all staff, making sure that every voice was heard, not just the loudest. I consulted with agency heads, seniors, and contacts from my role as IPA City Head to gather their thoughts. 

With this research firmly at the forefront, we designed both a new office and a new hybrid working model. The office has room for collaboration and creativity, centering the essential elements of the Armadillo model, as well as quiet areas for reflection and focus. High jumps, relays, and team sports are all catered for in the space. 

Hybrid is causing headaches—we’ve turned it into an advantage

Many agencies are finding it difficult to recapture the energy, vibrancy, and vibe of earlier times. Hybrid models with complete flexibility aren’t getting the right people in the right space at the same time. 

At Armadillo, we’ve opted for a fixed-hybrid approach, with mandated days in the office to get everyone together. The remaining days are flexible, with employees asked to consider their work and make the choice of home or office based on whether their day is more ‘high jump’ or ‘relay’. 

Our hybrid approach is a “nice non-negotiable” rather than a messy compromise. We didn’t shy away from having fixed, required office days, instead making sure the office environment is as conducive and welcoming as possible—the research and consultation stage was critical to making this successful. 

Culture, Collaboration, Care

As part of bringing back the culture and feel of a creative agency, we’ve created a sense of community during office days, with lunch provided and an open kitchen area to foster connection. Our library is in a separate “wing”, allowing those who need quiet focus to meet those needs while still being part of the action. 

As we’ve found, involving employees in the research and design process, as well as the creation of the hybrid working model, can mitigate some of the office-reluctance many agencies are facing. It allows you to gain valuable insight into needs, preferences, and work styles. And, ultimately, it enables you to create a workspace and policy that sets both the employee and the business up for success. 

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