Digital transformation

Driving the remote revolution?

At the time of writing this, myself and my team are some 15 weeks or so into a remote working set up and I’ve not seen most of my team in person for a quarter of a year.

As for many businesses, working from home can be a double-edged sword; I’ve always advocated the benefits of a day or two from home for some clear, undisturbed headspace. But, I yearn for our office-based physical workspace with the interaction, spontaneity and interaction that it brings to ignite that all important creative spark that we’ve been temporarily robbed of.

When you consider that according to a survey by identity management firm Okta, whilst some 55% of businesses asked reported productivity had increased, only a quarter of staff want to come back full time. Whilst the home working revolution certainly has its merits and, whilst initially sceptical, I can see the benefits. But, as long-term approach, I certainly have my doubts.

As a business, over the last 11 or so years we’ve been going, in my opinion, we’ve undoubtedly produced our best thinking when together, in person either as a team or with our clients. Personally – and I’m not alone in the business in this thinking – I find it hard to bounce around ideas, riff off colleagues and channel new thinking through a screen with limited connection and or sound limitations. The all-important benefit of the creation of social ties and reciprocal trust essential to innovation just aren’t there without a face-to-face environment; the collaboration just doesn’t spark as well.

Or does it? My thinking certainly won’t be a barometer for the creative industry as a whole – far from it. Whilst previous research has suggested creative performance is significantly lower when there is no face-to-face communication, this lockdown has fostered the use of technologies such as video conferencing (a show of hands for those who’d never even heard of Zoom if asked four months ago) with creative performance and collaborative undertakings able to work. The ways in which we’ve been using technology to maintain contact, keep ourselves entertained and get together virtually has been both creative and impressive in its imagination.

There’s also a number of online and digital tools available can also help to bridge that creative gap or spark new thinking – a great example of this is Brainsparker – a simple app that creates random prompt cards to encourage more diverse thinking or fresh approaches to creative challenges, and the amount of tools from Asana to Zoho available can ensure that we’re all connective and collaborative. And great tools they are too.

So what’s my issue then? We’ve proven we can adapt, the technologies are there and the tools are literally at our fingertips. Research points to large chunks of our society that sees remote working as the future – or at least a big part of it. Am I being some old curmudgeon grumbling about things not being like they used to be and that it’s just not the same as being there? Perhaps.

But let me draw on an example: every Friday, I have had a catch up with some close friends online – a group of lads that I’ve known for around 30 years. This is a video call, peppered with a now obligatory quiz that may last an hour before we cite something else needing doing, but actually we’ve mostly run out things to say. With relaxed social rules, four came to my house last Friday evening and sat socially distanced in the garden for a few beers. The spark was back: the conversation flowed, banter was rife and everyone came in for a ribbing at one point or another. Five hours later and well past midnight, I’m having to pack them off home, all of us with big smiles on our faces.

I feel the same way about this current landscape and a remote revolution. We absolutely need to learn lessons, consider more flexible and agile ways of working – certainly it’s something that my business will have a much more open approach to – and we should embrace the digital and technological tools available as part of this global business metamorphosis. But, for me, the best ideas will always be born from a human, in-person interface that cannot be replaced by a screen and a keyboard.