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News Analysis

'Do our cost base and clients a favour': Why COVID-19 is accelerating WPP's campus model under Jens Monsees

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

20 May 2020 3min read

According to one of Sydney's largest commercial landlords Dexus, close to a quarter of their 700 tenants are expected to return by the end of the month.

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

20 May 2020 3min read

With 96% of his people currently working from home, WPP AUNZ boss Jens Monsees is turning his attention to accelerating the group's transformation strategy and campus model. While industry signals a desire to start a return to work spaces, Monsees is eyeing other opportunities to enhance his campus approach with a 'virtual campus model' and broader plans to save costs.

What you need to know:

  • Holding groups are beginning to plan a return to work strategy as restrictions are lifted.
  • WPP AUNZ boss Jens Monsees says he would be happy with staff remaining home provided it matched client expectations.
  • While not firm on a number, he did not rule out 20-30% of the company still maintaining some work from home routines.
  • The holding group CEO is examining the impact it could have on cost base for the businesses, office consolidation, costs to clients and the benefits to staff.
  • This could lead to the acceleration of WPP's Campus model transformation, with more opportunity to communicate across brands and regions through virtual meeting rooms.
  • Despite the focus on returning to agencies, physical office buildings will still have to deal with Covid-19 impacts, with Australia's largest office landlord Dexus claiming wait times for lifts of up to an hour in shared spaces.

 

Cost-saving but client-focused

WPP AUNZ CEO Jen Monsees, like many agency bosses across Australia, is preparing his teams to re-enter the workplace but also adjust to "the new normal".

COVID-19 has left countless city office spaces empty over recent weeks, however, according to one of Sydney's largest commercial landlords Dexus, close to a quarter of their 700 tenants are expected to return by the end of the month.

While many businesses will try to resume office work-life as close to pre-COVID as possible, WPP has been juggling its own transformational strategy, started prior to the pandemic, as it shifts to a 'Campus' model.

Mi3 revealed earlier this year that the holding group was creating a working relationship between national CEOs of each brand and campus leaders for markets such as Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth.

Speaking to Mi3, Monsees says the business is now "accelerating" its plans around the strategy.

"Pre-COVID-19 we had our new strategy of bringing people closer together through a campus and this is still very valid. But now we are talking about even a virtual campus that has digital meeting rooms, as well as physical places where people can meet," Monsees says.

"My guiding principle was always, we need to build strong teams within the right capabilities around our top clients first. And now this is even easier because we blur the physical and the virtual presence of people and can adapt and evolve where necessary."

With the likes of Google and other Silicon Valley giants cancelling leasing contracts and readjusting the approach to office space and layouts, Monsees says WPP will also consider how it approaches its current arrangements.

One key location could include the company's media arm GroupM and its Sydney office, which houses agencies including Mindshare, MediaCom, Wavemaker and Finecast in North Sydney.

The Dexus Australia survey reported that there could be wait times of up to an hour for office lifts, given the possibilities of social distancing practices remaining part of day-to-day life for the foreseeable future.

Other factors impacting the return to work also include the adoption of activity-based workspaces (ABWs), which are broadly used by a large amount of major corporations, including agencies.

These ABWs include features such as shared meeting spaces and the ability to hotdesk - something which consultant James Calder, the first ABW designer for Sydney's MLC building, told the AFR would have to be overhauled if it was to meet Government regulations.

"From my point of view, there might be a good chance for staff who maybe want to work one day remotely and that's fine, they don't have to commute and of course that brings up an interesting situation for how we use our office spaces," Monsees says.

"I'm constantly in a test and learn mindset and this will certainly continue as we adapt to the changes we are currently facing. However, WPP has always worked remotely or with some of these practices in place, so it will now be around refining them to suit that services our clients require."

Monsees says the changes could see up to 20-30% of his staff working from home in the next six months, something he isn't too concerned about but says that number will fluctuate depending on the client.

While there has been significant conjecture over the current state of productivity under lockdown restrictions, with millennials struggling with motivations and mental health, the holding group boss says the introduction of a new KPI framework within WPP has allowed staff to remain focused and on task.

"When I worked on BMW and at Google, we had quite strong KPIs and target objectives, this has been something that has been prioritised to keep those businesses focused on key outcomes," Monsees says.

"From my experience we implemented these KPI and objectives at the beginning of the year throughout WPP and what we're seeing already is that this keeps our staff very much focused on what to deliver and how to serve our clients."

 

A watchful global eye

WPP's global boss Mark Read also spoke on the return to work possibilities this week in a memo to staff.

The CEO highlighted regions including Asia and Europe as areas that were already beginning to open their agency doors, however, emphasised that no office function would resume unless it could "meet the highest of safety standards".

"We’ve all been thinking about how we want to work in the future and what we can learn from this experience – both personally and professionally. It’s certainly something I’ve asked myself," Read stated. "As we look ahead, we will redesign how we operate around the needs of our people and clients in a changed world." 

"To be clear, our priority is to take all necessary precautions for the safety of our people and our communities. The return to offices will be a slow and measured process, with all decisions made in consultation with local leadership and communicated early to give people plenty of notice."

 

Others on board

Earlier this week, Clemenger Group Chairman Robert Morgan spoke on the Mi3 Audio Edition and suggested that the impacts of the pandemic would have a long-lasting effect on the agency operating model - however, he believes there are still core functions that will remain unchanged.

“I think we work best when we are all together, and out business is largely a social industry. Creativity is often a collaborative thing. Sitting at home it’s a little harder to do that,” he says.

But Morgan accepts it is by no means black and white – and that there is “no argument that certain functions can be done just as well” from home.

That may ultimately require “different premises strategies”, and different approaches for parts of the business will be decided by their leadership, he says, But for now, “we are focused on getting through this thing and making sure our people are safe.”

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By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

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