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Is Working from Home Dulling Our Creative Spark?

London, UK
The Bank of England economist reckons businesses are less innovative with home working – but what do creative leaders think?
You know what they say, if you’ve got a question about creativity, ask a banker. Oh. What’s that? They don’t say that? I see. Nonetheless, this week the Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, suggested that working from home was stifling creative thought and workplace spontaneity, which was having a negative knock-on effect on companies’ capacity for innovation and growth. In his speech, given to the Engaging Business Summit, he said that he felt workers’ ‘creative spark’ was being dampened by the absence of spontaneous encounters and the experience of being out in the world.

"Home working means serendipity is supplanted by scheduling, face-to-face by Zoom-to-Zoom. What creativity is gained in improved tunnelling is lost in the darkness of the tunnel itself,” he said. "I imagine some people will have used lockdown to write that creative novel they always knew was in them. I doubt many will become modern-day classics."

So that’s what the money man thinks, but does that tally up with the experience of people whose work entirely hinges on creativity?

Damon Collins, Founder, Joint

Joint is a creative business set up on the belief that collaboration is the best way to answer big problems.

At the heart of collaboration is conversation. And conversations between people who don’t usually spend time together is where the real innovation comes from.
We’ve worked hard to create an environment which encourages people of different disciplines to spend time together. We all sit around one table. Our meeting rooms are sofas and our kitchen.

So when we all had to sod off and work from home our biggest challenge was how can we keep those serendipitous moments happening? Like with everything about creating a culture, it takes a lot of effort.

We started by making sure that the talking continues. Getting off email and onto video calls the second we possibly can. We also instigated mandatory ‘Kitchen Hangouts’. Smaller calls with no agenda, held throughout the week, with colleagues, chosen at random, who don’t work together on a daily basis. Some of our most exciting ideas have come from those intimate little chats over coffee where people feel no pressure to discuss their day job and are free to just talk about whatever’s in their head.
Working from home hasn’t affected the quality of our work. But it takes creativity to find ways to keep creativity thriving whilst working from home. And whether people and businesses manage to keep up their creativity may end up being a good test of how much they had in the first place..

Ben Harwood, Creative Director, Feed

There’s no denying the pandemic has ‘reshaped our working lives’ but home working hasn’t reduced our capacity for creative thought. We’ve just had to get creative to stay creative by putting in extra effort to source inspiration and keep that collective spark alight - from setting up daily virtual workshops, harnessing new technologies with collaboration as standard (like Figma) or creating Slack channels and informal Friday meetings dedicated to sharing the things that people have found inspiring. We’ve found plenty of ways to use technology to reignite creative thought, not stifle it. Working from home taught us that – when it comes down to it – we’re all rather good at self-motivating. We’ve seen the same, or maybe even an uplift, in productivity, helped by innovative thinking and collaboration.
And we’ve even been creative in our business growth - in the last year we’ve hired close to 50 people across the globe, onboarding them digitally, collaborating with them virtually and in turn, developing some of our most innovative creative ideas. Working from home isn’t without its challenges and we all miss being physically with our colleagues and clients, but as a digital-first business we are still creativity-first and long may that continue.

Becky McOwen-Banks, ECD, VaynerMedia London

Andy Haldane’s recent comments struck a chord with every creative in our industry. We are all suffering due to working from home. Yes, it has strengthened connections with our colleagues overseas, and yes, there is creativity in some of the solutions being devised to deal with our separation.
But, ultimately, working via video call means you must formalise interactions and collaborations. Ideas don’t flow as easily for a bunch of creative extroverts. Conversations that would usually break out among the group and the happenstance of life’s interactions cannot happen.
Being around people in person energises you. On the other hand, ‘Zoomification’ is exhausting. It’s the nature of the beast. We are still creating fantastic work across all of our clients (in fact in the last two months we have completed 17 shoots) and I am immensely proud of our team. Creativity and brilliance will always find a way.
It is encouraging us to keep our fingers on the pulse of culture (even more so than usual), to find ways to proactively connect and to provide our best creative solutions. When we do return to agency life, the experience of being separated will almost certainly focus our minds on when we need to be in person and the power of that - leading us on to even better thinking.

Michael Frohlich, CEO, Ogilvy UK

It is no understatement that COVID has forced us to re-evaluate many things, including how we work effectively but apart. Would we have done this without a global pandemic? In all honestly, I don’t think many businesses could say yes. But I’m glad we have been put in this position.
Because, at Ogilvy, we want everyone to be empowered and have agency over their decisions. Yes, we definitely believe that creativity relies on collaboration to grow and be sculpted. We can see ideas across the building being moved on and developed as people drift (safely) by a desk, or pop into a meeting they are passing. But creativity also requires moments of quiet, solitude and reflection. It is what WFH has provided us, and we are seeing real benefits for clients, in the work and for our staff’s wellbeing.
This needs to be more than a temporary hiatus from the status quo. The creative industry needs to embrace this new mindset. The pandemic has provided us the opportunity to strategically reposition the creative sectors, our concept of creativity and elevate its role as a core contributor to economic growth and success.
For Ogilvy, lockdown has afforded us the opportunity to build a new office based on flexible, hybrid working, which we need to harness for the good of our businesses and our work. It has given us the opportunity to totally transform how we create, communicate and collaborate.

Tim Delaney, Chairman & Executive Creative Director, Leagas Delaney 

Having ideas requires discipline, which can include sharing stupid ideas before coming up with something interesting. So sharing and filtering is obviously a part of that process. That can be done easily wherever you are. People forget that creative teams have been split up for years - working on set or from home or just in a different part of the office. Also, not every creative person wants or needs another person involved. So WFH is kind of an extension of the way we all work. I find people either enjoy cracking briefs and want to spend every waking hour trying to do just that or they don't. One of the privileges of working in our jobs is that we can stop and look at other people's great work, watch a director's reel, read an article or a book that distracts or inspires us. Then go back to work refreshed. Every morning, Tolstoy read other authors for inspiration before starting his work. We do the same I think. Ideas come from strategy, concentration and a desire to do something appropriate, hopefully fresh. And all that takes discipline. Working from home doesn’t change that.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels
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