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Lessons from Lockdown

Greenwich Design

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Why a studio is still the best option for a creative team

As we come to the end of what has been a year like no other, it got us thinking about the creative challenges Greenwich Design has faced over the past few months and the positive learnings we’ll take from the Covid crisis.

For most organisations the workplace will never be quite the same again. We’ve all had to adapt to a more flexible working model, and as we return to ‘normal’ many people will want to retain some level of flexibility. For some companies, that could present an opportunity to save money on rental space with fewer people coming into work, or lead to a reduction in travel and its associated expenses. So what does it mean for a creative team?

Do we need a physical workplace?

We moved into our shiny new studio just a couple of months before the first lockdown. While we’ve all adapted to homeworking, the majority of the team is keen to get back to the office as soon as possible. Although our web developers, whose work doesn’t rely on collaboration, are perfectly happy to work remotely, the designers miss the inspiration that often comes from being together in a creative hub. As one of our directors, Simon, puts it: “It’s the spontaneity of passing someone’s desk when they’re working on something and being able to say, ‘why don’t you try this’ or ‘I might do it a different way’. You lose that when you’re not in the same place.”

The move to the new studio generated a real buzz and positive energy amongst our team. While we may not all need to be in the studio every day, we’d be loath to give up any of our creative space even if it did save the company money. Simon worries that workplaces will lose their personality if decisions are made based on ways to cut costs. “The bean counters at a lot of companies are very powerful and the crisis has given them a real business case for reducing office space,” he says. That could be seriously detrimental for creative development in any business, but specifically the creative industry.

The work environment often reflects the culture of an organisation. Until recently, Greenwich Design was a family-run business, and we like to think that part of what makes us unique is that close knit “family” vibe. It’s part of our ethos and working from home permanently would jeopardise that – it’s hard to maintain close personal relationships with colleagues if half the team never shows up to the studio.

Creative sessions don’t work on Zoom

We also discovered that the opportunities for creative brainstorming just aren’t the same when you’re working remotely. We’ve had to do video calls to keep things going for both business and personal communications between the team, and we use Slack to keep up the banter, but technology doesn’t allow for the spontaneity needed for, say, a creative brainstorming session. Likewise, doing a pitch, presenting creds or presenting client work over Zoom can be disastrous. It’s a really dull way to unveil a creative idea for a start, and it’s difficult to gauge people’s reactions. Add to that the potential for technical difficulties and crossed conversations and it’s easy to see why we creatives are keen to get back to in-person meetings!

Working remotely requires a level of trust, as there’s a much greater opportunity for people to take advantage of not being visible, but generally, if you treat people like adults, they respect that. However, we’ve been weighing up the benefits of not commuting or being able to concentrate without distraction, with the productivity lost by not having people on hand to pick up spontaneous jobs and exercises. By being together, you also find out which team members are more proactive about work. This is important when thinking about how the business can develop – it’s these people that may well be the long-term future of the company.

That said, we all adapted to lockdown well, met our deadlines and increased our productivity in certain areas, so there are clear benefits to offering some flexibility. The directors here have agreed that while we believe the team will benefit from being back in the studio as a general rule, we’ll be open to flexibility as and when people need it. Coincidentally, we discussed the idea of greater flexibility prior to the pandemic, so the situation that we’ve all found ourselves in this year has simply accelerated the plans.

The best of both worlds

We know working from home is possible but there’s also the risk of losing that valuable social interaction when everyone’s apart. The right solution is likely to be slightly different for every company and leaders will have to come up with their own set of rules. That could be having agreed days when everyone comes in or having flexibility around core working hours to allow people to commute outside of rush hour. For us it’s about finding the right balance – providing a creative environment where everyone can thrive, keeping up the camaraderie which is so much a part of who we are, whilst understanding that offering a level of flexibility can benefit our team’s wellbeing.

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