At Ashworth Creative, we’ve had to adjust to the breathtaking pace of digital transformation necessitated by the pandemic along with our clients, partners, and peers. Creativity, collaboration, and communication were top-of-mind for our team in 2020.

Throughout the pandemic and its associated uncertainty, we’ve worked hard to remain agile. We’re poised to be even more efficient and resourceful this year thanks to a combination of powerful digital tools, experienced personnel, and creative new ideas for working with clients.

In this post, we’ll outline some exciting business practices we’ve adopted (or expanded) over the past year. We think they have the potential to help most businesses thrive in the new year and beyond.

Successful post-COVID collaboration techniques

Lockdowns caused by the pandemic forced many businesses to operate virtually almost overnight. As a result, collaboration tools like Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft TEAMS became essential as we tried to figure out the best way to communicate.

In April 2020, Slack reported that 16 million U.S. knowledge workers started working remotely due to COVID-19. At Ashworth, we shifted to an all-remote work environment when New York shut down nonessential businesses in March.

Like millions of other businesses across the U.S. and the world, our daily operations depend on a collection of tools and technology, from video conferencing apps, to messaging platforms, to cloud-based drives that enabled us to share files.

The Harris Poll reported that the most widely used work-from-home tools were video conferencing, team chat, cloud-based drives, and software automation/productivity tools, as demonstrated by the following chart (from a survey they conducted in March 2020):

Source: The Harris Poll

While about 80% of the 1200 U.S. workers surveyed by Harris indicated they could better manage interruptions from coworkers while at home, fully 66% preferred working in the office or workplace. There’s a good reason for this—creativity and spontaneity can be stifled in isolation, even when there’s easy access to collaboration tools like Zoom and Microsoft TEAMS.

To combat this, our team meets frequently on Zoom, via chat, or the old-fashioned way—by chatting over the phone. It helps that we were already in the habit of communicating this way with both clients and employees.

Once the pandemic hit, it became clear that technology-forward companies with already-established guidelines regarding collaborating with distributed teams were in a better position to shift to remote work. This was true at the start of the pandemic and it’s still true, but the difference is that now that we’ve all had a year to adjust, many companies are realizing the benefits of remote work even after returning to the office.

Ashworth is a boutique omnichannel marketing agency focused on creativity. We value on-site collaboration. In fact, team and client collaboration are key to our success. When it is safe for our core staff to be back in the office, we will put our heads together and brainstorm in a more traditional way, but thanks to innovations made necessary by the pandemic, we will also bring remote team members into our creative collaboration process using tools like Zoom and Google Drive.

The hard-won experience we’ve gotten by fostering creativity across distributed teams will shape the way we work moving forward, enabling us to be a reliable resource for our clients as they make their own adjustments.

The importance of communication, creativity, and human experience

While technology has enabled businesses to operate remotely and continue to function during the pandemic, communication and human experience are equally important for continued growth. Many businesses were in survival mode throughout 2020, but as the virus (and the associated uncertainty it brings) endures, businesses must get creative about how they operate, what products and services they offer, and how to stay top of mind to clients and prospects.

The challenges are different depending on the industry. Retailers have shifted to e-commerce platforms to combat mandated shutdowns and changes in the ways consumers shop while B2B businesses have had to reinvent a sales process that, pre-COVID, was largely dependent on in-person meetings and events.

Steering the helm of an unstable ship is not for the faint of heart. Agencies that leverage experience and creativity while having an open mind can significantly impact on their clients’ bottom line. There are business practices that should be considered as you plan your strategy for 2021:

  • Regular communication is key. We keep our clients updated using our website, social media channels, and through virtual events and team meetings via Zoom. Make sure critical information is clear and easy to find. This includes hours of operation, safety protocols, and whether you’re operating remotely.
  • Be a partner, not a vendor. A shifting landscape means that something that worked yesterday may not make sense today. Think creatively about the products and services you offer and the value they add to your customers right now. Be willing to try new things and ditch things that aren’t working. We’ve been adding new services like podcast development and virtual event creation to help our clients communicate with their customers and continue to get new business. We’re also flexible about contracts and pricing models which enables us to fill whatever talent or resource gaps are needed.
  • Create structure, have boundaries. Structure ensures that projects get done in a timely manner—logging hours, weekly meetings, campaign performance reports, and regular evaluations or post-mortems can be done on-site or remotely. But it’s also important to set boundaries so that you’re not burning yourself (or your staff) out. Keeping regular business hours, minimizing email correspondence after hours, and limiting interruptions help your employees recharge and stay focused.

Digital transformation and the future of business

Although it may not seem like it right now, the pandemic will end, and we will go back to some kind of normalcy. But digital transformation is here to stay. A BCG survey of senior executives in late spring of 2020, revealed that 80% of respondents planned to accelerate their digital transformation efforts and 65% plan to increase the amount they’re investing in digital technology despite the economic downturn.

These same executives indicated a willingness to explore new ways of working that support remote employees while honing security, commerce, and marketing capabilities. These leaders understand that business agility relies on creativity, preparedness, and increased automation.

One fact is clear—geography is meaningless. If this wasn’t evident before the pandemic, it’s incredibly obvious to many businesses who have managed to not only survive the past year, but to thrive and grow.

Adopting digital transformation is now a necessity, but incorporating creativity and human experience along with all this new technology is what will make your business excel no matter what 2021 throws at us.