The question many people are asking right now is, “what is the role of an office?” This question feels urgent and recent but reality is that the advertising community (at least) has been wondering the same thing for over 20 years, when Jay Chiat created what was then called “the virtual office.”
In 2000 Chiat partnered with futurist designer Gaetano Pesce to create a more collaborative open workspace at Chiat Day’s flagship location in Venice Beach. This groundbreaking new space was built in response to the tech revolution. It was the first ever open-space workplace, that eliminated cubicles and individual offices. Employees would enter the space, leave their personal belongings in lockers and check out a phone and laptop for the day. They could work wherever they wanted on couches and on tables in open-space cafes. It felt like the dawn of a new era.
Ultimately, the experiment failed miserably. Many of the team members felt that the open space was too much of a distraction and didn’t allow for a fluid creative process. Additionally, most employees began carving out “owned” spaces that were defined by the personal and professional items that they permanently kept in those areas. This innovative and futuristic work concept was just too big a change for folks at that time, and eventually the office was configured back to a more traditional set up.
Which brings us to 2022, fully two decades after the failed Chiat virtual office experiment. As we emerge from the COVID pandemic many advertising agencies like ours are debating whether a return to working five days a week at the office makes sense. During the last two years we have not experienced any drop off in productivity with team members largely working from home. We have not suffered any drop off in creativity, which is confirmed with recent client feedback. And more importantly, our team is telling us they want to keep working from home, at least most of the time.
But as we grow our agency, can a work-from-home model be sustainable from a cultural and creative perspective? There is no doubt that remote working has presented some challenges to collaboration. We’ve tried to combat that with collaboration tools and online social events to ensure that the teams got to know each other well and learned to work better together.
We’ve also implemented a hybrid work model that uses the office space for the in-person meetings that are very often necessary in this business, while giving team members the flexibility to still work from home when they want. We have begun to think about how to redesign our space to better serve this hybrid model. We are considering many of the ideas first presented at Chiat so many years ago. It would be ideal to have an office space that is open with the comforts of home but we also need to provide quiet space and pods for the times individuals need to jump on Zoom calls without outside distractions.
The key to making this hybrid model work is to invest in IT and tools that allow for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. And at the same time, we need to provide opportunities for personal and professional growth to team members. And that won’t be solved by technology alone.
The workplace of the future has yet to be defined. I won’t be surprised if it ends up being a more tech-enabled model of an office concept created over 20 years ago.
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