New models of working today pose a particular challenge for the creative industries, where working together in the same room is often seen as a key driver to creativity. Can you replicate that same energy and collaboration without physical interaction? Is the modern standard of hybrid or fully remote working even a possibility for creative workplaces? And how can creative leaders enable great work in a remote environment?

These are some of the questions we posed to an accomplished cross section of creative industry leaders: James Farrell, Head of Local Originals, Amazon Studios; Amy Hennig, President, Skydance New Media; Larry Jackson, former Global Creative Director, Apple Music; Rob Reilly, Global Chief Creative Officer, WPP; and Graham Taylor, Co-CEO, Fifth Season. They each offered valuable insights on the effects of – and approaches to – flexible working today.

  • 32% of surveyed professionals reported they don’t think they’ll ever go back into the office full time.
  • 74% say they have more energy and focus working from home instead of the office.
  • 49% of professionals say they would turn down a job offer if the company mandated that they go into the office full-time.

Working remotely: the opportunities

First, our panel discussed some silver linings of remote or hybrid working. One big pro has been the opening up of new talent pools and looking beyond the traditional places for talent. Amy Hennig, for example, had been in the process of setting up Skydance New Media just as the pandemic hit, and quickly shifted her mindset away from location-based recruitment: “We realized—why be so limited in our thinking about how we can staff and recruit? The possibility of remote work actually became an opportunity, rather than an obstacle. It opened up the talent pool to a huge degree. We’ve been able to build Skydance New Media with a lot of flexibility, and with people all over the globe.”

Removing geographical boundaries is also great for introducing more diversity. WPP’s Rob Reilly has been able to connect with new colleagues from all over the world while working from home, sparking some of the most innovative and “disruptive” ideas. Meanwhile, James Farrell at Amazon Studios has repurposed time he normally would have spent traveling for work to set up one-on-ones, connecting with 150+ colleagues around the world.

Also, as Hennig pointed out, remote working allows for better democratization. When it comes to decision-making meetings, if the ‘room’ is virtual and no longer limited by size, people that wouldn’t normally be invited into that room now can be. Welcoming more people to the table, even just for observation, allows for a diversity of opinion and opens up learning opportunities for the team.

Another clear benefit to working from home is that it’s popular with so many employees and is no barrier to efficiency. As Larry Jackson observed during his time at Apple Music: “Everybody wants to work from home. We do so much efficiently, from where we are, that we’ve gotten really good at it. It’s been pretty remarkable to see what we’ve been able to do by working remotely.”

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The obstacles of remote work

Despite the popularity and productivity of work-from-home (WFH), the panel acknowledged some of its shortcomings. Graham Taylor expressed, “We’re definitely struggling to recapture the culture in the office. I think that creative processes are positively impacted by collisions between talented executives and creatives, with people interacting and bouncing ideas around. If you’re not in the office together, the mentorship and mobility of younger executives takes a hit.”

Most of the panel agreed with the point that mentoring junior employees has become more challenging since the shift to remote and hybrid working, so there is a need for leaders to become much more intentional in their approach to mentorship. Despite helpful software like video calls, messaging and collaborative files, there is a noticeable barrier when solely relying on these tools for connection. For example, the group notes that empathy and intrinsic trust weaken when you lose nonverbal cues and in-person joint experiences.

The panel also warns to be on the lookout for both burnout (as a structured 9-5 day can easily fall to the wayside) and bias. In the case of the latter, Hennig suggests that a potential risk of hybrid working is the introduction of a “center / periphery hierarchy.” She explains, “The people that come into the office, even if it’s just a few days a week, inevitably have a stronger in-person work relationship, which can create a sort of privilege center, even if they don’t mean it to. We really have to be vigorous in our efforts to not let that happen.”

Finding your place in the flexible-work spectrum

So, is hybrid or fully remote working a possibility for creative workplaces? As we’ve learned from our panel, it depends. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and each model (including fully in-person) comes with its own set of pros and cons. Perhaps it’s all about balance—toggling between the synchrony of being together and the asynchrony of being apart. But that doesn’t happen by luck, hope, or chance. It’s deliberate and requires adaptability and experimentation.

The reality is, like nearly every other industry, the pressure to adopt flexible working models is here to stay, so creative organizations need to accept that, embrace it and build a culture to support it. In the coming months and years, we expect organizations to forge ahead under a range of models, from companies that encourage a full return to the office, to others that embrace remote work at scale, to everything in between.

To learn how to get the most out of any working model, and to hear more about the experiences of our panel, download the full paper or contact us here.