LBB spoke to Gary Szabo, chief creative officer, and Donna Head, executive producer, about what’s missing from WFH, Tag’s remodelled offices, and the where you’ll catch them after work.
September inevitably brings the back-to-school feeling that’s somehow hard to shake, even if school days themselves are long-forgotten. For many in the industry getting back to Soho, as well as a hybrid working situation, is on the horizon. Tag used the time away from the office as an opportunity to start afresh, remodeling the space to better fit the needs of a returning workforce. Balancing the require-ments of privacy and collaboration were at the forefront of the redesign’s agenda, with the final space working to provide a customisable office suited to the new, hybrid ways of working.
For Tag’s Gary Szabo, Chief Creative Officer, and Donna Head, Executive Producer, it’s not just the chat-ter, community, and collaborative potential of the office that’s been missing from a WFH set-up for the past 18 months. It’s Soho itself. The area, with its long creative history, holds a special place in the hearts of many. Speaking to LBB, Gary and Donna reveal why it’s such a fantastic area to work in, what they missed the most about it, and where to catch them buying restorative supplies the morning after an awards show.
LBB> What was Tag’s working culture like before the lockdown, and now that you are re-turning to the office, do you think this will change?
Gary> We have had a total re-structure of our creative businesses during lockdown – nine separate entities, including Smoke and Mirrors, Big Buoy, and Rock Hound, have now united under the Tag Col-lective Arts banner. The culture was inevitably going to change. All these companies had their own mi-cro-cultures which now have to be moulded into something new. It’s been a great success on the business front, but getting the people physically together is now really important. So many people have joined Tag during lockdown and have never physically met their workmates.
Donna> Our culture was work hard, play hard and have fun. Understandably with any rebrand, comes change. Returning will be slightly different as we won’t all be in the office at the same time. However, I don’t think the culture will change too much. I’m desperate to get back and organise a client event to welcome the fun back into our office.
LBB> With the country opening up again, how are you evolving this?
Gary> So much has changed that we think it would be foolish to mandate behaviour too much until we work this out properly. WFH really benefits some people enormously and we want to try and ac-commodate everyone. However, this is a multi-faceted business with studios and client-attended edit suites across nine international locations, so it needs careful consideration. It’s important that the col-lective is the priority – the team, the project, etc. – and that we retain as much flexibility as we can.
Donna> Flexibility. The last 18 months have proved that we can all function and work efficiently from the comfort of our homes. Our industry has never been a 9-5 one, but knowing that we do not have to be in the office all the time is an evolution.
LBB> What do you think is missing from the full WFH set-up?
Gary> People! It’s the moments in between meetings and calls that really builds a culture – talking about what you are reading/watching and the informal exchange of ideas that happen in a studio or office.
Donna> Support. If you’re not particularly technical (like me) it can be extremely challenging. My neighbours bore the brunt of my colourful language when I wasn’t able to connect, send files, etc. Thankfully, a very patient team assisted me virtually, but not having physical support has definitely been hard. And people. Our industry isn’t a solitary one, I’ve really missed my people.
LBB> Why did Tag decide to remodel the office? What was the purpose of the remodelling?
Gary> It was obvious really early on that we wouldn’t need as much permanent office space as we had before. Soho is still the beating heart of our business, so we closed our other offices in Clerken-well and NoHo. Equally obvious is that today’s office needs to function in a totally different way than it did 18 months ago, so we called in the specialists and revamped the whole interior while it was empty. Just shoe-horning people back into an existing office is very short-sighted. Video calls are here to stay, but you can’t have 10 people on 10 different calls sat around a desk. You need more meeting rooms and private, sound proofed spaces. Equally, you want to make sure that people mix rather than lock themselves away in small rooms so open plan, flexible working space is key. It’s also extremely im-portant, especially in the short-term, to respect the fact that some people may have lost loved ones or have been very ill themselves. You have to allow people time to adapt, so keeping social distancing etiquette in place – and a building that supports – is crucial.
LBB> How do you think the new space addresses that?
Gary> The first challenge was to make sure those people wedded to large and powerful computers have the space and conditions they need. Correct lighting and sound-proofing. Space for high res mon-itors, client attend space and privacy when working on confidential projects etc. While we need fewer edit suites, we still need them, so we had to ensure the client experience was not damaged in any way. The bar and the cappuccino machine stay!
LBB> At Tag, you appear to be trying to drive the conversation around sustainability. Does your new space and WoW reflect this?
Gary> We have an opportunity with Tag London to set the standard for how we want to operate sus-tainably within our many workspaces. We are setting targets to reduce our use of electricity and, at the same time, increase our renewable energy based on the UN Global Compact, with a 5% reduction target set for electrical energy consumption in 2021. We have switched to renewable energy sources, using 100% renewable electrical energy in the UK, and entirely green energy sources within Tag Lon-don. And we are reviewing our full list of suppliers, and upgrading step by step to ensure that we work with the most sustainable sources in every area of the business, starting with our toilet paper and cof-fee providers.
LBB> How do you hope people will feel about coming back to the office and the new space?
Gary> They already are coming back and so far they love it! Not quite sure how much is brilliant de-sign and how much is just the emotional release after lock down but we’re pretty pleased so far.
Donna> I think they will embrace it. It’s brand new and shiny. In some ways it will probably feel like a new job, so the enthusiasm will be there!
LBB> Why is it good for not just Tag but other post production houses and clients that em-ployees are starting to come back to the office, albeit, in a different way to pre-lockdown working?
Gary> Very important indeed. If you’re a banker, you want to work in the financial district. That’s what Soho is for us. You want to be surrounded by your peers and it’s one of the ways you validate your career. Of course Soho has shrunk in that respect, but it still is the epicentre of the creative industries. Post lockdown regeneration of the hospitality industries has given the area its mojo back and we need everyone back and enjoying themselves, so the entire industry regains its swagger.
Donna> It’s vital. The younger generation would like to watch and learn, how can you possibly do that solo, at home? Walking round any office hearing the buzz of creativity beats the silence of WFH.
LBB> What about Soho – what do you think makes the area special?
Gary> The people, of course, but also the history. The Maori have a philosophy called whakapapa. Each of us is part of an unbreakable chain of people, extending into our past to our first ancestors, and into the future, to the end of time. Everybody has their arms interlocked, so it’s an unbreakable chain. The metaphor is that the sun first shone on our ancestors and slowly moved down this chain of peo-ple, and when the sun shines on you that signifies your time. You are part of an evolving culture and creating your own little part of the story. So much art and popular culture was born in these streets and long may it continue to be so.
Donna> I have worked in Soho for over two decades and it’s by far the best place I’ve ever worked. Even though it’s massively lost its appeal with seedy Soho disappearing, the iconic shouty Berwick Street Market stall holders gone, the silly new empty overpriced shops appearing, I still absolutely love it. You can walk into The Star and Garter at any given moment of the day and there’ll always be someone there you know. One of my favourite things about Soho is queuing for a bacon sandwich and a coffee to cure a post-awards hangover in Bar Bruno on Wardour Street, knowing there’ll be several people you know doing exactly the same. It’s a community.
LBB> Are there any particular places you’ll love to return to in the area?
Gary> The Star and Garter is going to have a boom period for sure!
Donna> What Gary said!
LBB> Why is Soho such an important area for the creative industry?
Gary> When an area is synonymous with a movement, a culture, then it’s got to be where the oppor-tunities lie. Hatton Garden, The Square Mile, Mayfair, all stand for something and people who want to be a part of it gravitate towards that place. This creates a massive talent pool and the entire industry benefits from that. Most cities in the world have built and named a ‘Media City’ within it. From Man-chester to Dubai. We have never needed to do that.
Donna> With so many creative agencies and post houses moving away from W1, the creative industry is no longer Soho-based. However, it will always be the hub of our industry to me and I cannot imag-ine working anywhere else.