Huge is betting on experiences, co-working memberships and cultural calendars as it makes significant changes in favor of a new working model its global CEO Mat Baxter calls “Fully flexible.”
As a result, Huge, which has offices in 13 locations and 1,400 employees globally, will be closing its physical office spaces that inhabit a “smaller” number of employees (between 50 to 150, for example), Baxter said. The agency will be giving out memberships to co-working spaces to employees from those locations who still want the option to have an office space. Elephant, which is under the Huge network and shares office spaces with Huge, will also follow the new structure.
Over the next 12 months, as leases end, the agency will be letting go of real estate in areas like Chicago and in Atlanta, where it has 40 staffers, as well as other offices in the southeast and Midwest, Baxter said.
Huge has offices in Brooklyn, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Oakland, California, and Washington in the U.S., plus international offices in Bogotá and Medellín, Colombia, as well as London, Tokyo and Toronto. The agency declined to disclose which physical offices will be impacted but a spokeswoman confirmed that 75% of its employees will be within commuting distance of a physical location “should they want to take advantage of it.”
'An office is like a comfort blanket to me'
The decision had less to do with cost and more with employee quality of work, Baxter said. The move comes as the agency’s employees have made it clear that they want something different when it comes to their workspace.
A recent internal survey found that 91% of employees said they were more productive at home and 74% didn’t want to return to the office or felt they could do their jobs outside of the office, Baxter said. When the agency attempted a voluntary hybrid model earlier this year there was less than 10% attendance overall with smaller offices, in particular, “trafficked at a low rate,” according to Baxter.
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Huge employees aren’t alone. Last June, a We Are Rosie report found that 100% of marketing professionals surveyed want the option to decide where to work.
“People don't want to go back to the way that they used to work," Baxter said. "I had to catch myself because I'm 40 plus years old and an office is like a comfort blanket to me. [I thought] how can you run a company or be in a company without an office? I found myself going back to the office, not because it was necessarily the thing that everybody wanted or was the right thing to do but because it was my security blanket for what I thought we needed as a company to continue to operate in the way that we've historically operated. When you free yourself from that comfort blanket, and say, hold on, ‘You're doing everything that we criticize clients and brands for, which is holding on for dear life to the past and not learning from the current dynamics in the market. If you listen to what's going on in the market and the current dynamics, it's clear people want to reimagine the office.”
Yesterday, Elephant announced that it is merging its East Coast and West Coast locations. Cara DiNorcia was also elevated to president of the agency reporting to Baxter. Eric Moore, who had been Elephant’s CEO since its inception six years ago, is stepping down from his role.
Huge's move is the latest example of employers envisioning the future of work post-COVID. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky made headlines a few weeks ago when he announced that the company’s employees can work remotely indefinitely. Agencies like Mother, Known and Grow—to name a few—have also constructed new office spaces recently to make them more inviting.
Huge’s Medellín and Brooklyn offices will be reimagined as “experience centers,” according to Baxter, who says he wants the new spaces to be more like clubhouses. There are about 1,000 employees between the two spaces.
The Interpublic Group of Cos. agency is moving its Brooklyn location to a new undisclosed space that is still being built out. “It will be a different style of workplace,” said Baxter, who explained that the agency has been working with a consultant to help design the new space over the past six months. The goal is to create a space where employees would want to "chill out."
“We briefed them and actually have gone back twice challenging their responses saying you're not pushing it hard enough,” Baxter said. “We want it to be more radical, more different than what they were coming back to us with. The brief to them was design us a space that's post-COVID, that is an experience center, not an office."
The space will still be able to accommodate around the same number of employees as the previous one did, said Baxter, who is looking to update all aspects of the space including workspaces, kitchens, and communal spaces.
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“You are going to have almost every meeting now where somebody will video into a conference,” Baxter said. “So how you use technology cameras, screens, how you allow them to participate with a whiteboard or write their notes or comments during a brainstorm, ow you use that technology and you design that space will have to be different because you'll always have a degree of remote presence in that room in a way that before COVID you never had. So it's forcing companies to rethink the layout of the room, the shape of the tables, where screens are, and how whiteboards are used."
Baxter envisions the space will still be used for client presentations, pitches, or allowing clients to use the space as an occasional workspace. He also will look for the agency to visit clients more moving forward.