Navigating WFH: Improving virtual collaboration for creative agencies

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If you’ve worked in a creative agency, odds are you’ve been wrangled into many a boardroom for a team brainstorm. You’ve felt the rush of a light bulb go off ready to share a game-changing idea, and basked in the comradery of everyone's creativity coming together–but what’s happened now that the in-person exchange of ideas has, stopped?

Can you still get that same collaborative rush, remotely? 

While there’s no denying that remote work has left a lot of agency folks more productive than ever before (just check out our State of Productivity Report), for others who thrived on the inspiration they got from in-person collaboration, they’re now left to find new ways to get there.

According to Buffer’s most recent report on remote work, collaboration and communication (56%) were one of the biggest challenges people faced when making the shift to work from home indefinitely, with 52% going as far as saying they now feel less connected to their co-workers too.

In fact, one of the most requested topics attendees were looking to hear more about after our recent agency summit, Bandwidth, was based on just that: tips for improving virtual collaboration (for creative agencies). 

As a project management platform built specifically for client work and promoting collaboration, who better to share a few things we’ve learned over the years?

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1. Make time for social celebrations

Work can’t be about work all the time. Creating space and time for celebrations and hanging out is just as important, if not, even more important now with the shift to remote work. Acknowledging birthdays, anniversaries and special events within your team is a great place to start. And why cancel Friday happy hour drinks just because the bar cart can’t make its way across town or the country for that matter? In between the larger celebrations, encourage your team to meet with co-workers for 30-minute coffee chit-chats, weekly or bi-weekly. Either way, what you do is not as important as just doing something, period. When your team has the opportunity to socialize and get in sync beyond work, it can do wonders to strengthen relationships, trust and create a solid foundation for future collaboration.

2. Establish rules for reaching out (internally)

As a remote-friendly company, we know all too well that the best way to improve collaboration for virtual teams is to set standards for doing so. The goal is to encourage intentional communication to promote positive collaborative experiences, especially now that teammates can’t just shout out to a pal a few cubicles away and run an idea by them. Its also important for agencies to clearly define working hours for their team, what’s expected after hours, and for the team to share their schedule and working hours too. Setting a “status” when you are online, offline, on a break, out of the office, etc., in a messaging program like Slack or Teamwork Chat allows for this. Plus, designating channels for communication is critical too i.e. using messaging for quick asks, email when you are reaching out to someone offline and Google docs for asynchronous work, for instance. 

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3. Use video calls (when possible)

Now we know what you’re thinking—”just what I need, another video meeting.” And while we know the Zoom fatigue is real, we also know that video meetings are the closest thing we have to face-to-face meetings and according to Harvard Business Review, “they’re better for building rapport and creating empathy.” Encourage managers to create opportunities for the team to interact regularly over video, especially for brainstorms or weekly team check-ins. It's a great way to learn how teams interact with one another in real-time, outside of one-in-one meetings. Learning about how others interact is key to collaboration and for the team to get comfortable with one another. To enhance the video meeting experience, consider optimizing Zoom's video quality. Improving your internet connection and investing in a higher-resolution camera can significantly improve visuals, fostering a more engaging and productive discussion.

If you’re over Zoom, tools like Loom are a great way to get “face time” without the added pressure of speaking live on camera. 

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4. Be clear and concise with communications

Collaboration requires open lines of communication. And let's face it, we’ve all been there where we don’t even want to approach something with a team member, dreading the back and fourth–and confusion. In the busy day-to-day in agency, often in the need to be efficient, lots gets lost in translation and we use less words to communicate online than we would in person. It's especially tough on teams who end up wasting precious agency time trying to interpret cryptic short-hand. Team members may try to avoid chaotic communicators altogether, which doesn’t exactly leave the door open for collaboration. Lead by example and show your team, that there’s no such thing as making communications too clear, and free-flowing collaboration will follow. 

5. Get to know people’s working styles

Speaking of communication, it's also important that you “know your audience.” Do some members of the team prefer connecting over the phone? Are others more visual and like to see things laid out in writing? Maybe a number of people on the team are introverted and more comfortable participating in brainstorms over video? In agency especially when teams work incredibly close and really lean on each other, one of the best ways to foster top-notch collaboration is to know your team’s “working styles.” Think of this as a work-specific personality test. It identifies how well teammates work with others, their worth ethic, and other notable traits. You can check out quizzes for free on sites like Psychology Today. You may or may not be surprised to learn “officially” how team members work best and you can strategically maximize their strengths when collaborating.

6. Make use of tools that help with collaboration

Whatever your goals are for improving collaboration know, there’s a tool for that! Whether you are using Slack to decrease inbox pile-up, EasyRetro for online brainstorming, or Loom to increase face-time sans Zoom fatigue, it's important to identity where your team is falling short with virtual collaboration first, before picking the right tools to get you (as close as possible) to the excitement levels that in-person brainstorms used to bring.

Tools built specifically for agencies and client work should top your list. Teamwork for instance was built by former agency owners who’ve been there, done that. And if you find your team is in need of a more comprehensive platform to foster collaboration–look no further. Project management platforms like Teamwork provide a centralized place to keep track of all communication and information. Resource management tools like the Workload Planner and Resource Scheduler, in particular, provide a complete view of what the team’s working on, so there’s no guessing (and no push back!) when it comes time for managers to reach out and start collaborating with teams on their next project, no matter how big or small.

No matter what, in our digitally-driven world it's important to remember that we’re still human and the need to connect is just as important as before, if not even more. While opportunities for connection used to happen organically (hello water cooler chats!), now they’ve got to happen with more intention. The feeling of connection, trust, and your team truly knowing one another creates a space (even if it's digital) for collaboration to flourish and your agency to come up with some of  its best ideas–yet!

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