Acknowledging we’re a creative agency and collaboration is critical to our approach (talk about it, work through it, understand it and get to the heart of what matters most), casual collaboration is that informal, random, necessary kind of freestyling that is so critical to what we – and I suspect many other work teams in different industries – do to make great work.
Casual collaboration, however, shouldn’t be confused with the ‘colleaguesplaining’ desk visits that open plan offices are famous for. By that I mean the combination of overconfidence and cluelessness manifesting in the form of ‘explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer.’( At its worst, it’s like all your colleagues are David Brent.)
Casual collaboration is the opposite of colleaguesplaining. We love gathering around a screen and trying different things on with illustration or design, copy, animation or music. Great outcomes can happen quickly through a series of rapid iterations.
‘What about this? Hey can we make it yellow? What does bigger font look like? Bigger, smaller, to the left, right, check this out on Pinterest…you get the picture.
What I really love about this kind of collaboration is how it helps younger employees learn from their senior colleagues – and vice versa. You just can’t beat it. And you just can’t teach it, either. It simply requires listening skills and the encouragement of an all-in vibe that is open to nutting it out together and getting to the heart of what matters most – which could be anything from making the button yellow to designing with greater diversity.
But it’s not just the casual collaboration that was great about being back in the office. In the end, none of us were huge fans of endless Slack ‘pings’ or group video calls. Back those calls up one after another, and by 5pm you’re total gonzo. Your eyeballs become marbles about to roll out of their sockets and splinter into a million pieces on the floor. No number of guest appearances by animals or children or demonstrations using strange home gym equipment can make those calls better.
Speaking of home gym equipment, the other problem a lot of us faced was a lack of space. Most of us at CC live in small apartments or tiny homes. In my home we don’t have a table, which meant storing furniture to accommodate the arrival of two desks and accompanying monitors. The result was an anxious reality of always being in eyeshot of the office, which meant always being ‘on’ – which is what I imagine it feels like to work at Facebook.
In the office straw poll, the boredom of the never-ending routine was another WFH challenge. Taking the commute out of it, the day seemed to go on forever, usually just petering out of steam towards the end. Our daily observations of the world – whether from the viewpoint of the bus or train or lunchtime walk were always different. Sometimes bemusing, sometimes inspiring and sometimes just a great excuse to have a human connection outside of immediate family: bus driver/kebab maker/barista – they were always different. Working from home every day meant our daily observations came from the usual echo chambers we inhabit via social media or worse, midday television. And who wants to have a phone call with a friend at lunch when you’ve been zooming up the wazoo all morning?
And while ultimately, I wasn’t a fan, I was glad of the experience.
Through it I learned that I’m at my best when I’m around people. Yes, I plug into the matrix when I need to get stuff done, but I really missed the company of my colleagues. I didn’t realise how much we freely share ideas, hopes, fears, candid movie reviews, news of outlet sales, music and random observations that start with ‘OMG – so I’m sitting on the bus this morning when….’
We empathise, laugh, debate, listen, advise, teach and share with each other – and I reckon it feeds us in plenty of ways beyond being good at what we do. I even missed the daily ritual of marvelling at the homemade lunches – the vegan creations alone could fill a recipe book called awesome lunches on a budget.
But you have to meet people half way.
We’re happy to be back, but we also know that a new kind of flexibility has to be a thing in the mix. And there will be plenty of days where it’s just better to work from home – whether it’s in the middle of a heatwave or it’s pouring with rain all day – stay at home and don’t ruin your shoes. There will also be times where working from home is a necessary way of coping with the pandemic – or other challenges in our lives – days where we can manage our workload, but we’re just not ready for primetime. I think we have a better read of those kinds of scenarios now, too.
But right now, climbing the stairs, unlocking the door, flicking on the lights, powering up the computer and watching the millennials eat cereal at their keyboard really is the sweetest thing.