December 14, 2023
The writing’s clear as day on the whiteboard; how we work now makes the workplace of the last decade feel like the distant past. Yet, how and when individuals should reintegrate into the physical workspace remains uncertain for the workforce as a whole. Some companies have abandoned the idea altogether, with one Gallup survey finding that 3 in 10 people exclusively work remotely. Others aspire to return to the old ways with mixed results, even losing talent to companies offering the freedom and flexibility that employees now expect.
What’s also clear is that the debate between remote vs. in-person work won’t likely be settled soon. There’s obvious value in both approaches. What’s more, the decision also depends on the business, if not the industry that the business operates within. Creatives, who are adaptable by nature, were able to thrive in the remote work environment. Still, it certainly can’t compare to all the benefits of working in person together as a creative team.
The Benefits of Working in Person as Creatives
When we share the same space with someone, there’s an unquantifiable yet unmistakable energy exchange. Being close helps us understand each other better, making it easier to clear up misunderstandings and build a shared excitement that often leads to new ideas, concepts, and improvements. Yet, capturing this lively energy exchange is tough during remote work collaboration calls.
Given the meeting-heavy necessities of remote work, there’s a limit on the time you spend together. This isn’t true in the office. Sure, we may have meetings, but the time in between can morph into impromptu collaborative sessions. Swinging by someone’s desk to chat can quickly bring about a winning idea. There’s also something to be said about being surrounded by a variety of professional minds. Casual interactions between individuals with different skills and diverse perspectives can be the source of unexpected genius.
The Challenges of Returning to the Office
Of course, returning to in-person work isn’t without its challenges. It takes careful planning to arrive at the right solution for how to transition back to the office. Space and time can be problematic after spending over three years working from home. The creative act involves a certain level of vulnerability. So, it’s essential to curate spaces that create an environment to reinforce confident creativity, amplify uniqueness, and strengthen our craft. Creative leaders will want to carve out spaces to create, whether that involves dedicated workstations or improvements to office aesthetics.
As far as time goes, that’s probably one of the most significant differences between remote vs. in-person work. We’ve grown comfortable with our current independence and flexibility, doing the “heavy lifting” whenever it works best for us individually. Now, we’re tasked with balancing commute time, in-office time, and other obligations, which can make finding time to concentrate no small feat. It’s all about arriving at a new working rhythm and relearning what it was like to create on a schedule. Just remember that the benefits of working in person often outweigh the challenges of what we give up.
The Unexpected Advantages of the New Normal
Another unexpected benefit has come out of this experience, leading to one of the more productive creative agency trends we’ve seen recently. With the limitations of proximity all but gone, the world of candidates opened beyond the urban centers where most of us work. This situation has made it possible to multiply the opportunities for greater inclusion in the workplace. We were able to curate a more diverse talent pool and learn how to hire inclusively. That should guide our principles as we explore how to transition back to the office.
This isn’t to say that inclusion in the workplace or diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives were absent from the creative space. Agencies often rely on freelancers who work remotely and introduce a level of “situational diversity” to the office. Moving remotely en masse made it much easier to work across greater distances, and remote work collaboration became the norm. Now, we must be mindful when returning to the office because not everyone will be there. Maintaining the ease of collaboration for our permanent remote workers will be paramount.
The New Tools of Today’s Workplace
As we moved from and back to the office, the world kept turning, and technological advancements kept accelerating. Suddenly, artificial intelligence became smarter and more capable. We don’t know exactly where it’s headed and how good (or dangerous) it might become. But one thing is for sure: It, too, is changing the way of working. As we harness AI’s capabilities and potential output in the work we do, we must also learn to keep an eye on it. We can’t afford the potential risks to ourselves, our agencies, or our clients.
Consider the possible implications of creating AI-powered, data-driven solutions that can track consumers in real time, know where they are at any given moment, and deliver individualized messages through the most relevant channel. Instead of a dystopian vision, this could be a new North Star for our industry — if applied in a principled way — improving how we connect with and engage customers and prospects. It’s a journey that requires cautious optimism in addition to adaptability.
The Future Still Looks Bright
Despite its potential pitfalls and risks, AI is already impacting our teams and has sparked a new creative agency trend. It’s now approved for limited use in our creative applications, and we’ve observed notable benefits from this integration. Additionally, we have become proficient in remote and hybrid work arrangements. These developments have made it easier to foster a culture that seeks inclusivity, promotes diversity, and nurtures collaboration.
If there’s anything we should all take away from this experience, it’s the importance of what could be called the five Cs of healthy creative workplaces: collaboration, cooperation, chemistry, creative space, and creation time. If we’re looking to bring our teams back into the office, we’ll get the most value by embracing each one while finding ways to expand upon them. Just as important will be remaining mindful of the challenges that will come for some. Unlike many of my colleagues, I was never hired to work remotely as an employee or freelancer. So, for me, returning to the office is a natural next step, but it might not be as easy for everyone.
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