Opinion: Has COVID-19 forced agencies to rethink creative collaboration?

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Piyush Kedia creative collaboration

Blue Vector's Piyush Kedia traces the way creative collaboration has changed due to the restrictions imposed under the lockdown.

COVID-19 has hit world economy like the TV static that used to hit in the middle of your Sunday morning cartoons. It’s anticlimactic, boring, and it leaves you feeling powerless. If you’re from an agency, you know this feeling.  How have we adapted to this unforeseen development and managed to transform a once-monolithic creative collaboration setup into a hivemind? 

When people think of agencies, they’re picturing a visibly chaotic office floor with funny quotes on walls, a lot of talking, team members wearing casuals and bean bags everywhere.

There’s always bean bags

Call it a stereotype, but that over-energized farrago is how the creative process naturally manifests itself, especially because it’s borne off people and their tendencies to socialize and find comfort in synergy. 

So, you would naturally think this setup collapses if you take all the centralization and the idea of an actual ‘vibrant office space’ and the ‘impromptu jamming’ away, right? The answer is a definite no but also a very uncertain yes, at least not certain enough for us to say that we’ve cracked the alternative.

It’s gotten us all thinking though, is it possible to ‘scatter’ the creative collaboration process that agencies so nonchalantly make memes about? Should we even try to do it? Some cabin-fever insights we’ve picked up from working from home might help us in our line of questioning.

A good team, remotely

We’ve learned that a good team is still a good team, irrespective of who sits where. This applies especially to the smaller teams, the organically synchronized three-man teams of copy, management and art who get the job done by quickly scampering between their desks rather than follow mail trails. Good communication that’s already established from the point of intent, will find its way around audio, video or smoke signalling. Yes, the technological quick fixes will boost your productivity, but good interpersonal communication will boost relationships, and those are way more important.

Role of technology in collaboration

But tech is important. These hits close to home, especially because sometimes you don’t have the hi-tech stations that you’re so used to while working at the office. The company laptops are great but that extra computing power that designers and production guys need from the hi-fi systems in the office can often be the make-or-break factor when it comes to delivery. 

Here’s a new thought starter: how do we balance the restrictiveness of the central hi-fi office space and the stifled tech-capability of working remotely?

Test of individual capabilities

Individual capability is still everything. One of the greatest things about working in your own personal space, albeit with its own need of discipline, is how your mind is forced to generate ideas and solutions for yourself because you can’t constantly be asking others for them. But more than an obvious reaction to scarcity, this self-reliance must be treated as a skill, in the office or outside it.

Ownership of creative ideas

Idea ownership is really nobody’s bastion, but it’s good to pretend it’s yours. An extension of that last point, one thing we’ve learned is that the old t-shaped skillset doesn’t do. What works now is developing a healthy comb-shaped skillset that allows you to nurture ideas to fruition, whatever be the current state of the idea. 

You need to be as close as you can be to the ideal-one-man-agency.

Also Read: Change in online retail shopping habits of consumers amidst COVID-19

Get your weird cap on

Content is weird, people’s appetites are weirder, so broaden your platter. We’re not making rich, high-budget, nuanced ad films, but the consumption of content has only gotten heavier, owing to all the free time we now have. How this affects ‘collaboration’ is how we treat it – the idea that it is all about sound boarding, debating and ideating to reach a conclusive singular idea. We may want to change this to a deductive process - ‘everybody brings their ideas and we’ll reject a few’.

Who’s to tell which unusual TikTok experiment goes viral?

Meeting too much?

Too many meetings can be useless. It’s true and you know that. Some of you aren’t even learning the hard way and that’s a crying shame.

Like every other historical tipping point in the agency industry, this one too is presenting more exciting questions than a one-size-fits-all answer. The truth is, decentralization of the creative process, at least a semblance of it, has always been there - it’s only on us to deliberate it and make it more efficient for the sake of every stakeholder. It saves us time, money and sanity. 

A nucleic system will always have its benefits, but a natural evolution of the current agency model is invariably going to lead somewhere else. It’s almost certainly going to be a place where people have more personal agency, they’re multi-skilled, are technologically sound and they have the backing of a larger, more credible body.

Future of creative collaboration

The pandemic was a test that was waiting to happen, only it happened at a much larger scale than what would be ideal to test our collaborative models. Besides, the growing gig economy, the growth of tech and the entire redefinition of marketing, are conversations that are already taking place - the pandemic is just somewhat of an unwelcome catalyst to these pieces of the larger re-evolution. 

So, it isn’t for the next pandemic that we ought to question how we work, but for better work itself and for ensuring we don’t burn out or become dispensable in the process. Here’s to the future.

This article has been authored by Piyush Kedia, Founder and CEO, Blue Vector.

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