We are now in 2022. And as we know, 2020 and 2021 have been years for the history books. The workforce, in shock after multiple blockages and uncertainties, returned to the office. But a deadly second wave of Covid sent them home. In August 2021, the offices opened for the second time. And now, a few months later, the Omicron variant has emerged, bringing with it talk of a third wave.
What effect has this constant back and forth – between office and home – had on creativity in advertising and marketing?
“The past two years have been difficult – the physical, mental and emotional toll has impacted and led to recalibration on many fronts. Creativity is not so much about a ‘process’ but about a particular environment,” says Prasoon Joshi , President APAC of McCann Worldgroup and CEO of India “The focus on delivering our best for our clients’ brands has remained the same. But the art of meandering conversations and finding solutions by chance Meetings have become too focused on the here and now.
Siddhant Mazumdar, Head of Mediabrands Content Studio, India, adds, “The energy we see in a room full of people simply cannot be replicated via a Zoom call. Over time, this has definitely affected our proactivity.
Dheeraj Sinha, CEO and CSO – South Asia, Leo Burnett, believes that while video conferencing was helpful, it got a bit tiring. “The quality of ideas or execution was not affected — we still produced good work from home. It just took a lot more energy to do it,” he says.
As Amit Wadhwa, CEO India, dentu Creative says, the industry not only needs to be creative in the work it creates, but also in the way it operates.
For Sinha, the first part of the lockdown was characterized by efficiency. He explains, “It was about delivering things with clinical effectiveness. We’ve invented a new thinking framework – the 0-3-6 short-term thinking model, where we’ve run over 50 workshops to help our brands focus on what we’re going to do at ground zero, that’s ie now, what are we going to do in three months and what we will do in six months. Although processes have continued and work has been produced, the energy that comes from meeting and interacting with people has suffered because of teleworking, he shares.
Sagar Kapoor, CCO, Lowe Lintas believes that any good creative process requires strong teamwork, which working remotely poses a serious challenge. “Anything that disrupts this can eventually affect the creative product. Teams need to be more flexible and adapt to everyone’s lifestyles beyond just work,” he stresses.
Advertising is also an interpersonal chemistry business – the not-so-secret ingredient of collaboration. “During the pandemic, we onboarded 150 new people, and most of them only met the rest of the office through their screens,” Sinha reveals, “Everything was virtual, so they didn’t know the inside jokes or didn’t have the camaraderie with the rest of the team or really understand what our culture was like.
A triumphant return
When things started to open up, Leo Burnett decided to bring people back to power on a voluntary basis. “It’s amazing how easily chemistry happens once we’re in the same space,” Sinha says.
Since most agencies have allowed employees to come into the office when needed, creative leads say the process hasn’t been impacted too much. In fact, the current model gives them the best of both worlds: the efficiency of working from home and the benefits of in-person collaboration when work calls for it.
“2020 and 2021 presented us with many challenges, but at the same time they also forced us to be creative in our ways of working. We managed to execute amazing things from home, like overseeing shoots, pitch presentations, etc., and it was all done very efficiently,” says Wadhwa. “2021 has helped us find a balance between online and offline ways of working. The hybrid really seems to be the future.
Remote collaboration has also helped agencies better leverage talent. “Particularly in India, where we have offices in multiple locations, WFH has diluted those geographic limitations and allowed brands to access talent across offices,” says Joshi.
“We have always believed that we should be together under one roof to come up with the best ideas. But while working from home in different parts of the country over the past 18 months, we have managed to deliver some of our most creative work,” says Ajay Gupte, CEO – South Asia, Wavemaker. “It makes me confident that we will continue to find creative solutions. As 2022 approaches, I am more convinced than ever that there is a better way to do things.
Given these benefits, should agencies consider a full-time hybrid model? Experts think so. “Being flexible in how and where you work can perhaps be more stimulating for the overall creative process. Thanks to extended work from home, most people have begun to realize that your regular workday can be shorter if it’s well planned and when we return to the office, we can have a more focused approach to creative tasks and execution,” says Mazumdar.
But agencies are still reluctant to officially roll out a hybrid model. “[With Omicron] The situation is dynamic. Now is not the time to be proactive. Being responsive to the new variant will allow businesses to decide on the model,” Kapoor says.
Looking back, Mazumdar thinks empathy is the only good thing to come out of 2021. “There are stronger bonds between people that aren’t just built on office camaraderie alone. We [also] care about what they’re going through,” he says. “Organizations today are much better equipped to help staff achieve mental well-being.”
He sums it up with a simple truth: when people feel loved, they are motivated to give their best. “Our approach to briefs and deadlines doesn’t need to be obtuse. People are trying to figure out how we can do and be better. 2022 will be a good year for creativity,” he says.