Patrick Holly
Apr 16, 2023

Busting the myth that remote work doesn't work for creatives

How to tackle the biggest lie we tell ourselves in a post-office world.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Remote working doesn’t work for creatives. 

We all need to be together in the same room to do our best work. 

I mean, what’s a whiteboarding session without a whiteboard? Zoom fatigue is real, and it doesn’t breed creativity the way in-person interaction does. Remember all those hours spent kicking around the office, chatting about nothing until it became something? 

As a creative, I’m sure you’ve heard — or even espoused — a version of the above monologue. COVID-19 undoubtedly upended the professional landscape, making distributed workforce models the rule instead of the exception. 

In a post-office world, what does it mean to create — to brainstorm — successfully? Long gone are the days of full teams gathering in conference rooms to concept the next great idea for a brand. Instead, in-office interaction has become limited to a few folks taking Zoom brainstorms from their desks, taking turns muting to share their thoughts.

It’s easy to say remote work doesn’t work, but key insights say otherwise. According to a study released by Morning Consult in June 2022, 79% of respondents felt more productive working remotely. Plus, according to LinkedIn, remote jobs attracted 2.6 times more views on the site and nearly three times more applicants compared to on-site roles in early 2022. 

According to Upwork's latest Future Workforce Report, 25% of the workforce, or 38 million Americans, are currently remote first or mostly remote, with 71% of organizations planning to include remote work as part of their standard operations moving forward. Like it or not, the remote work wave isn’t going anywhere. So, how can we iron out the kinks? 

Perhaps the real problem lies in an inability to admit fallacy on either end of the spectrum. The folks advocating for in-person work roll out some version of the above spiel, leaving WFH advocates left to defend their position. If champions of a post-office world admitted the model’s faults, we would come one step closer to a more creative hybrid landscape.

Microsoft reveals that 43% of leaders consider relationship-building — which, as we know, serves as a cornerstone of idea generation — hybrid and remote work’s greatest challenge. To tackle this issue, creative leaders must welcome remote and hybrid work, admit the challenge and find ways to surmount it. If everyone operates from a place of embracing this new thing — but admitting it needs fine-tuning — a sense of communal problem solving will rise from the ashes of defensiveness. 

The pandemic signaled not only the death of the office as we knew it, but also hustle culture.

Paradoxically, the term “Zoom fatigue” has grown since the start of the pandemic. Employees jump from meeting to meeting, presenting finding after finding without opportunities to pause, reflect, or, in certain cases, tackle their work during work hours. 

Efforts to recreate in-office bonding, like the dreaded virtual happy hour, frequently fall flat. 

Certain companies have shaken it up; for instance, at the height of lockdown, Miami-based advertising agency the community invited its favorite local, out-of-work bartenders to join in for a happy hour, integrating a fundraising component. But by and large, virtual happy hours come riddled with awkward conversation and forced bonding. When brainstorms make their way onto calendars, participants often feel pressure to bring pre-prepared ideas. Presentation trumps collaboration, killing the sense of community that made in-office ideation its special brand of magic. 

As creative leaders, our mission is to foster an environment that generates results for our clients. Monday kickoff meetings have become a favorite part of the week for my team, which consists of both full-time employees and globally distributed freelancers, as we spend the hour talking about anything but work. Starting with multiple show-and-tells followed by a Trader Joe’s snack review and closing out with 15 minutes of thanking each other, we leave with an energizing sense of unity. 

Culture breeds creativity but it has yet to reach its strategic zenith in this new remote paradigm. So, what if we reconceptualized the hybrid and remote brainstorm? What if we extended those meetings longer and showed up with fewer expectations, starting with a topic tangential to the matter at hand instead of diving into the deep end? 

The ruthless efficiency of working from home, of stacking meeting after meeting, has stripped away some of the serendipity of in-office downtime — or time wasting, depending on how you look at it. By looking to recreate those conditions in a targeted, intentional way, we have the opportunity to preserve the best parts of in-office culture in a more effective, efficient and flexible environment. 

But to get there, we have to admit where we’re falling short — and create a solution that rides the wave of change instead of swimming against it.

Patrick Holly is executive creative director at freelancing platform Upwork. 

Campaign US

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