I’ve run a remote workforce for four years and this is what I’ve learned, by Jon Williams of Liberty Guild

Last week, the 9-5 job as we know it died in Silicon Valley. When Salesforce announced that pretty much everyone and anyone can work from anywhere, forever, it became clear that there’s no ‘going back’ to normal. Get your coat as you leave.

Don’t forget this is hot on the heels of similar fin de siècle shifts in the fabric of our working life from Facebook, Microsoft et al. This is huge. This is change. And this is not just about the future of San Francisco, it’s about the future of work. And by default, Madison Avenue.

Yes. Because for advertising – these days sadly following a path rather than blazing a trail – change is also inevitable. Always throwing side eyes at its cooler cousin on the west coast, it will soon follow suit. Let’s face it, we’re all competing for the same ‘creative minds,’ and that talent wants to ‘work from anywhere’ now.

Agencies need to get their head around this. They need to lose their institutional muscle memory. That deep congenital resistance to change. Flexibility and human values just became so much more business critical.

At Liberty Guild, we’ve been building a remote creative workforce for four years. A globally distributed 300 strong creative business with elite talent in 27 different countries. No buildings, no baristas or bean bags. So while Maddison wrestles with whether to go 3/2 or 2/3 days in/out. Here are some observations from the last few years for those, like Silicon Valley, who are about to go 0/5.

Our entire way of working, is based around the distributed lifestyles of our members – we’ve stripped out all the stress of working for a network behemoth.

We aim to give the talent what they need to be the best version of themselves. A place where HR as a function has been recalibrated to look after the people, not the P&L.

As well as providing a ‘pay-well, pay early’ revenue stream for our growing tribe of ‘independents,’ we know that high-performance talent needs specific practical support. That support falls into four pillars: professional development, wellness, financial services and legal services. It spans a gamut of needs. We’ve only just started to cater for this. But we know it’s becoming a thing.

It’s not about working from home, it’s about what we call ‘working from anywhere’. The virus has accelerated the move out of town for those who have a choice. You can find them in the north of Scotland, the west coast of France, a beach in Indonesia, Crouch End, Goa, wherever they damn well want to, in a way that couldn’t happen just five years ago.

And when we return to the cities, because in some form we will, we know we don’t need an office with 20 floors of desks. But we do need human contact. So the office becomes a community hub, a drop-in centre, a space for reconnection. Decompression from isolation. Areas where people can co-create: edit suites, maker labs, podcasting studios.

Then almost by default you deliver collective ownership of the means of production…Marx would be so proud. Oh, and you also need a crèche on the ground floor, because returning mums and dads are key to this brave new world. And you need a decent café not just a single token hipster barista. Because the best conversations happen over food. And right now, what we need more than anything, is conversation.

Jon Williams is CEO and founder of The Liberty Guild. He was chief creative officer of Grey Europe from 2010 to 2017.

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