It Takes A Village: How A Global Marketing Firm Turned a Silo Challenge Into an Opportunity

Rethinking how teams work best together leads to revamped office spaces, improving collaboration, morale and productivity at Havas Group.


Several years ago, Havas Group — a global communications and marketing firm — was doing well, but the executive team sensed an emerging challenge. The company had grown to include Havas Creative group (including Havas Worldwide, Havas Health, BETC, Arnold, FullSix and many other specialized agencies) and Havas Media Group (including media networks Havas Media, Arena Media and Fullsix Media, plus specialized brands Havas Sports & Entertainment A perf, Socialyse, Mobext and Ecselis). You get the picture: With 20,000 employees in 100 countries, the company is huge.

Havas is successful precisely because they’re able to offer clients the expertise needed to create effective marketing and communications solutions, but as of a few years ago, their resources were spread out across buildings, across cities and all over the world. Even if two employees from different divisions did find themselves in the same office building, they still felt siloed. Patti Clarke, chief talent officer at the Havas Group, says that traditional office buildings are often this way — they’re rarely designed to support people working together, and in fact, they can actively block collaboration.

Havas Village Mexico City

“We launched the Villages model as part of our Together strategy, where we have innovated by bringing all the resources we need into one office to better serve our clients,” Clarke says. “With the opportunity to co-locate many agencies into new facilities, we also looked at how we work and how we could foster more collaboration, make the space comfortable and have some fun and camaraderie.”

The company began by redesigning a few Havas offices, which were renamed “villages.” Why villages? Because each building is full of complementary resources that are specific to the location, bringing people together as a community. Instead of working in separate divisions on separate floors, for example, Havas employees from different agencies sit together in the village, integrating their work across boundaries. Instead of using the same team for every project, managers build teams specifically for individual clients, gathering the “villagers” with the most pertinent skillsets.

As of the end of 2016, Clarke says they’ve implemented 49 Havas villages across the company’s media, creative, digital, data and PR divisions. Havas now has villages in Brussels, Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona, Costa Rica, London and more.

“We’ve found that even the smallest things can make a big impact,” Clarke says about how the Havas team designed life in the villages. Each village is different, depending on what employees in each location need. Many offer on-site yoga, nutrition and diet classes, while others offer alternative work schedules. Some have pantries with healthy snacks, and others offer access to wellness platforms that train employees daily in breathing, mindfulness and stress reduction. Perhaps the best example of Havas’ reshaped work culture is the simple but impactful rule: No lunch at your desk.

“This approach was designed to encourage employees to get away from their computers for an hour each day,” Clarke says. And while it may seem like a small change, she says the reported results have been huge. Employees are getting a break from their computer screens, which is important. But they’re also spending more time moving and interacting with one another in central areas. Instead of working through lunch, they’re engaging in social activities, meeting new people and discussing innovative ideas.

     Havas Village Paris

The villages overhaul seems to be working, too. Havas CEO Yannick Bollore recently said, “[The villages] are the concrete illustration of our integrated and agile model that makes us better able to support our clients as they navigate in an increasingly complex media landscape.”

Senior Program Manager Sara Belcastro started working for Havas before the company implemented villages, and for her, the switch has been overwhelmingly successful. She says the No. 1 benefit of the Villages is camaraderie. “Working in such an open, collaborative environment gives you the opportunity to build relationships with people that you may never have met or interacted with before,” she says. “When you spend so much of your time at work, the feeling of being a part of this Havas family is pretty valuable.”

Rachel Conlan, Havas’ global growth director, agrees. “There is greater project orientation [in the villages] with clearer roles and responsibilities in line with program objectives. This ensures higher levels of employee productivity and accountability.”

After years of thinking about how people work at Havas, Clarke has a few big learnings to share. Ultimately, she echoes Belcastro’s observations: Without social interaction and without passion, friendship or external motivations, work is just work.

“We believe that when our people are happy and engaged, they will produce their best work,” Clarke says.