Creative Agencies: Expand Your Talent Pools by Embracing Remote Creative Work and Virtual Brainstorming

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By Lucy Marino, Executive Director, Marketing and Creative, Robert Half If you are facing difficulties finding talent for open roles at your creative agency, you’re not alone. With some marketing and creative positions having unemployment rates as low as 2.1%, agency leaders tell me that it’s a challenging time to find talent with specialized skills. What’s making agencies’ candidate searches even more challenging? Although 40% of U.S. job seekers are interested in a fully remote position according to Robert Half’s Demand for Skilled Talent report, many creative agencies aren’t open to this option despite the benefits. 
Foremost among these benefits is access to a vastly expanded talent pool outside your local area, where you might have a much easier time finding professionals with specialized skills. And when remote employees join your agency, they will likely be happier and stay longer due to greater flexibility and work-life balance. This improved retention can boost your reputation as a top employer while lowering your turnover costs. But agency leaders I’ve spoken with who haven’t embraced remote-only roles say that their ability to run in-person brainstorming sessions is a critical concern that holds them back. Many believe their teams need to be present in an office together to generate distinctive and exciting ideas fundamental to their creative work, clients and portfolio. They feel in-person brainstorming is more effective than the virtual brainstorming alternative, which they’d need to embrace with remote workers. However, more and more agencies are making virtual brainstorming work, creating numerous advantages. For example, many team members are heartily engaging in these creative sessions online, while agency leaders no longer miss out on top talent or spend a frustrating amount of time, energy and money searching for those hard-to-find local candidates who are willing to spend a certain number of days in the office each week. Instead, their businesses and clients benefit from bringing on board remote creative specialists who generate campaign-shifting ideas outside office walls. These advantages might help explain why the larger marketing and creative field is posting more remote-only and hybrid positions, and why remote-only agencies are on the rise and thriving. 
The advantages of virtual brainstorming are often overlooked. Here are several ways that it can give your agency an edge: 1. Introverts and others can often create more effectively  Instead of being immersed in a conference-room environment that can distract or overtake their ability to focus, certain people brainstorm best at home or another spot. Virtual brainstorming can enable introverts to tap into their creative wells more easily in these quieter spaces, increasing the number and quality of ideas generated. 2. Ability to include more participants, regardless of location Whether it’s a highly valued SEO specialist in Hawaii or a groundbreaking designer in Mexico City, you can now invite them to be part of your brainstorm. By problem solving virtually, you can ensure you don’t miss out on any stand-out ideas from those who live near and far.  3. More ways to share ideas, unencumbered  It can sometimes be hard for everyone to write and draw on a wall or whiteboard in a room when they have an idea without it becoming physically awkward. A digital whiteboard or collaboration tool allows them to type on digital post-it notes or draw with a digital pen — and they don’t have to necessarily wait for each other, which can slow them down. This way of communicating also appeals to those reticent to speak their ideas aloud.  4. Ability to increase the sharing of ideas with anonymity — Many digital collaboration tools provide functionality that allows participants to be anonymous. This feature can relieve the pressure on more junior or newer team members, who might self-censor their ideas because they fear being judged. It can also increase their commitment to producing a large quantity of ideas. 5. More exact expression of ideas  With digital collaboration and virtual brainstorming tools, participants can use much more than colorful sticky notes. They can add photos, GIFs, music links, YouTube videos, etc., to get their ideas across with greater specificity.  6. More accurate and complete content capture  By using a shared online document or digital whiteboard, it’s far less likely that ideas will get lost. And it can help your team decrease administrative tasks. Instead of someone having to take photos of the walls, whiteboards and post-it notes, and then write up a summary of the session, a virtual brainstorm’s digital tools mean all information is immediately recorded and accessible. There’s no need to waste time documenting, and you have a thorough record to look back at. 
Virtual brainstorming requires more than renaming a Zoom meeting a brainstorming session. In addition to a video calling system (e.g., Zoom, Slack, Teams), you will need a shared online document and digital collaboration tools (e.g., Miro, Mural, Canva) for a successful brainstorm. With the explosion of virtual brainstorming, you have numerous tools to choose from. But it’s usually best to keep it simple and choose what’s most familiar to your team. Next: Have select participants test the digital whiteboard or other tools beforehand so they are comfortable and ready to go. Ensure your facilitator is up to speed with leading a virtual brainstorm and the advantages it offers (e.g., anonymous voting)  And be rest assured that with the right tools, the techniques you use in your traditional brainstorms, such as round robin or “yes, and” can work well virtually, too.  Given all the advantages of hiring remote creative workers, from easier talent searches to more satisfied employees, I encourage you to give virtual brainstorming a try. You may be pleasantly surprised.  Follow Lucy Marino on LinkedIn