5 Ways To Encourage Creativity And Productivity Within Remote Teams
By Toby Eckhardt
As published on Forbes | February 2, 2021
We’ve all felt the disruption that the coronavirus pandemic has caused throughout our regions and around the world. While the news and conversations have been most urgently addressing how Covid-19 has impacted many businesses as they transition to a virtual office model — hits to revenue, Paycheck Protection Program loan activity and a scramble for technology solutions to support remote teams — one of the areas also significantly impacted but perhaps not as much in the spotlight is the toll that this shift has taken on team creativity.
As a creative agency, creativity is at the heart of our operations, but it also sits at the core of the process for innovation — one of the biggest drivers of success we have seen invested in over the past several decades by business leaders across the Greater Washington, D.C., area.
When migrating to a digital workspace, organizations must remain steadfast in their commitment to creativity as an engine for innovation and team collaboration. Unlike the pre-pandemic world where ad hoc interactions could lead to creative solutions, today, disciplined communications are vital to fostering creative thinking and human connection. In this sense, we believe creative connections are vital for leaders and operations teams across many different functional areas, from human resources and marketing communications, to technology and services solutions, to customer experience and sales.
Like many marketing and creative organizations, we have always had some remote creative personnel, but an entirely remote workforce presents new challenges and opportunities. We’ve found the following five ways to encourage creativity and maintain productivity to be most helpful, and we believe they could be of value to many organizations, no matter the type or market.
1. Bounce Sessions
Great creativity typically combines individual effort with collaboration. You might normally come up with an idea and walk down the hall to try out the concept on another team member. This helps you see whether you are on track and work through creative issues. How do you re-create this process with a remote workforce? One idea is to host virtual sessions where writers, designers or other creative personnel bounce ideas off a confidant or senior team member. The rules are pretty simple: It can either be a phone call or a video conference, and each session should have a time limit — say 30 minutes maximum but shorter if possible.
2. Virtual Office Hours
For larger organizations, virtual office hours are a more structured alternative to bounce sessions. The idea is to launch a Zoom or Google Meet session and keep it open for a set period. A creative director or another senior person manages the session, and team members can join, as needed, during that period to get feedback, ask questions or have work reviewed. The host would not schedule any calls or meetings during his or her session but can continue working — while still being on-screen — during periods when no team members have joined. Virtual office hours can be scheduled for an hour or two, or they can be open all day with different managers cycling in.
3. Online Creative Meetings
Platforms like Zoom and Google Teams let you effectively manage a creative meeting face-to-face online — whether it’s an account meeting or a brainstorming session. We’ve found that it’s best to have prepared content to review and go from there. For example, in developing themes and taglines for corporate branding, or reviewing design ideas, it’s helpful to have options created before the remote meeting rather than going full free-form. Also, having a leader who can deftly manage the meeting will ensure that no one person dominates the call.
4. Baseball As A Meeting Template
While creative sessions are a little more ad hoc, setting expectations for more formal meetings can dramatically improve productivity. Baseball can serve as a template for organized participation and set expectations about involvement, equity and orderliness. The person currently speaking is at bat, the person up next is on deck and the one after that is in the hole. The person leading the meeting is the umpire. He or she should inform everyone about the lineup. For example: “Tony is up now, Kelly is second and then Matt is third.” Like baseball, everyone has an active role in playing the game, and the structure keeps the meeting on track.
5. A New Take On The Newsletter
An internal newsletter might seem outdated, but hear me out. Without the living organism that is an office, it’s hard to feel like part of a unified group and know what’s going on outside of your universe. The importance of formal internal communications has never been greater. A simple weekly newsletter — in a traditional format that can be mailed to homes, as emails pushed via your intranet or even as a quick talking points guide for managers in face-to-face online team meetings — can quickly cover business successes and challenges, highlight individual accomplishments and even share creative ideas. The key is to make it concise — a quick read or experience that takes five minutes or less. If not, it will become a burden not only to create but also to read.
The Power Of Staying Connected
One final thought: Stay connected. Connect online outside of the tasks at hand, and put people first. Ongoing, consistent internal communications can have a transformational effect on teams and operations for companies even in the best of times, but they often become a prerequisite for success during times of crisis. The new normal can be challenging, so asking simple questions like “How are you staying productive?” or “How’s it going over there?” can defuse small tensions, create a better working relationship for everyone and ultimately impact the overall success of your organization.