What future for the marketing consultancy office?

What future for the marketing consultancy office?

With Unilever about to test a four-day working week in New Zealand and a UK covid-19 vaccination programme rolling out, the world of work is in upheaval. Next year, a fundamental question faces companies: do we need our office space?

For marketing consultancy managers, faced with expensive floor space they may no longer need, the options are complex. An office is a hefty overhead but it also makes collaboration easier. So will the office be nothing more than an unnecessary cost or will it, given how some have struggled with home working, make a welcome return?

The lease that won’t release

Kent-based marketing agency Realia signed a five-year lease on a new office in Folkestone just two weeks before the lockdown.

Paul Williamson, Managing Director of Realia Marketing, says, “Right now, the office is just a cost. I honestly don’t know what we will do because we’re locked in.

“But my sense is that we still need a home. If nothing else, it gives people a place to come back to and some ‘family time’.”

Paul expects the office to be “nothing like it was in February 2020” next year as the vaccines roll out. He will leave the decision of home-versus-office-working to individual employees.

Paul Williamson

“I imagine creative and account teams will come back together; or it might be we come in for birthdays or once a month. I’m much more focused on quality of output. They’ve been so productive during the lockdown and I don’t want to stop my team from being so brilliant,” he says.

He also points out that some consultancy employees lack ideal working environments at home. Ultimately, he expects the decision will come down to where individuals feel most productive and that the office will become “a much more emotionally intelligent workplace” as new ways of working evolve.

For the next five years, Realia will aim to make the office a “home from home” where the team can maintain its culture, though how much more than that remains to be seen.

Cost avoidance with a blended model

Two weeks before the March lockdown, London and Kent-based agency Ginger May PR had plans to secure a larger office in Tunbridge Wells, where 70% of its staff are based.

But Ginger May PR Founder and CEO Victoria Usher says that a flexible approach to work, even with a larger headcount, will mean the agency can avoid the cost of an office move and will instead sign a five-year lease on its existing office before Christmas.

“We’re about to embark on a big recruitment drive next year. Before the lockdown, we operated a four-to-one model where people came into the office four days a week. We’ll introduce a blended model of three-to-two, four-to-one and even five-to-zero,” says Victoria.

On her current estimate, the team headcount will expand by 25% next year, but with only 40% of staff in the office at one time, the existing space should suffice.

She says the experience of home working evolved over the course of the pandemic, as revealed by the agency’s constant “temperature check” surveys of its staff.

Victoria Usher

“You could see the scales falling from people’s eyes during the first lockdown when they realised: ‘I can actually do my job from home’. But Q3 changed that. It all became a bit jaded and home working was not seen as such a bright, shiny thing. I’d be happy to work from home as I have young children and it’s convenient. But others have found it not so creative and isolating,” she says.

“An office is expensive but it’s incredibly valuable when you have a diverse workforce,” she says.

‘Location agnostic’ agencies

So can a marketing consultancy function without an office? Very few have ever tried it. But for Tyto PR, it is the norm.

Launched three years ago by Co-Founder and Managing Partner Brendon Craigie, Tyto has a team of 30 spread across Europe. The only time the team spends together is in temporary offices in different European cities.

“We travel with purpose,” says Brendon, “to either spend time with clients or to work together. We all fly in and stay in the same hotel and we do that several times a year.”

The team is senior and experienced so each person has a home working facility. That deals with the workspace hurdle. But the biggest fear facing most agencies contemplating such an arrangement would be a drop in creativity. Tyto dismisses that view.

Brendon says, “A lot of people believe ideas happen in a room full of people but the research shows ideas don’t arrive like that.”

Brendon Craigie

Instead, the team uses ‘creative sprints’. They come together for discussions but then separate for half a day, write down their thoughts, and bring them back for development.

“This allows introverts and extroverts time to think and present their ideas and without the extrovert loud mouths talking over the quieter team members,” he says.

Brendon believes that with the new approach to working, agencies should be wary of splitting teams between office or home working as this creates silos.

He cautions, “That can be very divisive. It only takes one update not to be shared and you create clusters of knowledge and clusters of ignorance.”

Instead, he believes offices will have a role in consultancy life as drop-in places for staff and clients. After all, losing the office could also have lots of advantages. He says, “Offices need cleaning and looking after. With on-demand offices, you can focus on your core business. Our core business is communications, not maintaining office space.”