What a Pandemic Can Teach Agencies About Collaboration

May 26, 2020

This post first appeared on Toolbox for Marketing.

The enforced isolation brought on by COVID-19 has taught companies that remote and collaborative work is more important than ever. When organizations come together across departments and teams around a common goal, they can respond to crises in real time, tighten their focus on outcomes, and dramatically increase productivity, writes, Analisa Goodin, founder and CEO, Catch&Release.

COVID-19 has fundamentally changed how we work, almost overnight. The shift to remote work has put a strain on teams and has aggressively tested our work/life balance, productivity, and adaptability. It has never been more important for collaboration between employees to be as streamlined (read: easy) as possible. The point is even finer for the advertising industry, whose campaigns need to be invented and executed at lightning speed, on-message, and relevant to current events. The system is stressed, and everyone can feel it.

The silver lining, however, lies in the realization that this isn’t temporary. Companies around the world will be forced to build muscle as remote, collaborative organizations, or they’ll perish. This survival skill will live on, even after the effects of COVID-19 flatten out. It will create a competitive advantage for those companies who do it well. For brands and marketers, this means creative teams need to have the ability to communicate in real-time to respond or react in real-time.

While it’s impossible to overstate how destructive the global lockdown has been for so many companies, we’re fortunate to be living at a time when the tools exist to help us work smarter, even at a distance. As leaders of teams, it’s our responsibility to guide our organization to function in healthy, productive ways.

Breaking Down the Silos

Siloing happens when teams become too insular – instead of sharing information with other teams, siloed employees protect their own turf, prioritize their own projects, and stay close to a small number of colleagues day-by-day. According to a 2019 article in Sustainability, this can have many negative effects, such as the emergence of office politics, misallocation of resources, constrained learning and innovation, and decreased morale.

Of course, siloing can be an inevitable human condition. When teams work closely together, it’s natural for people to forge close bonds and develop their own ways of working. This is why a certain degree of siloing can actually be a good thing. But it’s crucial to ensure that employees across the company are always “rowing in the same direction.” This means setting clear goals, developing visible metrics, and spending as much time listening as we do speaking.

Shift to Outcome-Driven Work

One of the most effective ways to tear down silos is to become more outcome-driven. According to Gallup, companies in which employees feel connected with an overarching mission or purpose have lower levels of turnover, higher profitability, and stronger performance across other key metrics.

Imagine a brand that launches an inspiring campaign about how local communities are weathering the storm of the pandemic. If all the key players involved can see what the others are doing at each stage of the process – from strategy to concept to execution – it can build solidarity and rapport between employees. When employees are reminded of what they’re working toward as a whole, they’ll be more inclined to seek and provide assistance outside their silos.

To reach shared goals, it’s essential to give employees the resources they need to work together. For example, there are a whole lot of digital productivity tools that make instantaneous collaboration easier than ever – from messaging services like Slack to Google’s G-Suite and Zoom’s video conferencing technology. In the last two weeks alone, we’ve seen an uptick of creatives recommending our content licensing platform because it enables flexibility to make work from anywhere – an agile alternative to on-location productions.

The Time for Change Is Now

Before the health pandemic hit, our tools were typically used within specific silos: creative, production, business affairs. Now, we’re seeing cross-team collaboration earlier on in the content production process. What this signals to me is that our industry is primed for technology that gets things done more quickly. Why? Because we don’t have time for 65 emails to make a decision. When that client calls with a creative brief, chances are they want it in just weeks and possibly days – not months.

When we all return to our offices, we will have learned a variety of important lessons, including how important it is to solve problems swiftly. Sometimes, being forced apart can be a reminder of all the ways in which we should come together.

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