On the Campaign couch: Is hot-desking really the future?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: Is hot-desking really the future?

Dear Jeremy, I no longer have a desk, just a cardboard box and a security pass. I can sit where I like at work but I'm beginning to forget what work I'm actually supposed to be doing and who with. Is hot-desking really the future?

In theory, I’m the very last person you should be asking. I’ve never experienced hot-desking so my knowledge of it is non-existent. But, even so, everything about hot-desking fills me with fear and loathing: not because of what it is but because of what it isn’t. And I do know a lot about what it isn’t.

Considering how long I’ve been working, I’ve had surprisingly few desks and offices – but the ones I’ve had, I’ve had for wonderfully long periods of time.

They’ve given me familiarity, continuity, reassurance and somewhere to keep a box of tissues and a mounting number of books. When people have come to see me in my offices, conversations have been immediately easy and fruitful. These are just some of the reasons I’ve valued my offices so much. A desk of your own, the very same desk, every day, with a drawer or two for the Tippex and the tissues, offers much the same human comforts.

Hot-desking offers none of them.

Hot-desking’s basic assumption is that all we need for working is somewhere to sit, somewhere to put a laptop and access to the outside world. For a trade that prides itself on understanding people and brands, this is astoundingly ignorant.

No-one would ever make equivalent assumptions about our cars or our kitchen – other spaces in which we spend hours of our life. From the earliest axe head to the latest iPhone, human beings have favoured that which combines excellent function with pleasing design. Crude, stripped-down utility never wins. Why should where we work be any different – even when chillingly known as a workstation?

If hot-desking is the future, then I want no part of it.

Dear Jeremy, My agency partners talk a good talk when it comes to collaboration but the reality is that there is an undertone of infighting and land-grabbing. Should I let them work it out? Or is the competition a good thing, even if it means they are less collaborative than I’d like?

It comes across as infighting and land-grabbing – but it’s really agencies displaying their primeval, gene- driven compulsion not only to come first but also to be loved most. A single agency working with a client can identify with that client deeply enough and for long enough to see helping that client win as being almost as satisfactory as winning the client in the first place.

But once two or more agencies are asked to work together for the same client, agencies instantly revert to new-business mode: nostrils flaring, their goal from now on is to be seen by that client as the best, the favourite, the favoured one, the outright winner. And if that means outwitting their partner agencies, so be it. They know they shouldn’t, they pretend they’re not, they protest their selfless collaborative intentions: but what drives them is their relentless need to be the emperor’s undisputed number one concubine – and for the whole world to know it.

This misdirection of competitive energy is unlikely to burnish your brand. Leave them alone to get on with it and they probably won’t. So make one of those agencies, quite formally, your lead agency and tell the others that they’ve got to toe the line. At the same time, make it quite clear to the lead agency, in writing, that it’s their responsibility to deliver harmonious, collaborative, complementary work; and that if they fail, they will be immediately stripped of their number-one- concubine status.

Dear Jeremy, Do you think a marketer gets more out of their agency when the relationship is new and fresh or when they have years of experience collaborating together?

That very much depends on you. Without meaning to, you can seem to discourage an existing agency from telling you the truth – or what they think might be the truth.

After a year or two, you will have many shared experiences and it becomes more difficult to be self-critical. Fight these tendencies and years of working together can be altogether good.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Bridge House, 69 London Road, Twickenham, TW1 3SP