Creativity Amid Isolation: Now What?


This article was originally published by AdAge @

Staying creative is the lifeblood of a marketing agency. But how do agencies maintain their creative juices when the world is sheltering in place from COVID-19, we’re all working from home, and our pre pandemic best practices aren’t quite as effective?

When you think of creativity, especially within an agency setting, you might think of a group of people gathered in a room, bouncing ideas off of each other, sketching concepts on whiteboards, and “yes-anding” their way to a truly unique solution for the task at hand. 

That technique simply isn’t possible these days. While we can meet through videoconferencing, that technology is better suited to presenting finished work rather than developing creative concepts. Video calls are great if there’s a single presenter leading a discussion, but it gets less effective when you’re engaged in a free-for-all of ideation. If you’re used to throwing ideas at a wall to see what sticks, you can quickly find that screens are a bit more slippery—it’s harder to find ideas with staying power. 

So we got together (virtually, of course) to come up with some workarounds that can help creative teams keep their imagination engines tuned up and revving while maintaining creative consistency. 


Readjust to short-burst output

One thing about working from home is that you may experience distractions. Kids home from school, pets demanding attention, dishes and laundry and spouses and last night’s leftovers. So lower your expectations about how long you can stay engaged in work. 

Divide your work into smaller windows of time. Try 20 or 30 minutes per work window to start: Set up your file, then check in on the kids, then sketch out some ideas, then make a cup of tea with your significant other or roommate, then go back to the computer to work on the file some more, and on and on. This helps you address all the demands that arise from work and domestic life without neglecting any of them. Baby steps for everyone.


Seek out the new

In our normal work lives, we’re introduced to new ideas, new technologies, and new campaigns all the time. Whether it’s exploring a new part of the city, looking out the bus window on our commute or chatting with a coworker over lunch, we’re engaged in the world. That’s harder to do when your world has been reduced to your home and the occasional (and socially distant) walk around the block. So we have to go looking for the new to spark inspiration. 

Whether it’s finding articles about your specialty or taking an online course, proactively seeking out and learning about what’s beyond the confines of your four walls can keep your brain active and alive. And these activities don’t have to be work related. Pick up that guitar you haven’t touched in a few years, perfect your coffee-brewing skills, do those home improvement projects you’ve been putting off. Or go way outside your comfort zone like one of our writers who’s restoring an old, rusted push mower that was sitting in his basement. (He’s admittedly mechanically uninclined.) Resist the pull of Twitter and Netflix, and stay engaged in learning by being an active explorer of experience.


Pare down creative sessions

The type of conversation flow expected during a physical meeting doesn’t translate perfectly into virtual meetings. The more people involved in a virtual meeting—whether over video or phone—the more unwieldy it becomes. You can end up with too many people talking over each other or teammates so frustrated at not getting a word in that they stop participating. And even if you generate a bunch of great ideas among a larger group, the team leads are still the ones who have to take the project forward.

So consider limiting your creative sessions to the primary people on a project. Keep it small and simple, such as a director, a designer, and a copywriter. We’ve seen that the work generated by smaller brainstorming sessions is more often than not just as effective as the work created by mosh pits of ideas. Find the right number for your needs and be flexible.


Change scenery

Many of us have carved out a little corner of our home for work. It’s (ideally) a space where we can close the door and block out our housemates and family members so we can get work done. But just as different meeting rooms at the office offer different vibes and feelings, so, too, does your home workspace. 

If you know you’re going to need to be creative in a meeting and generate original ideas, then consider finding a different space at home to do it in. Maybe you get Wi-Fi access in your yard. Maybe the bathroom acoustics make every pitch that much more resonant. Of course, we don’t all have the luxury to move rooms or find outdoor space. If that’s the case, consider changing up your office layout, sitting by a window, or simply changing your outfit to get in a more creative headspace. 


Hack your solutions

We’re all adapting to this new reality. It’s hard. But adaptation is a key element of creativity. So lean into adaptation. Try new things. If necessity is the mother of invention, then we all have the opportunity to get super maternal right now. Remember that failure is always an option—experiments that don’t work clarify the parameters of what will work. So rev up your imagination, explore (and then expand!) your new smaller world, and make creativity bloom. 


We hope this short primer helps you think differently about the creative challenges you’ve been facing recently. Please tell us about some of your challenges in the comments section below.  We’d love to know more about what you’re struggling with and, perhaps together (but apart), we can come up with some truly vibrant creative solutions.  

About Marco Iannucci, Mark Daws, and Vanessa Zucker

At global digital marketing agency Firewood, Marco Iannucci is senior director, strategy; Mark Daws is senior art director; and Vanessa Zucker is senior communications and marketing manager.