How to Run an Agency Without an Office

We let our people work anywhere, and you can too

I got a web survey, sent from a friend of mine in the U.K., last week. It explored whether or not agencies are set up to allow their employees to work remotely given current pandemic circumstances. I completed the survey, and while doing it, it got me thinking about how strange a lot of the questions felt to me.

At Volontaire, we've been allowing our employees to work remotely since 2018. I thought it could be useful to share our thoughts on how we make this work, share our framework and the principles we've developed with you, hoping it may offer help to your organization.

OK, here goes, but first a quick backdrop.

In 2018, in connection with our 10-year anniversary, we created a new agency model for ourselves. Consequently, we moved to the internet. Well, not quite, but in principle. We got rid of our big traditional offices and instead got us a smaller hub. A small hub fit for social meetings but not "centralized advertising production." The idea was to start working in a much more decentralized way, the way digitalization has made possible.

The reasons were numerous, but the main one was that the outside world had actually already changed, but our industry, again, had not. Value creation and benefits are found in connected business models, and for us it became obvious that we needed to adapt our company once again.

Volontaire's way of working includes an offer to our employees to work wherever they want and when it suits them. We believe that the job is a task that needs to be solved—not a place to go and spend a certain number of hours. We also believed that we would get an even more dedicated and effective group of employees if we let them solve their life puzzle by working where it suits them.

However, working decentralized takes new tools, new routines and some practice. This is what we have learned so far:

• You have to work in the cloud. No local storage. In our case, we use Dropbox.

• Slack as the prioritized channel for communication. Email is solely used for communication with clients.

• You have to be quick when it comes to feedback and responses. Respect your colleagues' time.

• Information must always be written or documented, and shared.

• You start the day by letting people know where you are and what project you're working on. We have a channel on Slack for this.

• Daily check-in and reporting back to your teams. Again, this is done in Slack.

• You have to be available for team and project meetings (physically or digitally) during office hours. In our case, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• You have to be "bookable" (available) for external physical client-meetings during office hours.

• You have to report into the (cloud-based) time-tracking and invoicing-program.

It's that simple.

OK, the downsides. What are they?

We feared that working decentralized would be bad for "corporate culture," so we installed a few meetings, primarily for cultural and social reasons.

Mondays. We meet on Monday mornings in person, to check in on each other.

Wednesdays. We have a joint lunch together because it is nice. :)

Fridays. After work. Because it is fun.

The Monday meetings are mandatory. The rest are vol·un·ta·ry, like our name. ;)

To make the above possible, you will need to have an existing structural capital, a process your work actually follows, including real structures, information systems etc. When you have this in place, the rest is easy.

We believe we are much more efficient now, feel better about ourselves, are healthier and are giving better recommendations as a result of this freedom. With this model, we've also been able to work closer to our customers, and by working on their home turf, we've gained greater understanding of their organizations and problems. The results are better solutions and more relevant deliveries.

This is our way of managing the changes in the industry and we hope our way of working will inspire other agencies to do the same.

Profile picture for user Patrick Kampmann
Patrick Kampmann
Patrick Kampmann is co-founder and senior strategist at Volontaire in Stockholm.

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