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Introducing Ad Age's Office Hours newsletter, tracking the transforming workplace

Are outdoor spaces the new grand lobbies?

For our first edition, I chatted with David DeMuth, CEO of Detroit-based agency Doner, about the future of agency business practices. Doner is in an interesting position as it thinks about re-opening its doors to employees. The lease on its 110,000 square-foot building in Michigan is up at the end of the year, giving DeMuth the opportunity to consider how agencies will work in a post-pandemic world.

“If you walk into our building today, you walk into an enormous lobby with a giant staircase to the second floor,” he says. “It is impressive, and big, and a statement.” While DeMuth thinks employees will want to work in a cool space that is comfortable and modern, he doesn’t think you will see the big-statement lobby in the future. “It will feel a little frivolous,” he says. For a new office space, DeMuth is considering those that have outdoor spaces and feel more like a campus.

Doner currently plans to have employees begin returning to the office in stages after Labor Day, but DeMuth says that will be contingent on several factors, including schools opening.

“I’m not going to ask anyone to do something they are uncomfortable doing,” he says. “There’s going to come a day soon when clients are going to want to meet in person. There are people who are going to be comfortable doing that and those that aren’t, and we aren’t going to judge either way.”

DeMuth says he is still a big believer of connecting in person and he points to younger employees who might live in smaller apartments who miss the office the most. “I like to walk around the office; I like to poke my head in on people and look at the work. I miss that a lot and sometimes I feel a little disconnected because of that.”

At the same time, DeMuth says working from home has allowed people to structure their work day around their personal life, which in many cases include their kids’ schedules. This is something he expects will continue even after people return to the office.

DeMuth is currently thinking about how to train new employees and entry-level employees remotely. “It will be really important to make them feel part of the organization.” And as people work more from home, he says, “What is the new professionalism?”

Doner has tapped a series of software tools to help with onboarding new clients and facilitate strategic work sessions in a way that feels like you are sitting around a table in person. “In the pursuit of new business I think those things will be differentiators to clients.”