FleishmanHillard CEO UK and Middle East Jim Donaldson on three things we’ll take from the chaos of the last two years
I was reminded that this week heralds the second anniversary of all of us working from home and moving to a working world that is changed forever. I remember being both anxious about how I could run a business with everyone working remotely, but also being confident that it was only going to be a few weeks – a few months at most – and that we would all be back in the office by the summer. Obviously, that now looks like sheer naivety, but at the time it was what we all thought.
It was a period of real contrasts – some clients cancelled projects in spring 2020 but we then moved to a shortage of resource as work came roaring back in 2021. Other parts of the business never wavered throughout the pandemic and actually boomed, meaning that our people were working harder than ever – and often on their own in home-based environments unsuited to work. We faced down some real low points and thrived.
Fast forward to 2022 and we are met with some very new anxieties, but I think the learnings of the last two years may well help us cope with it all a bit better. We have had the scourge of racism at home and abroad laid bare and discussed properly for the first time. Conversations about mental health are on the table too. Having these issues highlighted and discussed are developments we should all welcome. Resilience, fortitude and adaptability have become watchwords for successful companies and people. I could not be prouder of how FH in the UK has emerged from the last two years. We are a bigger, better and more creative business than ever.
Three things we’ll take from the chaos of the last two years
So, what about now in a post-Covid era? We are starting to come back to an office that will never look like the one we left. Some of our people have moved far away from London. And many have developed a new working rhythm that has finally started to make sense. I think we need to focus on three core principles:
Firstly, the future is truly hybrid, and we must embrace that. So, no “Please come in 2 days a week” type deal. It has been working for two years so let’s not mess with it. The office is there for people to collaborate, but we must allow that to include people not physically there. It should be a joy to come to the office, not a chore.
Secondly, focus on culture. But that also means embracing change and trusting both your people and your instincts. We will offer great opportunities for people to come together and have some fun. We will encourage working in teams, not just in Teams – if you see what I mean. But that won’t define our culture like it used to. It will be part of our culture. We are building a truly UK-orientated business that understands how to connect communities.
Finally, we must make sure that we give people the best career experience of their working lives – and for many, that is about the work they do and who they do it with rather than who they do it for. Respect for each other and allowing people to shine where their strengths lie will be paramount as we look to build on where we have got to. For some, that’s helping our clients forge new pathways in their DE&I comms, inclusive language and representation. For others, that’s helping a client navigate creative ways to reach new audiences across multiple markets. Some will be deepening their expertise honed over many years (for example we have the best cyber crisis team in the business!) and some will be developing new skills with which they are less familiar. Essentially, we want to provide the opportunity and the support to all our people to do the best work of their careers.
We are more ambitious than ever as the post-Covid era starts to unfold. We have learnt so much. I have learnt so much leading an agency through the last two years. That shall not go to waste.
CEO UK and Middle East, Jim Donaldson.