3 Ways That Creative Leaders Can Nurture Talent from a Distance
With scientists and public-health experts telling us that we should only return to the office in waves, we know the workplace won’t start to look like it did in January 2020 for at least a year. This begs the question: As creative professionals, is it really necessary to be in the same room together, or can we still produce high-quality work at a distance?
I believe that with the right agency leadership and structure, creativity can still flourish while people work from home. Here are three ways to help your teams feel supported and continue to produce top-quality work:
1. View the lack of structure in the workday as an opportunity to tap into latent creativity
Think of the upside: you are no longer bound by 9-to-5 working hours.
Full disclosure: I’ve never thought that a rigid eight-hour workday was a good idea. I’ve personally always started the day early, but when I was on the agency side of the business, most of the creatives assigned to my projects were most productive after 7pm.
The timing of people’s natural peaks in creativity can vary wildly, and now is the time to embrace that. If you’re a leader, that means throwing out the rulebook and figuring out the right mix of collaboration and solitary, heads-down working time for your team. And needless to say, carving out time for independent reflection becomes easier when we’re all in quarantine.
Also keep in mind that the science of silence is a cold, hard fact. Ask any creative who owns noise-canceling headphones or the Department of Psychology at University of Buffalo, which published a study proving a direct, positive correlation between quiet and creativity.
Don’t just take it from me that effective virtual collaboration is possible. Sarah Anderson, a freelance Creative Director and former CCO at Omelet, says, “Creating personal connection between remote workers can feel daunting, but in my experience over the past three years, I've been amazed by how effective face-to-face video meetings and fluid interaction in live documents can be.”
2. Recognize that not everyone will excel at working from home – and that’s OK
At my last agency job, we had the option to work from home on Fridays. I found that some of my direct reports thrived at home, bulldozing through work and coming up with some of their most creative solutions and ideas. For others, it was like they subconsciously conflated “WFH” with “PTO.” That’s not to say they were lazy. They just thrived on inter-personal connection and found it difficult to focus at home where it felt too quiet.
It’s going to take strong managers, who are intimately acquainted with their employees’ work and communication styles, to ensure that each individual’s needs are met. The beauty of a team is that we all bring something different to the table, and it’s likely some people on your team will not work well from home. Don’t hold it against them; everyone is different. Instead, let’s get creative with modifications and accommodations where we can. Start by asking questions. Under what conditions are you most productive? When and where does your creativity thrive? How can we recreate that under these unique circumstances? It could be as simple as some noise canceling headphones.
3. Set clear and reasonable expectations for people under stress
Some of your employees are under incredible strain as they juggle childcare, home-schooling and other responsibilities with work. Even if they’re encouraged to work outside of normal working hours if that’s best for their situation, many still won’t be able to devote the same number of waking hours to work as before.
The challenge for agency leaders is to set clear expectations that are reasonable and achievable and then trust your team to meet them. After all, it’s not how they get a project done but that they get it done to a caliber everyone can be proud of that’s important. In the short-term, maybe that means reshuffling teams to temporarily make up for lost capacity. [Or maybe… NEED ANOTHER EXAMPLE]
It’s also crucial for leaders to make it clear that people who seek help from management won’t be penalized for their honesty.
The stark reality is that face-to-face collaboration as we knew it won’t be possible for some time. But the paradox is that many of us are feeling more connected to friends and family than we have in some time, which we should remember for our professional relationships. Connection is still possible, but it requires more proactive effort than it used to when our colleagues were physically right next to us.