R/GA founder, Chairman and CEO Bob Greenberg was in London last week to discuss his vision for the modern workplace, the much-publicised project to transform the offices of R/GA into a fully integrated nexus, as well as current and future evolutions of the agency’s business model. He was speaking at “The Office for the Connected Age”, hosted by The Guardian newspaper.
In May this year, the teams from R/GA’s various New York locations moved into a huge new space touted as ‘the world’s most connected office’. The 200,000 square foot workspace was created with architect Sir Norman Foster and the seamless integration of digital and physical spaces has been baked into its design. So there are suspended floors to hide miles of wires, iBeacons that relay relevant information to the smartphones of passing employees and clients, digital ‘windows’ into other R/GA offices as well as over 40 innovations designed to make working at R/GA more collaborative and comfortable. Even the lighting is smart – employees requested natural light, and as window seats for everyone were out of the question, the interior lighting syncs up with circadian rhythms and fluctuates in intensity throughout the day.
At the event, he also shared a clip of the Gary Hustwit-directed documentary ‘Workplace’ which follows the R/GA connected office’s journey from conception to creation.
Asked about the costs for such an ambitious undertaking, Mr Greenberg was reluctant to put a figure on it but said that it was no more than a more traditional high-end ad agency refurb. Savings were made by making sure fixtures were off-the-shelf rather than custom made and using cheap but durable materials.
“Everything is off the shelf, nothing is proprietary and nothing would we keep proprietary. Everything is available to take it further,” he said.
The audience, inspired by the presentation, was full of questions. They were, for example, also curious about the ‘connected office’s’ implications for employee privacy, though Mr Greenberg responded that privacy had been carefully considered and respected and that, for now, the prospect of building work-live spaces was not on the radar.
The New York office is a prototype for the rest of the offices in the R/GA network – the London team is set to relocate from Farringdon to a fully-connected Shoreditch office imminently. The hope is that eventually teams around the world will be able to collaborate remotely on clients and projects.
“What I found with agency business is that it’s very competitive. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing but when you have an office in London, Mumbai, Sao Paolo, you could get better results if you collaborate,” explained Mr Greenberg of his desire to make it easier for geographically dispersed teams to work together more closely.
But the new connected workspaces are more than an internal project. According to Bob, helping other companies establish connected offices is an untapped new business opportunity worth over $20 million. What’s been particularly curious for Bob is that it’s taken a creative agency to identify the opportunity and that architectural practices are yet to get fully up to speed.
“It is surprising to me that it is the golden age of architecture, whether it’s Norman Foster or Zaha Hadid – who recently passed away – that all this doesn’t connect up yet, because they’re not experts in connected space. But when they [architects and interior designers] see they have to connect up, it’s going to change architecture and business.”
R/GA is a network of serial reinvention and the concept of ‘The Agency for the Connected Age’ is its most recent iteration. As well as completely overhauling the concept of the workspace, R/GA’s business model differs from traditional agency set ups in several other ways. For example there’s R/GA Ventures, an accelerator that has ownership of over 40 companies, and a Business Transformation unit that’s aiming to muscle in on the consultancy space (an intriguing prospect given the attempts of big consultancies like IBM and Deloitte to make the opposite move into the marketing space).
That reinvention takes place on a deliberate schedule – in the absence of any real external disruption, R/GA avoids complacency by switching things up on a cycle of more or less nine years.
“We’ve never been disrupted – we’re really thankful for that – so we create our own disruption every nine years,” said Greenberg, before adding that he thinks the next version of R/GA, which is due in about 2021, will be the ‘Agency for the Intelligent Age’. That means mixed reality, artificial intelligence and robotics.
Surprisingly, though, for a business which is one of the most cutting edge, Mr Greenberg revealed that timing is crucial and being too early to a development can be just as problematic as being too late. “What I try not to do is be ahead of the curve – I did that in my early days but it’s seriously hard because you have to educate clients and it’s hard to make money.”