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One of the most enjoyable elements of agency life is camaraderie and collaboration. Whether it be between small account teams discussing how to sharpen a media pitch, getting the whole office together in a room to harness our collective brainpower to come up with fresh campaign ideas for clients, or to think up a launch plan to make a new business proposal stand out, we’re used to sitting opposite or alongside our colleagues to ideate.

This era of social distancing and self-isolation however doesn’t mean this process has to stop because we’re not physically working together, and we’ve found that brainstorming sessions can be executed just as effectively without having to all be together in the same room. In fact, there are some ways in which we’ve found them to work quite successfully.

Here are some of the learnings we’ve gathered over the last few months:

  • Prepare a brief Help your team prepare for the session by being clear on the purpose and what is required. Giving everyone involve some thinking ahead time will allow participants to do any quick research or pre-reading to help kick-start the creative thinking process. While not everyone will manage to do this, it always helps to get discussion flowing if there are a few ideas to throw out there from the get-go.
  • Video on or off? It’s your choice While video calls have become the norm for online meetings, we’ve found that giving people the option to turn their camera on or keep it off is helpful. Some individuals prefer to see faces and respond well to the virtual “face-to-face” engagement, while others would rather keep their camera off while they’re not talking and turn it on when they want to contribute. Some colleagues feel they can tune in better when they’re not sat at a desk – that’s fine too! The important thing has been for us to respect our colleagues’ preferences, and understand what works best.
  • Use the right tools We’ve discovered some great online tools to help facilitate meetings, particularly messaging sessions for clients. Digital whiteboards allow participants contribute notes in real-time or asynchronously, and the ease of which information is recorded and shared after the session has been invaluable for anyone who wasn’t able to dial in, or had an unforeseen tech fail. While I am nostalgic for the days when we would decorate meeting rooms with pages of flipchart paper and bad handwriting, there is no doubt the efficiency and versatility of the digital whiteboard and other online collaboration tools has sped up meeting follow up turnaround time.
  • Is this being recorded? Simple, free recording has made accurately documenting conversations an order of magnitude easier.  Being able to replay high quality recordings of technical subject matter to distill key messages, or to play back a planning meeting with a client to ensure we’ve captured all the takeaways and action points has been a game changer.
  • We’re all on the same virtual page Remote collaboration is something that our teams in Singapore and Hong Kong are used to doing on a daily basis pre-Covid anyway, particularly with clients and partners based in other countries in the region or on different continents. But we would often find ourselves in a “hybrid” meeting situation with half of the attendees in a room together on one end, and the other half on another, huddled round a conference phone. While not totally dysfunctional, we’ve found that the current format of everyone attending the meeting virtually in from the comfort of their own home, with clear connection and audio, the dynamic is generally balanced and constructive.

So, while we aren’t able to take over a team meeting room to work on a killer new business pitch, and we’re looking forward to sitting down with clients over coffee to brainstorm the best media strategy for their new product launch, there is plenty to be encouraged by when it comes to the effectiveness of online collaboration. Some of these new habits just might be worth keeping.

Claire Rumbellow is an associate director based in Singapore