5 Ways to Remain Creative and Efficient While Marketing from Home

Mother meditating while kids and dog are playing

Working remotely can be a major challenge for marketers, many of whom draw their energy and creative juices from interacting with others.

In fact, while most marketers surveyed in North America and the United Kingdom believe they are more efficient working from home—the new normal during the COVID-19 pandemic—most (67% in North America and 71% in the UK) said creative collaboration suffers when workers do not share a space, according to an Econsultancy and Marketing Week study of 2,200 marketers.

“I’ve always been a person who believed in the in-person dynamic of brainstorming and coming up with really creative stuff,” said Jaime Punishill, CMO of Lionbridge Technologies, a translation and localization company based in Waltham, Mass. “When you get a bunch of us together with a couple of markers and a whiteboard, there’s something about that dynamic of energy in the room that really matters.”

That’s not to say marketers aren’t adjusting—not by a long shot.

“When forced into a situation like the one we’re currently in, marketers must adapt,” Punishill added. “They have to leave certain belief sets behind and start looking for new approaches to replace old ones. In so doing, they often find fresh ways of doing things that are pretty damned good.”

How can marketing leaders and their teams stay successful while physically apart? Creatively, of course.

Create “water cooler moments”

Seemingly from the beginning of (office) time, workers spontaneously gathered around water coolers or struck up conversations in hallways–and ideas suddenly erupted from those on-the-fly discussions.

In the digital world, those types of opportunities don’t arise in the same way–which is why some marketers are going out of their way to ensure ad-hoc conversations are still part of the work dynamic.

Adam Morgan, executive creative director at Adobe, oversees a team of writers whose success depends on the ability to come up with ideas they can translate into compelling prose. Bouncing ideas off colleagues in office meetings often helped with that process, he said, but standard video team meetings were not proving as conducive.

So Morgan set out to change that by creating what he called “digital water-cooler moments.” First, he established virtual “chit-chat” meetings where team members ditch agendas, loosen up, and shoot the breeze. These gatherings not only drew people together but sometimes spawned new lines of thinking.

“We’d have people come in and say, ‘Hey did you hear about blink?’ or, ‘There’s this cool thing I saw on YouTube that you should check out,’ and it would trigger conversations that ultimately led to new thoughts or ideas,” Morgan said. “Marketers really need those kinds of super-valuable water-cooler moments.”

In addition, Morgan also established weekly creative workshops where team members take turns presenting to colleagues on whatever might be interesting to them at the moment–a good book they recently read, a hot new technology, their favorite creativity exercises, staying healthy in ambiguous times. Almost any topic is fair game.

“It’s all about sharing things that might inspire team members and get everyone going and thinking in new ways,” Morgan said. “I think that’s critical to ideating in remote environments.”

Change the scenery

Marketers draw inspiration not only from the people around them but their surroundings as well. With video meetings, much of that is lost–unless you find ways to bring it back into the meeting mix.

Amy Barzdukas, CMO of Poly (formerly Polycom), has been taking this to heart, scheduling themed meetings to break the ice and stoke creativity. In any given week, team members might be asked to come on-camera wearing funny hats, sports jerseys, or cocktail dresses. Barzdukas, said she may start bringing her two huge dogs to the get-togethers.

“You should also think about moving around rather than sitting at your desk all day,” Barzdukas said. “Change your scenery. Look at things from different angles. I work for a company that makes videoconference solutions, so I’m lucky enough to have a variety of ways to do these Zoom calls so they look and feel different, almost like you’ve moved between conference rooms.”

Colleen Stauffer, director of global business and creator marketing at Pinterest, agreed and suggested marketers should strive to do as much work away from their screens as possible.

“There is nothing more uninspiring than being at your computer all day,” she said. “I try to make the most of my all-day-meetings by walking them outside.”

Find your fodder

While quarantined, there is less external stimuli for marketers to draw their inspiration. So it becomes critical to find other fodder to nurture the imagination.

Adobe’s Morgan cautioned marketers not to default to television programs to fill their creative buckets.

“The best advice I have is: don’t take it all from TV,” he said. “I think too many people right now get all of their inspiration from sitcoms or a series or whatever. But you need to consciously find inspiration elsewhere.”

Meagen Eisenberg, CMO of travel platform TripActions, helps team members find creative ideas through observation and competitive exercises.

“Weekly, I ask my team what they are seeing in the market that caught their attention,” she said. “I ask things like, ‘What email did you last open and why?’ ‘Was there an engaging graphic?’ ‘What caught your attention on Facebook or Instagram?’ Then we look at how some of that could be applied in the B2B world. You would be amazed at the types of ideas these exercises generated.”

Eisenberg also holds competitions for her employees to come up with the next high-powered “10x idea.”

“My team breaks out in groups of four and competes to come up with the best ideas for driving pipeline,” she said. “The winners end up pitching their concepts to the marketing leadership team, and some of them are eventually approved and adopted.”

Seek some peace and quiet

Great ideas start within, and one of the best ways to draw them out is by tapping into one’s self and drawing energy from solitude.

“For me, it’s really easy to get struck with a million meetings and then run yourself ragged trying to chase a million things, especially when you’re working remotely,” Morgan said. “So purposefully scheduling quiet time to think about things can be really helpful for creativity. You need to find some stillness in your day. Exercise. Go for a walk. Run. Do whatever it takes to find some peace and quiet to recharge your batteries–and think.”

Poly’s Barzdukas said she tries to do this by spending time on activities like reading and listening to podcasts that “work the mind in different ways.”

“I’m also a huge fan of crossword puzzles and word games,” she said. “When I’m stuck on a problem, at home or in the office, 15 minutes with a New York Times crossword can help to unjam things.”

Set boundaries

When working from home, it is easy to fall in the habit of logging on as soon as you’re awake and keeping the computer on at all times, so any colleague or fire drill can reach–and often distract–you. But that can be detrimental to creative processes.

“Creativity is so synonymous with energy,” said Ryan Bonnici, CMO for G2, a major software marketplace. “If your energy is being zapped because you are not setting the right boundaries or you aren’t using technology correctly to organize your day, it becomes difficult to think and ideate. The Band-Aid solution is to try and overcome that by fixing your creativity. But actually identifying and addressing what’s siphoning your energy is the real key.”

Bonnici said he makes it a point to set firm boundaries for when he will and won’t be available, as well as to open and close his computer at specific times. And his online calendars are set so no one can schedule meetings outside of his working hours. As a result, he feels clearer, more creative, and focused when on-the-job.

“I think we can really use technology to our advantage to start setting meaningful boundaries,” he said. “Often times, technology is seen as the cause for people becoming workaholics. But I think it can also be helpful if we create new playbooks for how we should be using these tools to facilitate our creativity.”

Prioritize balance and wellness

Bonnici is also a huge advocate of maintaining mental balance and wellness to keep creative juices flowing. That is even more important in remote work settings, he said.

Having struggled with mental health challenges for much of his career, Bonnici openly discusses his experiences with anyone interested. He even lets team members know when he is at therapy. Similarly, he regularly encourages team members to prioritize their own psychological health by scheduling mental health days and understanding the value of sleep for creative processes.

“I’m getting 10 hours of sleep a night, and that’s a huge contributor to me being more creative because I’m well-rested,” he said. “Creativity can be harnessed when you dream, and if you’re not getting restorative sleep, your brain simply won’t function as well as it should.”

TripActions’ Eisenberg has prioritized the health of her team by building wellness activities into their regimen.

“Part of the process of maintaining balance and wellness as a team is how we have come together as a team while being remote,” she said. “We started with daily stand-ups and evening check-ins. We also do virtual happy hours and a weekly Zoom team walk, while respecting all social distancing rules. It is great to see our creative team walking with their pets and kids enjoying some fresh air–just talking about life and staying connected.”