collaboration creativity

WFH ≠ work alone

When I started my first job in design waaaaay back in the 90’s, it was as a part-time junior designer. The rest of the week I was home freelancing trying to make rent. Thinking back to those days, was I any more or less creative or lonely when I was working by myself versus working in a studio? No. Here’s why:

1. Technology is a game-changer.

If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that advanced technology is a goddess-send when it comes to the functionality and productivity of a workplace. White-collar businesses whose livelihoods centered around meetings and documents, were able to continue pretty much unscathed during the pandemic thanks to platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams and Zoom, to name a few. Don’t even get me started on “The Cloud.” (Who needs a hard drive any more let alone a desk?!) Creative folks like me have also benefitted greatly from these strides with Adobe Creative Suite far surpassing the desktop Quark Xpress to which we were slaves in the 90’s. When I entered the design space, professionals were only beginning to adopt the desktop mode of design. This generation of designers feared that the computer would take away all tactile exploration of forms and automated font formatting would destroy the nuanced kerning and paragraph rags that required a keen and trained eye. At times, they were correct. I cringe at some of the letter spacing I see these days. So, what does all of this have to do with working from home versus not? My point is: things change, but creativity adapts, and the technology available to creatives today not only allows for more exploration, but it also allows for all of this to happen in a remote environment where ideas can be exchanged almost instantly—when you are ready to do so, not when the conference room was scheduled. Which leads me to my next point:

2. Night owls, wallflowers, and moms welcome.

Though the argument used to be that in-person workplaces were a breeding ground for spontaneous collaboration and inspirational exchanges, the truth is very different. This post was in fact inspired by a recent New York Times article stating the opposite: “Requiring people to be in the office can drive out innovation, some researchers and executives said, because for many people, in-person office jobs were never a great fit. They include many women, racial minorities and people with caregiving responsibilities or disabilities. Also, people who are shy; who need to live far from the office; who are productive at odd hours; or who were excluded from golf games or happy hours.” In short: not everyone beat boxes to the same drum. Working from home can enrich creativity because it allows the individual to work in a way that best suits them (like, say, when the kids are in bed and you can finally FOCUS for the love of all that is holy!). Also, I run. Not marathons, but part of my weekly exercise routine includes at least three, three- to four-mile runs. I can’t emphasize what a gift this is for my brain, let alone my body. I’m able to truly zone out and focus in on ideas my mind has been too splintered to consider fully. Some of my best concepts have been accomplished by literally putting one foot in front of the other. That, and grocery lists.

3. Your Zoom or mine?

As sad and truly devastating the pandemic has been, it has been a giant “Reset” button for industries. Instead of routine, we were forced out of our comfort zones and plopped in front of a screen that more resembled the opening of a Brady Buch episode rather than a workplace. And while many of us suffered from this shift (thinking of the millions of kids who had to spend the school year in front of a laptop), some of us gained new perspective on what collaboration truly means. We learned out of desperation for human contact to move away from “let’s get down to business” and toward “before we begin, how’s everyone doing?” It slowed us down. Made room for empathy. And, I don’t think any creative person will argue that more time to breathe and think could harm the creative process.

So, how does all of this change the workplace in the long run? Will offices become more social outlets for companies rather than task-master meeting spaces? A lot of us have found a nice rhythm (after much struggle) in the WFH lifestyle and will be sad to let it go completely. Luckily, I don’t have to, but I hope that for my colleagues, a shift will take place and companies will recognize that balance brings happiness, and that appreciating people’s different work styles and demands outside of the office makes us human, not slackers. That room, that air, will only improve innovation by giving us all time to reflect, organize and respond with innovation.