The advantages of controlling distractions, freedom and flexibility can certainly make a case for doing better creative work from home."
Coming up on two years of navigating the pandemic, I’ve been wondering whether working from home can elevate creative work. Most studies on the impact of working from home point to people’s enhanced efficiency. But how does that apply to creative work?
Creative people join an agency to be around other people who have a creative gift. Those who have big ideas attract others who want to think big, create campaigns that get noticed and have an impact on the world in some way. Typically, creative agency work relies on teamwork, creative collaboration, work reviews and lots of meetings to imagine and sell an original idea.
At the start of COVID, our creative people longed to meet and work together. We all missed the office comradery, seeing each other in the kitchen, lunching together. It seemed that everyone couldn’t wait to get back to the old routine of “officing.” Later, when it was time to think about creative life in an office again, we surveyed our associates to find what they wanted in a work from home/work in office balance. Surprisingly, we found very few creative people wanted to return to a regular in-office schedule. In fact, the people who wanted to return to the office wanted to be there two days a week on average.
Here is why I believe that is.
Creative people like change.
Working day after day in an office becomes monotonous. Many creative people feel the need to meet at coffee shops, restaurants or bars to brainstorm ideas. Creative people love to go on photo shoots, on trips to see clients or work from other places, all in an effort to mix it up and be inspired. By working outside the office, we can concentrate on the work at hand and avoid the daily obligations that drain our brains. You know what I’m talking about.
Creative people hate distractions.
There you are, hunkered down in front of your screen or sketchpad with your headphones on, cracking the code on a big idea and you feel the account person hovering behind you. Someone needs a jpg. Another interruption. Thought lost. Beyond the jpgs your account person asks for daily, there are many other distractions in the office, like status meetings that keep you from concentrating and doing your best work. These are long meetings designed to cover off on all the details, while keeping you from actually working on the things everyone needs from you. They usually happen in the mornings when you are most creative and sometimes give you enough anxiety that you can’t be too creative for the rest of the day. But there are other distractions. Like job numbers and time entry. Or watering your plant or nuking your lunch or chatting at the water cooler or meetings — and more jpg requests.
So, does working from home eliminate distractions? In some cases, creatives may have more distractions at home, like another work-from-home person sharing your precious Wi-Fi. The Netflix series you can’t stop watching. Laundry, housework or your new culinary hobby. Loud neighbors.
Working from home really doesn’t eliminate distractions, it just changes them and, in some cases, adds more. Only you can eliminate distractions that keep you from your best work.
Creative people like freedom and flexibility.
There is a certain freedom from working from home. You may decide to work in your sweatpants. You may decide to reprioritize your day. You may decide to work different hours. Or go for a long walk. Certainly, freedom is a huge advantage of working from home. Establishing how and when you want to work and what meetings to accept or not is a big benefit.
Working from home is not a utopia for everyone.
Everyone’s situation is unique. And while the tools are getting better, there’s still a need to interact with people more regularly.
The things I miss most are creative reviews, the times when we preview the work or sketch ideas and hang them on the wall to review in person. I’ve found these to be valuable for discussing approaches and honing concepts so that they become more unique. By presenting our work out loud to an internal group, we consciously simplify our thoughts and allow the real idea to emerge. Many times, there is an idea that another person’s perspective will pull forward. I love to hear creative people present ideas. I love the interpretations of a creative brief. In many cases, we realize flaws in the overall approach or find a springboard for a bigger idea. Such meetings help us all learn more about the brands we work on. Some of our best and biggest creative ideas have been a result of asking questions in a group.
We may be losing the opportunity to train.
Every creative agency is starved for creative training. Whether it be about finding your ability to think of bigger, better campaigns or to be more efficient in making the work, creative people need training opportunities and they need them often. Since working from home, I miss the ability to have discussions in the moment and solve problems.
The silver lining is the amount and variety of online training that is both free and really very good. We should take advantage of free training as much as we can. But the training that comes from working closely together is difficult to replicate or replace.
Does all this result in better work when working at home?
When I weigh the options, the advantages of controlling distractions, freedom and flexibility can certainly make a case for doing better creative work from home. While the office is great for comradery and culture, I believe video conferencing and new collaborative working tools give us the opportunity to work better from home. There’s a great value to new options for working with new and diverse talent from all parts of the world, not just those in close proximity. Many times, finding ways to work with different creative partners can inspire us.
Working from home can result in bigger and more thoughtful ideas if we don’t lose our drive to work with partners who can influence our work, engage new creative partners and creative directors in reviews and seek training opportunities. The difference is creatives are now in control of their freedom and flexibility — and there’s always the option of working on the patio or at a coffee shop.
If we work to find what inspires us and stay connected and productive, I believe our creative people can achieve anything from anywhere.