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Remote Working Agencies Agency Culture

4 ways to develop creative in a remote-first environment

By Rob Blasko, Senior vice president, Creative Strategy & Brand



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June 23, 2023 | 8 min read

Remote work has its detractors and its advocates. Regardless, for many, it’s here to stay. Here, Rob Blasko of experience agency MAS shares how to keep it creative.

A remote worker kicking back with their hands on their head

How can marketing agencies keep creative in the remote paradigm? / Jason Strull via Unsplash

When remote work took the world by storm, the creative process experienced a paradigm shift.

The classic ‘let’s meet up in our brainstorming space and throw every idea we have at the wall’ shifted to carefully composed digital agendas and two-hour Zoom meetings. But if our homes are now our ‘think tanks’, what does that mean for the creative process?

Is it even possible to nurture the same reservoir (and quality) of creativity in a remote environment?

To the latter, the answer is a resounding yes. Industry leaders just need to trailblaze new remote working avenues to motivate (and excite) the bright minds in their organizations. Here are four ways they can do so.

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1. Accommodate different work styles (creativity isn’t linear)

If remote work taught us anything, it’s that not everyone ‘vibes’ with a traditional workplace or structure. In the spirit of accommodation, team leaders should build a basis that allows for synergy across different creators contributing to the conversation.

This might take the shape of setting up a template to pre-equip the entire team with prompts and guiding questions. Individuals who perform under pressure will continue to produce their jazz (brainstorming in real-time) while creative architects can mull over the material and craft solutions beforehand.

Virtual work hasn’t rendered the whiteboard obsolete; collaborative tools like virtual whiteboard Miro give everyone in the room the power to contribute without the pressure of physically standing up in front of a group.

And if your creative space is digital, it can accommodate a heck of a lot more than linear brainstorming. The innovative spirit will flourish if ideas are encouraged in all formats: gifs, podcasts, videos, and more.

If you keep the space open, ideas can, and will, sprout from everywhere.

2. Reimagine who generates creative (expand collaboration internally and externally)

When your creative space is no longer confined by four walls, collaboration can skyrocket.

As you continue to embrace remote work, remember that your online meeting room can accommodate just about everyone. To that end, inviting members outside of the ‘typical’ team will incite fresh ideas; the ethos of inclusivity strengthens creativity across departments.

Beyond that, have you ever invited your clients into the creative process? Clients can be creatives too. Especially during your first few brainstorming sessions, their perspective can be incredibly valuable.

Sarah Reed, head of global strategic events at our client Braze, understands the kind of magic that can happen when we rethink the number and type of collaborators at the creative table: “When we started working with MAS, I knew to bring them and our internal Braze brand team together early for a virtual brainstorm. By giving everyone a voice before any decisions were made, [it’s fostered creativity that’s] going to give our event attendees a much richer experience and Braze greater impact and value.”

The virtual brainstorming space is boundless. Lean into it. If it fits, invite every brilliant mind you know, whether they’re officially a part of the creative team or not.

3. Encourage humanity and vulnerability (creativity is inherently vulnerable)

When our hearts and minds are open without fear of judgment, we can cut to the heart of what we’re trying to say.

Let’s pair this approach with a contentious topic in the Zoom workplace: ‘camera-on’ policies.

Seeing your colleagues’ faces on your screen can promote a sense of community, as well as anxiety. Consider pairing your camera expectations with a ‘come as you are’ culture to promote virtual workplace comfort. Build a routine where you share highs and lows, ask about recent inspiration, and spotlight successes.

The conduit to vulnerability is active listening. While you can encourage creatives to bask in their own ‘humanness’ during meetings, they shouldn’t feel like they’re shouting into the void. Keep the chat alive, encourage emojis and reaction gifs, and remind everyone that their voice is welcomed and valued.

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4. Discover inspiration in the offline world (creativity is drawn from everywhere)

We’ve covered expanding our list of collaborators, but what about our preconceived notions of ‘appropriate’ sources of inspiration? In an ever-expanding digital world, it’s time to encourage creatives to search for eye-catching concepts IRL – anything from billboards to the grocery aisle can become catalysts for fresh ideas.

In fact, there might be more ‘lightbulb’ moments in the physical world, given that it's not our typical working stimulus. As my colleague Tyra Robinson, graphic designer at MAS, says, “Being able to connect and collaborate with our team online brings all sorts of inspiration – from sharing cool t-shirt designs to learning about new trends. These collaborative channels give us fresh perspectives and encourage outside-the-box thinking.”

Lastly, encouraging off-the-clock time can be a powerful driver of creativity. Giving your creatives the opportunity to decompress at a social event, encouraging personal development outside of the workplace, or starting a Slack thread to talk about non-work topics could help your colleagues connect with and invest in the team.

Cultural change drives creative change

While the days of physically throwing ideas at the wall might be over, the advent of virtual work hasn’t eliminated the proverbial dartboard. The workplace is changing forever, and our approaches to creativity are in lockstep.

Wherever you stand (suit up, strap in, and log on [or off, to be honest]), developing creativity in a remote-first environment means inclusion, experimentation, and daring to be vulnerable.

Remote Working Agencies Agency Culture

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MAS is an award-winning experience agency serving some of the most iconic, innovative brands in the world. Minority-led and founded, we’ve built our team with...

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