People must pioneer the way

Jay Chiat’s crusade to revolutionise the traditional office will probably be remembered as one of the advertising industry’s more courageous if quixotic projects. Only now is a true picture of life in this utopian environment emerging.

Chiat’s dream of paperless, deskless offices was intended to liberate employees from the tyranny of the workplace and in the process release their creative energy. In fact it led to a working environment that eventually became unsupportable.

In a major analysis of the project for Wired Magazine in the US, the respected advertising journalist Warren Berger writes: “When Chiat announced he was going to take away his employees cubicles and desks, equip them all with portable phones and powerbooks and turn them into wandering advertising nomads who could perform their tasks wherever they liked, the story captured the imagination of desk-bound drones everywhere. Oh, to trade places with Chiat’s virtual pioneers, who had been emancipated from cubicle bondage and mundane office protocol.”

Essentially the concept of the virtual office is one that grew out of advances in communications technology. It was easy to rationalise and justify on the grounds that it would allow employees freedom while at the same time saving money on costly office space. The reality was very different.

According to Berger, the Chiat Day experiment resulted in “petty turf wars, kindergarten-variety subterfuge, incessant griping, employee insurrections, internal chaos and plummeting productivity. Worst of all there was no damn place to sit.”

Certainly, technology has a crucial role to play within the communications environment – but only as a tool to support the successful functioning of corporate activity. It should be a tool to improve efficiency of communications and support creativity rather than a force for dictating working methods.

In this respect it has often been the agencies of Europe, particularly those of Scandinavia, that have led a real, if quiet revolution in harnessing technology to improve corporate environment. The most successful are retaining the best elements of traditional working models, for example individual desk spaces, fixed telephone lines, but enhancing them with the benefits of new communications technology – e-mail, mobile phones, Internet data access, agency intranets, client extranets, videoconferencing and so on.

This evolutionary approach generates genuine benefits, in terms of productivity and in establishing an environment more suited to creativity and innovation.

Agencies must harness and make wider use of flexible technology. But if that entails diminished use or dependence upon traditional office settings, then working environments of tomorrow must compensate for the loss of traditional territory by embodying other features which ad-dress and appeal to human needs in new and imaginative ways while still meeting functional and financial priorities.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here