When the office is too much trouble


A friend of mine who had been very successful once suggested to me that what we needed to do was employ two very nice looking young ladies for presentation purposes. Although his suggestion was very much tongue-in- cheek he went on to explain that many business transactions were agreed solely on impressions and not the understanding of the substance or value of the proposition.

The emerging knowledge economy means specialist skills are increasingly being acquired by companies through loss-affiliation with home working consultants. This brings the benefit of reduced cost base, skills access and virtual working – these individuals do not only not sit on your staff costs but you don’t need to worry about other areas such as training or pensions – big factors to consider for the small or medium sized business.

At Zulu we decided right from the begging that we didn’t want big offices. Much of the creative talent in the Midlands had already made a choice that they didn’t want to spend hours each day fighting their way into an office. The evolution of powerful cloud-base collaborative packages has enabled the creative multidisciplinary approach to be combined to provide really effective solutions for clients.

If we take the example of the development of a client website, depending on the purpose of the site you may need researchers and analysis to conduct a competitive analysis and functionality comparison. Once this is completed a brief to designers can be implemented around a robust functional specification, this then passes to programmers and so on – the point I am making is that these specific skills are really specialised and you don’t need them all the time.

Working through a virtual network allows Zulu to access the very best skills at an affordable price in order to bring outstanding capability to our client base.

I used to run a very large agency of over 70 staff. When I set Zulu up I really didn’t want all the costs or the limitations of bringing skills into one central place, I wanted to access the creative skill market at its broadest sense – bringing the best skills together on behalf of the client, delivering great solutions and adding real value – and we have achieved that.

We are seeing a shift - clients want more than just a simple product like a website, they want a digital strategy and this requires a number of individuals with different skills who are able to work collaboratively around a project. Technology enables us to do that. Yes, you need process and interconnectivity but a lot of the very best talent are already working in that space now” 

I believe that the client wants a point of contact. Really good companies understand the benefits of the virtual office and may use this structure themselves. Yet I sense that there is still a bit of a hang-up about working with an agency that doesn’t have the plush offices in the centre of town. However you need to ask yourself the question ‘What am I paying for and what do I want my marketing budget to be spent on?’.”

Evidence of this may already be manifesting itself in the commercial property sector, the difficult economic climate notwithstanding. Andy Coyne, editor ofBirmingham Business Desk, said that in Birmingham the office sector is not in a terribly healthy state.

“It did about 500,000 sq ft of lettings in the central Birmingham market last year compared to the more usual figure of 650,000. That is the lowest figure for many years,” he said.

“There are not lots of big deals around, few inward investors and churn (existing companies moving to better accommodation) is not happening to any great degree because firms are unwilling to make such big decisions in current climate.

“The legal sector – traditionally one of the big movers in the office sector – is having a tough time of it and events like the collapse of Cobbetts brings more space onto the market.

“Two Snowhill is the only big office scheme nearing completion. Agents suggest things are starting to pick up but they may be talking the market up. The figures don’t lie.

“We’re doing some work with Microsoft at the moment on the future of offices. They seem to be suggesting that things will look very different in the future and that people will work on the hoof a lot more.

“My view is that this will certainly be the case for sales forces and the like, but core functions will still be carried out in a central office.

“I think these could be smaller in the future as more work such as IT or HR is outsourced, but I think professional and financial services firms will still want an office in a prestigious location.”

Microsoft believes the adoption of 'anywhere working' practices will mean a complete re-think of the way offices are used. Daniel Langton, Microsoft's small and medium-sized businessmarketing manager, says it has been proved that flexible working patterns can be successful.

"Ten years ago anywhere working seemed to be something only big businesses were interested in doing," he said.

"Today, it's another tool in a company's armoury to be as flexible and cost effective as possible."

Langton said the latest technology allows companies of all sizes to adopt flexible working practices. He said the office is becoming more of a meeting 'hub' for employees as technology continues to develop, allowing staff to work via 'cloud' technology at the home or in a cafe. He also said that evidence showed that those allowed to work flexibly felt more of a commitment and affinity to their organisation and that there was often a more positive effect on employee productivity.

I hope things are changing but time will tell. Regardless of the presentation approach I do believe the economic model and skills base diversity of the marketing industry is so vast that it no longer makes sense to deal with organisations that have their offer and advice rooted in the skills they keep on the payroll and fixed assets such as expensive offices that add no value yet which you as a client pay for. Where is the sense in that?

Ivan Yardley is managing director of Zulu Creative. He has an MBA, MA, and a PhD from Cranfield University focused on military and business transference. He has presented at various conferences and published a book ‘Battlefield to Boardroom’ as well as various research papers in several journals, is a visiting lecturer at the UK's National Defence Academy and is also a Lieutenant Colonel in the Territorial Army.

For more details or to find out how Ivan and Zulu can help your business, give us a call on 0121 352 1226 or email us at info@zulucreative.co.uk