The lessons from lockdown should have huge benefits for creative departments in terms of collaboration, diversity and the general well-being of their staff.
That’s the view of Alice Watkinson, Senior Designer at Innocent Drinks. And the key to it all is being able to work remotely.
“Going forward at Innocent we have a hybrid approach. We can work from home, but we’re also expected to be in office for some period of the week, which is the best of both worlds for most creatives. There’s definitely a benefit to the flexibility of working at home, like being able to go for a walk if you want to clear your head,” she says. “Then the office is a hub for learning and creativity, getting that energy from your team and being immersed in other people who are also creating. You probably can’t quite recreate that on your own at home.”
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Flexible working also opens up the workplace to people who would find it hard to work a standard 9-to-5 day, such as young mothers.
“That’s such a positive thing for the creative industries,” Watkinson says. “There’s always criticism of the creative industries not being as diverse as they could be, so hopefully things like that flexibility, and like people being able to live in different places, will open it up even more.”
She’s already seeing collaborations between people who would never have worked together before, simply because distance is no longer seen as a barrier, and she expects to see a lot more.
“At Innocent, we’ve got copywriters in all the regions we operate in, but the central creative hub has always very much been in the UK. But I can imagine going forward that perhaps we can open that up more for designers to be based all over Europe.”
Understanding what technology can do for you…
Watkinson feels that a key driver of this more collaborative future is a fuller understanding of what technology can deliver.
“It’s easy to be a bit lazy with technology when you’re really busy, and to not invest the time in looking at everything that’s available, especially if you’ve got something that’s kind-of working,” she says. “We used most of the collaboration and management tools before, but probably not very well, and we probably weren’t using a lot of the different features. The pandemic has really forced us to look at where the value lies with technology and how we can use it to our advantage.”
… and what you need to do differently
On top of learning about what the new technology can do, Watkinson found her team having to adapt to the new communication tools. She gives the example of trying to hold the weekly feedback meeting – known as Crit – online, and it being a complete failure. What had been a very relaxed meeting where everyone showed what they were working on and got feedback from their colleagues fell flat when done remotely.
“We were really struggling to be honest and open with each other. And we were in danger of the creative also falling a bit flat because of that. Such a big part of what we do is taking feedback and using it to make the creative better.”
Since then, the team has tried different ways to make everyone comfortable in the new environment. People present to smaller groups in order to make the experience less daunting, and the use of chat and whiteboards is encouraged so that team members can still offer feedback even if they feel uncomfortable saying something negative in front of everyone.
“Recently we tried something we called Dark Crit,” Watkinson explains. “Only negative feedback was allowed, to try and get people comfortable with giving negative, or constructive, feedback. And we made it a social thing. We had beers. We did it in quite small groups and looked at external work, so the stakes weren’t quite so high.”
Communication is crucial
Having a 24-strong design team, augmented by freelancers and agencies, serving a business operating across Europe and Asia means this emphasis on communication is crucial.
“Communication is just the biggest thing,” Watkinson says. “Making sure we’re bringing the clients on the journey and, as a team, that we’re really open and working well together. And failing quickly; if something’s not working, move on, try something else. Because in this environment you just don’t know what’s going to work. And sometimes what works in the UK isn’t going to work so well in some of the other regions. So it’s just constantly adapting and looking at the best way forward.”