What are 77% of us looking forward to most?

There’ll be no in-person NAB New York this October. That news doesn’t in itself sadden me. But what does leave me feeling low is the sure knowledge I won’t be in New York this fall.

For the last two Octobers, I have hosted a DPP executive dinner in Manhattan, enabled by our friends at Mindtree. I’ve also used the trip to have numerous work meetings with industry colleagues, to visit new facilities, to enjoy evenings in Soho House, and to go for early morning runs along the New York High Line.

I’ve felt incredibly lucky to have a job that brings so much variety, texture and stimulus - though I worried my carbon offset couldn’t entirely greenwash my long-haul flight away.

Well, I needn’t have that worry this October. I won’t be going anywhere - not even from my home in the north of England to our office in London. And that makes me very sad indeed.

It turns out I’m not alone. The DPP, in partnership with member company Signiant, has been surveying industry colleagues about life in lockdown. We began the research as we all headed home at the end of March this year, and the work will complete with a final report published in July.

Overall our research to date has found an industry that’s been remarkably resilient, adjusting quickly to the challenge of remote working, and staying positive about how to build on the experience. But people have also been honest about the downsides – such as their rollercoaster emotions (reported in DPP and Signiant blogs in April); the challenge to creativity and collaboration; and the difficulty of generating new business (all discussed in our interim report in May).

And now the findings from our third monthly survey reveal just how much we are missing one another. We asked what people felt would be the most positive aspects of a return to the office, and a whopping 77% reported the opportunity to see colleagues and be sociable.

Us non-New Yorkers won’t be running the High Line this fall

Us non-New Yorkers won’t be running the High Line this fall

Interestingly, despite the fact that 97% of people report their emotional state during lockdown as either ‘great’, ‘OK’ or ‘hanging in there’, 33% of people also report they are looking forward to being back in the office because they are not enjoying working from home.

Now, it’s important to point out that having no choice but to work from home every single day is a very different thing from flexible working, which enables people to work from home when it suits them. Three months of being out of the office has shown people some of the upsides of remote working rather than converting them to being a permanent home worker. Almost 70% of respondents report that new ways of working have been one of the positives to take from the pandemic; and 80% believe their company will have more flexible working in the future.

So, as people gain the opportunity to return to the office, they are keen to combine the positives they’ve found when forced to work away from it, with the enjoyment they’ll get from seeing their colleagues.

All’s well that ends well?

Not entirely. If one of the joys of working in this business is the varied texture of our working lives, the next 12 months are looking altogether more drab, as our companies are obliged to cut according to their cloth. Half of those surveyed believe budgets will be tighter over the next year; 70% predict less domestic travel; 84% predict less foreign travel; 67% believe there will be less attendance at industry events abroad; and even 48% predict lower attendance at events at home.

Perhaps it’s no wonder so many DPP member companies are expressing concern about how they will share their new products and ideas; how they will know what is new; and how they will maintain and build the networks that help them find new business opportunities and stay informed.

That’s why we’ve created our online DPP Innovation Week, taking place 1-4 September, and our ground breaking Design for Tomorrow project, delivering six reports and online events between August and November. They will both generate encounters and ideas that will give us back some of that texture.

But, let’s be honest, nothing would beat going for a beer together afterwards.

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