As digital collaboration tools evolve at pace, it’s becoming increasingly feasible to work from anywhere – and collaborate with partners all over the world – without breaking stride. But there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to balancing the flexibility of remote working with the dynamic of face-to-face engagement.
For a recent Creative Review webinar, in partnership with Figma, we asked top creative agencies DixonBaxi and R/GA to provide their take on how agencies can continue to create world-class work in whatever way suits them.
FINDING THE SWEET SPOT
“We’ve built our agency to be stable in unstable times,” says Simon Dixon, co-founder of DixonBaxi, which has a 43-strong team. “It’s easy to over-correct and pretend you know the answer,” he continues. “We were honest with our team that while we were never going back to a five-day week, we believe being together is important. Creativity is tribal.”
DixonBaxi’s current set-up involves flexible working on Mondays and Tuesdays and face-to-face studio time on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Friday mornings are flexible, then the studio closes at lunchtime to give people extra time to recharge. “We also have a rule of no Slack after 6:30pm,” adds Dixon.
Creativity needs chaos. It’s messy. We need to hardwire invention, originality and play into every stage
As SVP managing director of R/GA London, Rebecca Bezzina oversees a team of 150 – around 10% of R/GA’s total global network. “We’re giving people two options: completely hybrid, or fully remote,” she explains. “There are no set days; we trust them to work out which days they need to come in around certain rituals or projects.” R/GA has also brought in meeting-free Wednesdays for some much-needed headspace.
PRESERVING CREATIVE CHAOS
A web-based design platform for teams to build digital products collaboratively, Figma is well-placed to oil the wheels of hybrid or remote working. Figma’s clients include Uber, Deliveroo, Tesco and Ikea, and both DixonBaxi and R/GA use the tool extensively in their workflow.
But while technology, processes and systems are essential to keep work moving smoothly, Dixon argues that there must also be room for unpredictability and magic. “Creativity needs chaos,” he says. “It’s messy. We need to hardwire invention, originality and play into every stage, otherwise it gets honed and systemised. If you just go from meeting to meeting it seems like you’re busy, but your body of work will atrophy.”
It can become about who shouts the loudest. But when you’re all collaborating in a remote environment, everyone has an equal voice
One of the key ingredients of workplace culture that risks being diluted or lost in a hybrid or remote set-up is casual interaction and learning by osmosis through ‘water-cooler moments’ – particularly for more junior team members.
“Great work is created though those interactions,” reflects Bezzina. “There’s a difference between ideating together, versus crafting. Junior staff need to be exposed to different stages. And we need moments that aren’t just about the work.”
HELPING INDIVIDUALS TO THRIVE
“Packing 20 Zoom meetings into a day is not how humans should live,” agrees Dixon. “We need experiences. We need downtime. Part of the skill of running a studio is accepting that everyone is different. We should celebrate that, and work through those differences: that’s the joy of working with people.”
Not every individual will thrive in a face-to-face environment: more extroverted and outspoken people may find it easier to voice their opinions. “It can become about who shouts the loudest,” points out Heidi Myers, marketing director EMEA at Figma. “But when you’re all collaborating in a remote environment, everyone has an equal voice.”
According to Myers, some teams are exploring how to preserve those informal interactions virtually. One of Figma’s clients is Vodafone’s now remote-working design team, which collaborates daily using Figma’s new white-boarding tool FigJam. “The design lead, Ashton Snook, shared recently that some of his team keep the audio option turned on all day,” she explains. “The way, if they have an idea, they can just shout it out for everyone to hear – increasing the sense of community in this hybrid world.”
OPTIMISING THE STUDIO ENVIRONMENT
For when people do venture into the studio, both R/GA and DixonBaxi have embraced the opportunity to rethink their space. “We’re redesigning around different zones: the core is about collaboration and connection,” reveals Bezzina. “We’re still testing lot of things, like cameras that follow people around, or track a whiteboard. Technology must play a serious role in facilitating this, so it’s not painful or clunky.”
DixonBaxi has refitted its upper floor with a shared kitchen, flexible breakout areas and a library filled with memorabilia. The next stage is kitting out the open-plan lower floor with tech to facilitate hybrid connectivity. “But it’s what people do in the space that matters,” Dixon says. “Technology doesn’t create life. The form of the space is important: we use lots of natural materials and plants. I want to feel things, hear things. I want warmth.”
It’s what people do in the space that matters. Technology doesn’t create life. The form of the space is important … I want to feel things, hear things
“It’s about using the space to celebrate moments and bring people together,” agrees Bezzina. “Those memories are your cultural connection. Some days you might be ‘go go go’ on the work; others are about connection and relationship building, getting the creative juices going in a different way.”
LEVELLING THE PLAYING FIELD
The pandemic was a great leveller for the entire industry. “Everyone was put into exactly the same situation,” says Bezzina. “Clients felt the same pains we felt.” As a result, many agencies forged more intimate personal relationships with their clients than ever before.
“The whole experience has been very humbling,” agrees Dixon. “We’ve been through it together, and there’s a nakedness and rawness to that. Because we’ve all been looking into each other’s houses, we needed a degree of humility which has cut through the bullshit of our industry. Ultimately, we’re here to create something amazing together.”
The whole experience has been very humbling. We’ve been through it together, and there’s a nakedness and rawness to that
Myers shares some telling data points from Figma’s past year: collaborative projects run on the platform have more than doubled, while files shared across different time zones have more than tripled. Of course, technology is just a facilitator: as Dixon points out, value comes not just from smooth interactions between teams, and between agency and client, but from genuine insights about the target audience.
“Ultimately, we’re not designing for ourselves or the client,” he says. “We’re designing for millions of people all over the world. As well as finding the right working process for us, we need to figure out how to talk to real people in a different way. We have to be fluent in people and understand humans.”