3 trends to drive creative operations in 2021

By Beth Kszan

Posted on 10-13-2020

Creative teams are the glue that holds entire organizations together, keeping projects on track, and pushing forward fluid, on-brand goals—which means that they’re arguably busier than they’ve ever been. So busy in fact, that InMotionNow’s 2019 In-House Creative Management Report states creative teams’ top challenges as the speed at which they’re expected to complete projects, and the amount of work they’re being asked to complete.

Despite advancements in technologies, workflows and processes, creative teams are still experiencing intense bottlenecks and inefficiencies in the way they work.

This year, I’ve been deep-diving into creative operations, trying to understand where exactly teams are struggling. What I’ve found consistently across the board, whether it be during customer conversations, or through industry research, is that the major challenge for creative operations is trying to fix individual components. To truly find solutions, we must look at the creative process as a whole.

To thrive, creative teams need to step back and look at the entire picture of their creative processes, re-calibrate their operations to address their evolving workplaces, and optimize for the future.

If you’re curious on some of the trends that surfaced, here are three that I believe will shape creative operations in 2021:

1. Organizations will lean into remote work

In the past, the idea of a geographically dispersed creative team seemed to only be suited for large, global organizations. The conglomerates that play in multiple global regions need feet on the ground to adapt their brands to the varying style, language and requirements of each local market.

The shift I see happening – in part due to the climate of 2020 – is that distributed teams are becoming much more feasible to the average organization. According to Upwork, even prior to COVID-19, 63 percent of companies had someone on their team working remotely. Now, with 93 percent of employees stating they’d like to keep working remotely at least part-time, a significant number of organizations are announcing flexible remote-work policies. Heading into 2021, this presents a huge opportunity for companies to open their hiring nets to other areas, and attract top talent from across the globe – one that I think executives won’t be able to pass up.

What this means for creative leaders is that they can no longer assume their teams will be in the office at all times. Whether you’re working with employees a few blocks or time zones away, your workflows, policies and technologies will need to adapt to address and support the changing needs of teams that aren’t at your headquarters.

2. Agencies will be brought in-house

Recently I’m seeing that a significant number of organizations have made the decision to create their own in-house agencies. While this trend has been picked up by larger companies, I’ve also noticed some SMBs take a hybrid approach, outsourcing smaller projects to agencies while keeping most campaigns internal. This investment, while significant, is a critical step that needs to be taken to improve speed, maintain control and reduce costs over time. In Bannerflow’s State of In-Housing Report, 90 percent of surveyed brands felt confident with their decisions to bring their creative in-house, which signals that the in-house agency trend is not only here to stay but will continue to grow.

From my perspective, as organizations take on more work that was traditionally outsourced to external agencies, the gaps and bottlenecks in their creative workflows will become increasingly more apparent. The increase in workload will enhance the inefficient hand-offs, approvals, reviews and, ultimately prevent teams from meeting their deadlines and achieving their goals.

The other piece of the puzzle will be how (or if) these organizations change their approaches to file management. When working with an agency, they handle all the source and work-in-progress files, and the client is only responsible for managing and distributing the final, ready-to-use assets. Moving content creation in-house means creative operations need to address the management of these kinds of files, such as applying metadata, tracking versions and ensuring accessibility.

3. Leaders will provide room for creativity

Ask nearly any creative team and they’ll agree: The mad scramble to get things done quickly has made it incredibly difficult to truly be creative. The ever-increasing demand for personalized, highly visual content has left designers squeezed for time—in fact, 80 percent report increased pressure to be productive, rather than creative. In addition to the amount of content they need to push out, creative teams are also spending a significant amount of hours doing non-creative work. ScreenDragon’s State of Creative Operations Report even found that creatives spend an average of two days per week (each!) being “uncreative.”

At the 2019 Cannes Lions International Festival, Scott Belsky, Adobe’s chief product officer, expressed the need for companies to empower employees and give them “wiggle room” to create. Not only is this wiggle room critical to prevent burnout, it’s also required to pull out ideas that will allow you to stand out from your competitors. I believe that 2021 will be the year that creative leaders realize the importance of this and find ways to increase bandwidth to make room for creativity, exploration and risk.

The reality is that increased bandwidth won’t appear out of thin air – and it won’t come from extending your office hours. Creative operations will become critical to automating repetitive tasks, creating breathing room in deadlines and providing other incremental wins that can give time back to your designers.

What does this mean? It’s time to double-down on your tech

One thing is for certain: It’s time to get your house in order. A huge number of leading organizations are experiencing major gains by doubling down on technology – specifically, cloud-based technology. A creative study by InMotionNow found that 82 percent of creative teams are already using cloud-based project management solutions. The same report found those that are using cloud-based technology experienced significantly less operational challenges when switching to remote work.

I get it – it’s natural for teams to be resistant to change – especially when it means uprooting and moving to the cloud. But, what’s clear from these trends is that remote is here to stay – and it’s no longer feasible for creative teams to operate 100 percent on-premise. Organizations that lean into cloud-based technologies today will streamline their ability to adapt to the ever-changing environment and scale faster than their competitors.

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Topics: Trends & Research, Adobe MAX, Creative Inspiration & Trends, Creativity, Creative Cloud,