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Reopening for Invisible Workers



The VIA Agency's Moya Fry reflects on impacting factors on return on the office or being and 'invisible worker'

Reopening for Invisible Workers

Moya Fry is a lead Client Strategist at The VIA Agency, a full-service advertising and marketing agency based in Portland, Maine, where she works with clients including Arm and Hammer, Unilever and L.L.Bean.


While everyone else is figuring out social distancing in elevators and catered lunches, the real winners in reopening are going to be the agencies that embrace a flexible workforce and performance structure, not just a sanitised one. 

In a typical office environment, it’s easy to see people burning the midnight oil and reward them for their dedication. Before quarantine, we were getting better at recognising quality of work over quantity, but quantity is still hard to ignore because it’s often so much more visible in an office. And that’s the problem. Visibility.

When offices reopen, some people will need to remain invisible. Whether due to preferred working styles, health concerns or more complex home structures like caring for a child or a parent are all factors that could be preventing your return to visibility.

So, what happens when we reopen and you’re one of the invisible ones who can’t (or won’t) return to your desk? As managers, what do we do when hard work remains invisible? When it happens during the wee hours, or looks on paper like contributing only 50% of our pre-Covid-19 productivity?

In order to continue at the pace of ‘business as usual’ and meet client deadlines and competitive pressures, we must make adjustments. Perhaps we’ll need to shift work and rebalance teams based on bandwidth, or mandate processes to eliminate the discrepancy in communication between those in person and those at home.

The idea of reopening has some experts worried that a massive setback will occur for gender equality and women in the workplace. Women make up 47% of the workforce but often double as the default caregivers for young children and aging parents. A recent United Nations study warned that Covid-19 could reverse decades of progress concerning gender equality. Can we risk invisibility for almost half of our workforce?  

When it comes time for reviews and promotions, it will be hard to reconcile the difference in performance based on traditional ‘visible’ standards, especially if those who were granted more work showed up and excelled and, therefore, should be recognised while some didn’t or couldn’t through no fault of their own.  While we are still a long way from being truly ‘post’ Covid-19, there are a few things we can start doing now to prepare for the risk of invisibility of our workforce:

  • Continue open and honest conversations around expectations. By not shying away from difficult conversations, we can effectively build a more equitable working environment.

  • Align teams with clients who have similar structures. Our clients are in the same boat as we are, juggling the same issues. We can assign teams that are 'on' at the same times to be visible during the same hours.

  • Reevaluate compensation, recognition and bonus structures to be flexible to cover and encourage the different makeup of employees returning to the office. 

I am lucky to work at an employee-owned company, already comfortable shaking up the traditional agency models. During quarantine, our leadership quickly set up recurring meetings and sought out the opinions of employees to better craft reopening plans.

As an industry, we have been flirting with a flexible work structure for years. In fact, some companies, such as WordPress, parent company Automattic, have made working from home even more profitable and productive, while others have announced no plans to return until 2021. Eventually, we will return to our desks and resume office life but in the meantime, we must prioritise realigning goals and expectations of our employees, not hand sanitiser.

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VIA, Thu, 09 Jul 2020 13:25:07 GMT