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Is virtual working crushing your creativity?

Posted by Debby Penton on 25th January 2024

We all know how important creativity is in PR and marketing. When you’re building a brand, you need to create memorable campaigns and messages that resonate with audiences.

It’s a point highlighted by IPSOS, which argues that “75% of campaign success is driven by creativity”, while Kantar/WARC found that creative campaigns deliver 4x more profit.

Being creative takes discipline though. It’s a process. And being around other creative minds to bounce and evolve ideas is a critical part of that process.

So what impact has the increase in remote working had on creativity? While videoconferencing has enabled a massive shift to effective remote collaboration both in-house and in agencies, does it come with a creativity trade-off compared to in-person interaction?

This rapid shift to remote work in the last few years prompted researchers at Columbia and Stanford to investigate this very question. They discovered that video calls do, in fact, inhibit creative idea generation, with people producing a lot more creative ideas when physically together than over a video conference.

But why is this?

A series of field studies — supported by eye-tracking and memory tests — found that the lack of a shared physical space during virtual communication causes people to focus their eyesight closely on the screen. And when people narrow their field of vision, it also narrows their thought process.

When on video calls, we tend to stare at the screen to try to connect with other people. But this laser focus limits our broader thinking. It constrains the ‘branching out’ of ideas that happens naturally when our brains make new connections.

In everyday terms, it’s simply harder to think outside the box when you’re zeroed in on a Zoom call. The physical separation and narrow visual field hinder the unique mental leaps that fuel the imagination.

The good news is that there are workarounds to this.

At Wildfire, we tend to save our brainstorms and ideas sharing for when we’re in the office to overcome these challenges, leaving work-from-home days to tackle more focused tasks like writing and pitching.

But if regular in-person collaboration is not possible — due to geographically distributed teams, for example — there are other tips to try out:

  • Take regular ‘camera breaks’ during video sessions to broaden focus.
  • Incorporate activities that make people move and expand their gaze.
  • Switch up people’s focus by mixing video chats with phone calls or chat rooms.
  • Use visual collaboration tools like digital whiteboards and sticky notes.

There are also lots of tools and techniques you can use to help people generate a bunch of ideas on their own*. And if you can get people to do this before they get to a group video call, it will increase the quality and quantity of ideas.

After all, according to our own research, 100% of B2B marketers want to be more creative in their work in 2024.

So, let’s all embrace creative thinking. Let’s celebrate collaborative working. But above all, don’t let screens get between you and your creative potential.

*I’d highly recommend Toby Harrison’s creativity training for developing your own creative process.

Debby Penton

Motivated, competitive and highly experienced, Debby drives excellence across the agency and leads by example, going the extra mile to create stand-out campaigns and a dynamic agency culture. As CEO, Debby champions a new breed of PR that meets the evolving communication needs of today’s tech companies.