8 actionable tips and helpful tools for better creative collaboration when working remotely.
Working together toward a goal and solving a problem together is the meaning behind the word collaboration. It enables trust, productivity, and even more creativity within a team when done correctly. Communication is at the core of it all because clarity is kindness. Creative collaboration allows the team as a whole to move projects forward more effectively. But what does this look like in 2022 and beyond?
In 2022, creative teams and agencies are evolving into hybrid schedules, remote work, and async conversations about projects — sometimes all of the above. In the era of Zoom fatigue, where the lack of non-verbal cues and mirror anxiety bring exhaustion, creativity can become challenging. Remote collaboration can get exhausting, leaving little energy left for creative work.
So how do you overcome that in the remote world, and foster creative sparks from afar?
Bringing the right tools to your team to harness that in-person energy and creativity can make all the difference. Just because you’re not cramped in the same room, drawing on a whiteboard, it doesn’t mean you can’t collaborate effectively.
Don’t just throw things at the wall. Take a moment to think about why your team collaborates and what you’re trying to impact. This will lead you to how they will collaborate.
You just need to evolve with your team’s needs and do it better than ever before. Here’s how to collaborate on creative work in 2022.
Think about your creative team’s collaboration structure
While hierarchy gets a bad rap, it’s actually a good thing to have. Whether your agency has a flat structure or a vertical hierarchy, it’s important for your team to know and understand where they fall within it. This allows them to find the right person to ask questions, know the owner of a project, and also how to behave when collaborating with other team members.
Think about these points as you brainstorm your collaboration structure. Is your agency currently:
- A place where anyone can propose a solution to the top leadership, or do they need to go through their manager?
- Does anyone assigned to a project have the same ownership, or is there one stakeholder who owns the final decision?
- Does your agency have an open or closed participation environment? Closed meaning only the top leadership decides how to conduct business, and the rest of the team follows.
Understanding the workflow, clarity on roles, and overall team structure will help make creative collaboration easier among your team.
To make this actionable, try filling out a RACI chart before starting any project.
Start meetings on a personal note
Your team is human. It’s important to remember that. To avoid becoming robotic, and facilitate connection, have the meeting owner kick things off with a personal check-in. A quick green-yellow-red around the room to see how everyone’s feeling can set the tone for the meeting. Have this check-in include both personal and work items.
The check-in allows team members to share more about their lives and let others jump in and help if needed. It shows empathy and brings your team closer together to collaborate more openly.
Learn how team members absorb information
Some people are visual, while others can easily understand things with just audio. Understanding the learning style of your team members can quickly benefit the overall collaboration of your team. Writers, designers, developers and project managers may all take in feedback differently.
Luckily, some tools can help you share information across the team for clarity and create a safe space for feedback. Sure, Zoom and Google Meet are a given, but here are a few of the best remote collaboration apps to add to your toolbox.
- MURAL or Miro – You love a good in-person whiteboarding session, so why not collaborate with one virtually? Digital collaboration tools like Miro and MURAL bring the whiteboard to your screen and can easily be shared through Zoom. You can map out diagrams, visualize concepts, and quickly bring ideas to life. You can zoom in on different sections as you present to make it more interactive, and have collaborators add sticky notes just like in real life.
- Loom – Sometimes, a meeting could’ve been an email. Or maybe it could’ve been a Loom to quickly and visually get the point across. According to Stanford University, long Zoom meetings bring eye-contact fatigue, reduce mobility, and use more cognitive load than we think. Loom allows you to quickly record a video, share your screen, and go over a tutorial, idea, or task. The recipient can watch it in their own time and respond when they can without interrupting their workflow.
- Asana or Trello — Clarity is the most critical part of collaboration, and knowing where your tasks are at, helps clear up questions. Implement the task management app of your choice and assign relevant tasks to team members. The project owner should keep it updated and circle back if someone falls behind. The team can also see a high-level view of the project and where they may be able to jump in to collaborate.
- Punchlist — Punchlist helps you collect design and content feedback in one place. Just send your team a share link, and collaborators can point to exactly what changes they want made. This visual annotation tool works on websites, PDFs and image files, and you can update the status of each comment to “In Progress,” “Ready for Review,” “Waiting for Feedback” and ultimately, mark it as “Done” faster. Punchlist also integrates with the aforementioned task management tools (Asana, Trello, ClickUp, Jira), so you can consolidate feedback all in one place with less back-and-forth.
With so many tools and apps available for creative collaboration, you may never need to host an in-person meeting again.
“Cone of Learning” – Edgar Dale, Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching (1969)
Implement a daily scrum meeting
Often used in the software development and startup world, a scrum meeting is a daily check-in where everyone shares blockers and updates about what they are working on. It’s a good way for project owners to see progress, re-establish priorities, and solve problems together more quickly without having to wait for a big meeting.
If you implement a scrum check-in (also called standup), be intentional about how often it happens, and whether it even needs to be synchronous. While daily standups are the norm and we wouldn’t necessarily suggest making it less frequent, could it be done digitally without actually “meeting”?
Status Hero is an effective tool for running scrum meetings without meeting at all. This app integrates with Slack and email, so everyone has visibility into what others are working on – but you fill it out on your own time. Just make sure you establish the guidelines with your team (e.g. please submit your Status Hero update by 10:00am each day, with what you’re working on today, what you accomplished yesterday, and any blockers the team can help with).
Status Hero in Slack
Share bad news
An important tip for scrum meetings to make collaboration more productive is to actually mention when you have a blocker or question. When something is holding up your progress, or you can’t move forward until you get approval, say so. People are inherently hesitant to bring up bad news. 50% of employees avoid speaking up at work, and remote collaboration can make reticence even more common.
Be mindful of this and use asynchronous to your advantage — frame the problem, and empower your team by giving them a chance to help you. Collaboration will result in better work than going it alone.
Your team is intelligent, talented, and excellent in their roles. Celebrate them! Whether it’s a #wins channel in Slack, a monthly recap of achievements, or an award at the end of the week to highlight a particular team member, it’s vital that you, as a leader, celebrate every win your team has.
But it’s not solely on your shoulders — providing a channel for your team to celebrate with each other can turn this into a fun process that they take and run with. Then the momentum compounds, and collaboration becomes easier with less friction and more friendliness.
Shout-outs from one team member to another can foster support, nurture that vital trust, and increase camaraderie. If someone lands a new client, or the client’s feedback is top-notch, or even if someone has a significant life change, celebrations should have the same priority level as constructive criticism. It’s essential to find that balance.
Watch out for silos
Your agency has multiple projects going at once, and certain team members may work together more often than others. Watch out for that silo creep — some team members may feel overlooked or underused, affecting their work and ability to collaborate moving forward.
This scenario can also encourage cliques within your agency, which can hinder collaboration, primarily if asynchronous communication exists across time zones. Hybrid workplaces are already seeing an “underclass” of remote team members who feel left out of the in-office conversation, creating opportunity gaps and employee churn. Spot these silos before they get worse, and break down those walls, both digitally and physically.
Encourage cross-departmental communication to prevent silos from happening. Knowledge is indeed power. Update the organization as a whole on happenings in different departments at least once a month at an all-hands meeting. A representative from each department presents the team’s recent wins, priorities and vision ahead. This will encourage creative collaboration and feedback.
Bring the team together IRL
An internal workshop day, off-site event or quarterly strategy session can help break silos and allow your team to stretch their creative muscles, while learning how to best work together.
Every three months, have an internal “think big” workshop (think like a hackathon) and have people that don’t often work together build a campaign, solve a company problem together, or rework an existing project. Pose questions like: How could we have approached this differently? What elements would you add to this new product to sell it to X market?
People that haven’t worked together before will work as a team toward a clear goal and understand each other’s skills. That is valuable to the agency’s core collaboration strategy.
Creative collaboration is key for a thriving team
No matter how you look at it, collaboration is vital for your organization. Not all tools or methodologies may work for everyone, especially with the added challenge of working remotely. However, taking a hard look at how your team is working together — and optimizing the process — can help you push the quality bar higher and deliver amazing results.