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All by ourselves, together: keeping your creative culture alive in a time of isolation

Working from Home. It used to simply conjure images of coffee stained laptops and dressing gowns, but times have changed, and today we are facing remote working as a necessity to health. But how can the health of a creative collective be maintained too? Can a company’s culture survive, or even thrive, right now? As Design Bridge London gets used to this ‘new normal’, here are our top tips on how to feel creatively connected even when working from a distance.

Talk is cheap. But invaluable

So much of what makes a creative culture creative is the seemingly meaningless bits in between the ‘real work’ – the cups of tea, the banter. It’s this tapestry of interaction that makes us thrive as creatives so keep up the face to face chats (and faces are important here) via Teams or Zoom. Have meetings that don’t necessarily have an official agenda – set aside time for your teams to share a virtual coffee break, or share something that makes you laugh. Sometimes the unnecessary is as vital as decent wifi.

Rediscover your creative instincts

In the usual sea of deadlines, briefs and meetings it’s easy to forget what the true commodity of our industry is – ideas. It’s ideas and inspiration that fuel not only our bottom lines, but often our sanity. Perhaps, with a heightened need to self-motivate, this could be a chance to focus in on the inspiration that truly stirs your mind. If isolated, make a conscious effort each day to spend time with your creative brain, not just your ‘productive’ one. And then share your thoughts – be it a Pinterest board or an Instagram post, it’s never been easier to get people seeing what you see. Times of great introspection can lead to moments of incredible collaboration too.

But look for your inspiration in different ways

Without the commute, brainstorms, or easy access to shops, galleries and museums, how do we find those serendipitous moments of inspiration that we so often take for granted in daily life? Well, we should bear in mind that limitation in itself can be inspiring, as we find new sources of creative fuel closer to home. Audiobooks, podcasts, Netflix documentaries, the BFI Player, and BBC Sounds can all be new sources of moving stories, provocative opinions and visual stimulus. By breaking free from your inspirational comfort zones you may just take your projects in unexpected new directions.

Soothe and self-soothe

Being alone in these fearful times can lead to some strange, catastrophising spirals of thought. This can be paralysing to our process – anxiety and creativity are rarely comfortable bedfellows. At Design Bridge we’re always urging people to nurture their mental health by taking lunch hours, getting outside and having regular down-time, but with people at home this pastoral structure can lose its potency. So we check in with each other, and encourage the fresh air, breaks from the screen and exercise that we have built into our routines in the studio. And share tips for escapism – links to Desert Island Discs episodes and David Attenborough’s narration of The Peregrine on BBC Radio 4 have been incredible stabilisers whenever the news has made me feel insecure.

Build the trust

In this extraordinary circumstance, the fact is not every eye can be on every project all of the time. But this an opportunity for us to build bonds between mentors and mentees and teammates as they find new ways of guiding each other. Ask your colleagues how they prefer to communicate – some people want bullet-pointed feedback via email, others prefer an in-depth natter on the phone. It’s about working to forge creative ‘safety’ for each person, and trusting that you’re aiming for the same, brilliant creative outcome.

Empowering your workforce and working together with empathy and intelligence may well be a positive by-product of this situation. We’ll learn to communicate with more clarity, to inspire rather than just instruct. I suspect we will see people flourish as they are forced to work with greater independence and accountability. Off their own backs, many of our designers have established online portfolio review clinics with design students who can’t attend university; being useful to our future industry is part of our company DNA, and we won’t let distance get in the way of that. It’s this kind of generosity that will foster new generations of design excellence, and an in-built emphasis on creativity for good.

The time has come to galvanise

It’s a sad fact that where we usually have the after-work drinks, we now have unnerving news bulletins. But community is not wholly a physical thing. Community is a feeling that can be maintained with a new kind of bond building. Studio competitions, virtual breakfasts and birthday celebrations all help individuals feel they’re still part of a bigger picture. Our ‘Social Distancing Social Committee’ has been an invaluable part of keeping the DB spirit alive – we’ve had Fancy Dress Fridays, online yoga sessions and support groups established for parents. Simple things, but they keep us feeling human and connected. This is a chance to really embrace and enhance your business’ values – every email or text or phone call can become a symbol of your company’s spirit, so make every communication count.

With every working challenge we face, usually comes an invaluable learning. Isolation can be problematic in a business sense. But as a creative, the likelihood is that the mental impact will emerge first. As an industry we should learn from this – we are getting a unique insight into how life for the socially and physically ostracised is every single day as we grieve the liberated life we so recently took for granted. Poverty, age and disability makes people feel displaced and fearful all the time. We, the employed and connected, can so often take respite in our work. So I wonder if, when things return to ‘normal’ (if that word even has meaning anymore) we will do so with a new sympathy for frequently ignored demographics, and a new appreciation of how vital creativity and community is in sustaining our diverse, but delicate world.

As a result, once this is over, let’s hope we rebuild our businesses and our lives in a spirit of post-traumatic growth; with a greater appreciation for the impact, and comfort, creativity can bring. This pandemic is our greatest challenge, but it’s our chance to make our industry more connected, more altruistic and more purpose-driven for the future. Let’s use every day that comes wisely.

Holly_Kielty_landscape

Written by Holly Kielty, Director of Storytelling at Design Bridge London.

Lead image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

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