We recently attended Manchester Publicity Association’s latest Big Debate, where industry experts get together to discuss key issues – this time, the focus was on returning to the office after the pandemic. Christian James, Chair of MPA and MD at The IF Agency, hosted the debate – asking poignant questions about what the future of work could look like now the landscape of work has been so drastically altered in a time of such uncertainty.

Panellists included Dan Sodergren - Co-Founder of YourFLOCK, Andrew Cooke – Stategic Director at Bruntwood Works, who also sponsored the event), Liane Grimshaw - Founder and MD of SupaReal, and Seb Randle – Development Coach at Social Chain.

We wanted to give a summary of the event, tackling the key themes that were discussed and providing the main opinions of the panellists to give a snapshot of what the ‘new normal’ of work is likely to look like.

(Dan, Andrew, Liane, and Seb)


This is an unusual experience for new starters especially – how can we make this easier for them?

Promote Relationship Building

New starters are likely to feel a mixture of anxiety and excitement, Liane suggests. She noted that although there is an individual responsibility for employee wellbeing, new starters can be helped by a open organisational culture that promotes relationship building and facilitates connections.

Use Technology

Dan gave the shocking fact that up to 40% of workers under 25 years old feel lonely working from home! For new starters, just as technology has helped facilitate remote onboarding, it can also help upon the return to the office. By hiring staff specifically to help with HR and culture and providing them with appropriate tech and systems to understand employees on a deeper level, it would be beneficial to everyone. Also – remembering that giving employees incentives to return, just like the hospitality industry is doing, is an important part of the process. They need a certain motivation to return or come into the office for the first time!

People First – Be Vulnerable!

A people first approach is vital, even if that means changing your approach to work due to new data post-pandemic, according to Seb. Flexibility, dynamism, and an open approach is important in making the return to work for both new starters and existing staff an easy transition. Leaders need to be comfortable in showing vulnerability, and being happy to change tact if their original plans aren’t working out. This will help both business goals, and employee wellbeing.

Regular Check-Ins

Andrew again highlights that there is a level of individual responsibility for staff to voice concerns and let businesses know what’s working and what needs improving. Organisations can hold regular check-ins with employees to hear their feedback, and be prepared to innovate and adapt based on their critiques. If businesses are following guidelines and ensuring their offices are as safe as a bar or retail shop, then the return to work can certainly be encouraged – but not pressuring employees who might never have worked in the office before to go from fully remote working to a totally office based scenario is important too.

If you want to read more about recruiting during the pandemic, here at the candidate we have blogs about remote onboarding from a client perspective, how candidates have found the remote onboarding process, and even insights into starting a new role during the pandemic from a new starter.


What are the final summaries from the debate?

Opportunities for Improvement

Dan summarised that although there are high levels of stress and uncertainty surrounding the return to the office, the unique situation we are now in allows for increased diversity, productivity, positivity, and innovation. Remote working doesn’t need to disappear once covid restrictions are a thing of the past, instead businesses need to use technology to gain crucial insights from their employees on what works best for their efficiency, and therefore company performance.

Listen to Yourself

Liane stressed the importance of recognising and validating the aspect of collective trauma and unique experiences that everyone has had throughout the pandemic. We won’t be able to go back to normal instantly, so instead, working on your own internal narrative is key when it comes to preparing yourself for the return to business-as-usual.

Mental Health Comes First

Seb believes that going forward, businesses need to put their employees mental health first. Empowering people to know their own strengths and best ways of working will help both organisations and individuals thrive. By looking inwards and listening, leaders can work out the best practices for their own organisations.

Changing Physical Workspaces

Finally, Andrew suggests that the physical workspace will undoubtably change in the future, and that this is an opportunity to improve offices as well as work-life balance. It’s an opportunity for innovation that can be accessed through open communication with all members of the organisation.


Some amazing insights and perspectives – thank you for hosting this interesting and poignant debate MPA!

Written by Natalie Metcalf, Marketing Assistant.


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