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executive vice president

Can digital tools really work for harnessing creativity?

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Working remotely isn’t new to the agency landscape but the last year has demanded even more focus on connective creative workflows which further cements the reliance on the right digital tools. This has meant adapting to remote working has been fairly smooth for the operational side of agency life – but can digital tools really work for harnessing pitches, creative workshops and kick off meetings?

All agencies are armed with a multitude of technology so they can be as effective and efficient as possible to meet client needs. From workflow management tools, and online briefing forms to reporting dashboards, the creative process is best served by talented people, underpinned by good technology. Within our own agency, we have a strong reliance on bespoke workflow tools and collaboration to improve the efficiency of the creative production process for our clients. Having the right technology in place has helped us to create strong partnerships with our clients, identify where any improvements can be made and minimising bottle necks.

Where our hybrid teams once worked integrally onsite within our clients, we quickly had to adapt to an offsite remote model to enable the same levels of collaboration and output as the onsite model delivered. Fortunately, with digital workflows at the heart of all these relationships we were able to quickly move to a remote format – all be it we needed to simply work harder at maintaining the ‘water cooler’ discussions across the team.

We can use technology to help re-create those ‘water cooler’ moments by taking 5 minutes at the beginning of a virtual meeting for a non-work chat - too often we’re tempted to run straight into the agenda.

Top of the learning curve

A big learning curve has been extending our reliance on technology to the creative ideation at the start of a project. When you can’t get people together in the same room, how do you bounce around ideas and concepts? Collaboration in the early stages of a project is vital, and I’m sure we’re not alone in our concerns at whether this could easily be adapted or as effective virtually. Through the use of platforms such as Miro, we’ve been able to replicate creative sessions and hold both internal and client workshops with great success. Having the ability to visually see ideas through sticky notes, vote for ideas, import data or images all in one place has allowed our ideation stage to flourish as well online as it does off. In fact, in the last year, we’ve seen a significant improvement in our productivity and turnaround times and a lot of that is testament to good working processes and the right technology in place from idea stage through to end product.

What has become increasingly important to us is to be mindful that behind the tools there is still a human, with human thought processes. Well-being within an office environment is already well considered in most workplaces, but we must also recognise the importance of this at home too. Zoom fatigue is real and a quick way to reduce your productivity, despite all the right technology in place. Video calls drain our energy far more than a face to face meeting or phone call due to how we process information virtually.

We must look directly at the camera to show engagement in conversation, whereas in real life you wouldn’t be constantly focused on one image, you’d also process information around a room and from other people. To break this constant gaze on a video call could be construed as not listening or boredom so we must therefore concentrate harder to stay engaged which fatigues our brains more.

By encouraging break outs, time away from your desk and mixing up the way we communicate, even using your mobile to make a call instead of habitually dialing through video platforms can all help avoid fatigue. On a practical level, minimising your own face on video can reduce stimuli and the feeling you are ‘on show’ and for longer meetings where you’re not presenting turn your video off altogether so you’re able to move around and listen at the same time.

There’s no doubt that by working remotely we have had to make a concerted effort to communicate better and stay connected to one another. Internally, we’ve also seen a shift in sharing more information across teams and increasing visibility of projects across the wider business, and that has been made possible through a widespread adoption of digital collaboration tools. Not only is this important for our employee well-being and feeling connected to colleagues, but better communication has also significantly improved our efficiency with projects. When office life resumes, this is an area we will work hard to maintain and make part of our standard practice. Yet, with the implementation of more digital tools that help make communication and our working life easier, we must also keep in check the human implications and effects too.

James Lawton- Hill, marketing director at APS Group