Publicis Groupe plots return to the office, with help from Marcel

The holding company is reimagining what getting back to work will look like.

There’s a lot of talk about returning to the office as it was, but Publicis Groupe – owner of PR agencies MSL and Kekst CNC – is fully reimagining the workplace. 

The holding company hasn’t yet set a formal date for reopening its offices — that will depend on local vaccination rates in each market where it operates. But it’s planning for a hybrid working model powered by its digital platform, Marcel. 

“There has to be a symbiotic relationship between the home and office experiences, with Marcel being the connectivity between the two,” explained Carla Serrano, chief strategy officer at Publicis Groupe and CEO of Publicis NY.  

As employees begin to return to the office, Publicis will need to put certain restrictions in place, such as limiting the number of people who can be inside at a given time. Certain disciplines, such as creative or innovation, will need to be in-person more than others, and different account teams will need to meet in person on given days, based on client demands. 

To navigate what could turn into a logistical headache, Publicis Groupe will use Marcel, the AI-powered platform it launched in 2017, to power the ability to check in and out of the office, book a conference room or check-in on a work from home day, as well as adhere to local guidelines around COVID-19.  

“We can't do a one-size-fits-all in terms of how this works,” Serrano said. “The levers will be slightly different depending on the agency you work with, the accounts you work on and the discipline you are part of.” 

But Marcel won’t be running the entire show. Behind the scenes will be a team of logistics officers managing office capacity. The goal is to ensure there’s flexibility, so that people who may not be scheduled to work at the office can decide if they want to come in, and vice versa.  

To determine who comes into the office and when, Publicis believes work such as as writing copy or creating PowerPoints, or checking in for daily meetings, can be done at home; but brainstorming, client meetings and team building will benefit from being done at the office, explained Dan Murray, CEO of Marcel.  

Being in the office will also be important for integrated “Power of One” teams, which Publicis is increasingly building on behalf of global accounts.  

“For moments when integration can create better quality thinking and solutions, it’s going to be important to be in the office,” Serrano added.   

Marcel’s evolution 

When Marcel launched with much fanfare in 2017, remote work wasn’t even a consideration. 

Fast-forward to today, and Marcel has iterated from a connection platform to a system that has helped Publicis solve for the constraints of the pandemic and the challenges of working from home. Publicis claims Marcel saved 2,500 jobs last year by shifting employees to different accounts based on spending shifts during the pandemic.  

“We pivoted the Marcel platform to make sure it was focused on saving jobs and having employees work on things together,” Serrano said. 

When Marcel launched, the industry was skeptical about whether employees would use such a platform. But according to Publicis, 72,000 employees have set up profiles on the platform, with 45,000 of them logging in weekly, thanks to Marcel’s renewed relevance in a remote-first world. 

Now, Marcel is pivoting again. In addition to managing logistics, Marcel will keep employees connected while they work from home through communities and employee resources groups at the local, agency and client level on the platform. Marcel also has a live streaming functionality and will offer learning and development courses around office safety required by certain markets and locations. 

But as staff are asked to track their whereabouts through Marcel, questions arise about employee privacy. In order to successfully manage logistics, Marcel will need to track when people check in and out of the office, which conference rooms and seats they book and when people decide to take work from home days. 

Employees are not required to create a profile on Marcel and can decide how much information they want to share, Serrano said. Employee identities on the platform are also 100% obscured and anonymized so activity can’t be tracked back to a specific person.

“Our foundations are very much about opting-in, but we want to give people a more personalized experience if we can,” Serrano said.

A version of this article first appeared on PRWeek sister title Campaign

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