‘How much longer will we be working from home?’ That’s the question that many creatives wonder, as they walk from their home office, past the pile of laundry, and into the kitchen for their first (or fourth) coffee of the day. They aren’t begrudging the situation. In fact, many of them prefer it to the old Monday to Friday trek to work. They are asking not out of concern that they will be confined to their home forever, but that one day they will be asked to return to the office.
It’s a question agency owners must grapple with. Vaccines begin their slow rollout around the world and the prospect of returning to our previous way of life glimmers in the distance. Soon there will be talks of office reopenings and returns. And if they’re not prepared, agency owners will be surprised to be met with resistance from their teams.
In our 2021 industry report, the majority of respondents said they were open to allowing employees to work from home. This is a wise decision, as 70% of employees say they wish to go into the office no more than twice a week. Indeed, if marketing and creative agency owners are unable to implement effective work from home policies they may find themselves losing their top talent.
In this blog, we’ll provide some key statistics from our industry report (including whether remote work affected employee productivity and agency billability) and suggest how you can develop successful remote work policies for your agency.
Remote Work and Employee Productivity
By far the biggest concern agency owners had about the switch to remote work was the productivity of their creative teams. With more distractions and less oversight, would their teams do what’s required of them, or would the lure of Netflix and naps be too overwhelming?
It turns out that creative professionals are just that. Professional. Working from home proved to be no obstacle in the completion of work. Neither did it affect the quality of work or the time it took to complete. Creatives were roughly as productive and efficient (and in some cases more so) at home as they were in the office. In our survey, over three-quarters of respondents said that their productivity remained the same or increased since working from home.
The increased flexibility brought on by remote work likely contributes to creatives maintaining and increasing their productivity. It has been easier for people to develop a daily routine that works for them. Early risers can start their day a few hours earlier than they normally might if they had to commute to the office and night owls could finish their work in the evening quiet. Daily hassles such as commutes to and from work may also give people more energy to focus on important tasks.
Remote Work Policies: Communication and Collaboration is Key
Whether your remote work policy succeeds depends largely on your team’s ability to communicate and collaborate. Employees, across all industries, want employers to invest in tools that improve team culture and make collaboration easier.
Project managers especially are looking for tools that make collaboration more seamless. One drawback of remote work is the potential for impromptu meetings has disappeared. A project manager can’t pop over to the desk of a designer and ask for the status of an asset due shortly. Although the total time it takes to complete a project hasn’t changed, the lack of seamless collaboration can make a project feel inefficient. And given that many agencies are in the early stages of learning how to work remotely, there is certainly room for improvement.
One way to improve the collaboration and communication of your teams is to have your whole agency using one software. For instance, Function Point’s Kanban view allows creative teams to share files, comment on tasks, provide feedback, and assign tasks all on one screen.
Keep an Eye on Burnout
Many of the cues managers use to spot employee burnout are visual. A lack of excitement, not dressed as neatly as usual, looking tired and stressed. Remote work has removed many of these visual indicators. Yes, we still meet face-to-face in Zoom, but it’s much easier to put on a brave face for a 30-minute strategy session than it is a whole day. That means employees can burn out without even noticing it.
There are two effective strategies to combat employee burnout. The first is to periodically check up on your teams, especially after a busy period in the studio. Every few months sit down with individual members and have a candid conversation about how they’re feeling about work. If they’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed by everything going on, they may open up and take some needed time off.
The second is to keep an eye on their workload through agency management software. Function Point provides deep insights into workloads and stress levels. Using historical data you can see which of your employees are consistently being overloaded with work and politely suggest they take a break.
Bring the team together (once it’s safe)
Part of successful remote collaboration is bringing the team together periodically and making the most of those meetings. Though many creatives are happy working from home, they do miss the sense of camaraderie that being around co-workers can begin.
Many businesses that work remotely understand the importance of keeping team morale high and making their employees feel connected. That’s why they periodically bring everyone together for fun activities. The big companies (Automattic, the creators of WordPress) take their employees on a retreat where they can spend time together and do some business planning as well. For agencies with less cash to splash, events as simple as an escape room, going to the pool hall, or an evening at a show can do wonders for inspiring and connecting your creatives.
As a return to normal becomes closer in the horizon, agency owners must ask themselves what they want normal to look like. For many, it’ll involve allowing creatives to work remotely a number of days per week. And if remote work is going to remain a permanent fixture in the creative industry, agencies would be wise to buttress their communication and collaboration tools. An all-in-one agency solution is a great place to start.