Philip A Nardone
Philip A. Nardone

Our culture was built on in-office collaboration, open floor plans, in-person celebrations and frequent hallway chats since the beginning. What we’ve learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, however, is that our culture is really grounded in our people vs. any particular place.

I am excited to take our guiding principle of “people-first” and lead the evolution of our workforce model from a 100 percent in-office workforce to a HyFlex model. In addition to planning the logistics for a safe re-opening of all our offices this fall, we are creating a “virtual office” for our employees who wish to remain 100 percent remote, as well as those who are fully embracing flex schedules.

It’s been a long time coming. We’re all anxious to bring people back together. Our team has created plans, pushed back timetables, and revised plans again and again. Now we’ve set a return date of September 7—the day after Labor Day—and, if things stay on their current course, it looks like our offices will finally be able to reopen.

Which brings us back to logistics. Leaders of integrated marketing firms like ours are still trying to hammer out the final details for how our respective returns to the office are going to work. We all know what we need to do at a high level: Ensure our workplaces are safe; get back to the beehive level of collaboration our industry is known for; let employees work where they want to; and, make sure everybody feels connected regardless of where they work.

How do we do it right? We must build a comprehensive plan and include all leaders in the organization to help develop the right set of practices, policies and communication strategies. We also must solicit input from our employees to ensure we know what their ideal employee experience would look like in a HyFlex model.

Staying laser-focused on the employee experience is key. Whether your employee is 100 percent in-office, 100 percent virtual or a combination of the two, you deserve a best-in-class experience. During the pandemic we were all working from home. The means of communication was the same for everyone. We quickly took all that we knew and recreated it virtually. Our internal team and client meetings, our individual touch base meetings, our socials all moved to a virtual experience. We were fortunate our jobs allowed for success in this type of environment. Come September, these work arrangements will shift yet again. While we are encouraging our employees to choose what works best for them, we cannot assume it will all just fall into place.

The HyFlex model we developed takes a pair of root concepts and blends them together—a hybrid approach and layer of flexibility. Here’s how it will work:

Decide Where You Want to Be – and When

While there’s a certain amount of support in the industry for structured firm-wide schedules—Monday and Friday work-from-home; the other three days in the office—we are giving employees a choice. They can work 100 percent virtual, 100 percent in the office, or some combination in between. Our employees will decide how many days they want to be in the office and which days. If that schedule needs to change, then they are free to do so. The pandemic revealed we could all be successful from home. Now we can all decide how much office life and how much home life works best for us. We have always been a “people-first” organization, so our employees will be empowered to make the choices that work best for them.

Plug Into a Community, Wherever You Are

Virtual work is here, and it will be a factor for most of us going forward. During the initial waves of the pandemic, our firm decided to recruit talented employees in regions where PAN doesn’t have physical office space. The one thing we need to guard against is creating an environment where virtual workers don’t feel fully connected with the rest of the staff. We are building a Virtual Community with a dedicated leader focused on their virtual experience, so employees with similar set ups have the opportunity to bond together. To create a successful plan, we are engaging our virtual staff to help build it.

Next Steps for Leaders: Ask yourself the right questions

Are your people managers ready?

We cannot assume our managers know how to be successful in a HyFlex model. We must be deliberate in our communication strategies and our rules of engagement. We must lean on external experts to help teach our people managers how to excel while managing dispersed teams. They need new tools in their tool kit.

Do you have the right IT infrastructure?

In addition to learning new management skills, we need to shine a spotlight on our collaboration tools and IT infrastructure. Having the right platforms, standards and protocols will not only ease the transition but could be the key to achieving that ultimate connection for all our employees. We will tap into our employees to assess our current resources and ensure we are providing best-in-class collaboration tools to make communication easier and more efficient.

As our industry is aware, the demand for skilled marketers and PR pros has reached an all-time high. Our success depends on creating a workforce model that empowers our employees to make the choices that work best for them. Together, we must identify clear rules of engagement, provide best-in-class collaboration tools and continue to pair workers with true dedicated career coaches who help ensure the best employee experience we can provide. At the end of the day, happy employees deliver exceptional client service! We, as leaders, will need to focus on ways to evolve our workforce models to attract, develop and retain our top talent. I am thrilled to embrace this evolution while staying grounded on what has made our culture vibrant and strong. That is, our people, not our places.

We have our summer assignments. Time to get busy.


Philip A. Nardone is president and CEO of PAN Communications.