Gabrielle DeNofrio: Together but Apart
As a life-long introvert and 16-year veteran of the ad world (when did that happen?), I cut my teeth on late nights and spinning kernels of ideas into full-blown campaigns with grit, determination and a really great group of colleagues and mentors. Those were not lonely hours; we were scrappy, nimble and pushed and pulled with all the intensity that close-knit teams are known for. We watched our ideas get bigger, smarter and more integrated as they reached the national stage.
We creatives desperately feed off of that in-person dynamic; to sense excitement in others’ body language and facial expressions that help hit grooves where ideas just flow. This is especially important at the beginning of projects, when thoughts start and stutter into life because the sparks are being tended so the flames will grow higher.
I thought I’d be the last to feel any negative effects of pandemic isolation: I’m a self-motivated, efficient thinker and doer, whether alone or on a team. While the pandemic has forced me into an unprecedented growth phase as a leader, I’ve learned that most creatives crave the sharing and shaping of fledgling ideas through in-person banter and brainstorms.
So how can creatives best adapt to the changed dynamics of what it means to work together, but apart?
1) Do what we always do: Adapt
We creatives are uniquely wired to find new ways of inspiring ourselves and others, and new ways of working together. That means using the huge host of platforms and boards that enable easy connecting. And while nothing replaces the tangible sticking up of post-its or cards to a wall, Google Slides and software such as Miro enable groups to collaborate in real time. Couple these with a Meets or Zoom call, and you’re getting close to the real thing.
2) Keep teams small
Core group members will feel more bonded, and feel a sense of being able to rely on each other, that helps keep some of the isolation at bay.
3) When outsourcing, treat new team members as exactly that
Take time (more than just a few minutes) getting to know each other. A more personal connection helps put you all in the same headspace where ideas can flow more smoothly.
4) Take time to indulge yourself
It may sound like a no-brainer, but feeding your curiosity is key to keeping your creative battery charged. Invest time and effort in learning something new to help keep idea sparks flying.
Don’t try to take on too much. Sure, information transfer can be more time-consuming than doing it yourself, especially when there’s a lot of contextual or institutional knowledge that needs to be shared and understood. Keep your onboarding decks up-to-date and delegate when needed.
6) Reach out
You aren’t the only one who feels isolated, overwhelmed and alone. Even remotely, togetherness can be fostered by taking time to Slack that best work friend, or have sidebar discussions on whether or not Daniel LaRusso is the bad guy. (He is. Change my mind.) The point is: be spontaneous and silly, and take the first step.
7) Be more human
If you’re in a leadership role, you need to be hyper-aware that lives are being lived offline. Stay alert to bleed-over and boundaries. This is advertising; we all know the hours and demands, and that great work comes from great teamwork and idea incubation. But balance, especially now, is vital. Find those individuals who are lightning rods for innovation and encourage them to disrupt.
Foster a 'together, apart' environment, tools and mentality, and you'll see your team thrive.
- Gabrielle DeNofrio, creative director, Pavone