Creative collaboration for remote and hybrid teams.

How creative teams can thrive in remote and hybrid work environments.

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Last year, creative teams across the world became part of an unplanned experiment — one in which millions of organizations shifted overnight to fully remote work.

Now, as companies weigh their options for returning to the office in 2021 and beyond, creative leaders are evaluating the results of that experiment and asking some questions: What were the benefits, and how can we keep them? What were the downsides, and how can we avoid them? And what does it all mean for creativity, productivity, and business impact?


AJ Joseph is a chief creative director at Adobe, and his team has been thriving since March 2020. Productivity is through the roof, and their ideas are as creative as ever. AJ is not alone: According to a survey last fall by HR firm Mercer, 94% of employers said productivity was unaffected or improved during the pandemic — confirming what researchers have been saying for years about remote work.


There are, of course, also downsides to remote work, such as missed opportunities for unplanned, in-person creative riffing — not to mention the infamous Zoom fatigue and its more insidious cousin, burnout, which can come from longer hours and blurred lines between work and home. But if creative teams have learned anything from the remote work sojourn of the last year and a half, it’s that the right tools are indispensable to maintaining productivity and morale.


At the center of distributed creative teams is the technology that keeps them connected, collaborating, and creating. For AJ, that includes Adobe Creative Cloud apps and services, which have helped his team, like countless others, pioneer remote work arrangements for years.


“We work with creatives around the world and always have,” says AJ. “We understand and appreciate the benefits of having a team from different places and having them collaborate, and we get the best stuff that way. I can't wait to see how we all evolve — this is a disruptive and impactful change in the way we work.”


To help you and your team navigate this opportunity-rich disruption, here are seven tips for thriving in a remote or hybrid work configuration. 

1. Be intentional about communication.

Good communication needs more planning when teams are distributed. In addition to daily check-ins with the team, a virtual team charter can help set norms and get buy-in from team members. Above all, don’t default to email.

“Email is the worst,” AJ says. “It’s hard to get consensus or drive agreement. It’s not a good place to collaborate.” His team tries to limit the amount of back-and-forth through email, especially when it comes to creative projects — something that’s easier to do when you have a comprehensive set of creativity apps with built-in collaboration features.


“We notice the difference with tools where we’re able to respond and provide feedback digitally. Content creation is full of collaborative moments where we might have a few seconds to jump online, take a look at a prototype, add some notes in, and then have the correspondence via the product, which is really empowering specifically with hybrid or remote work,” AJ says.


2. Accommodate different personalities and work styles.

Video conferencing can make it challenging to make eye contact or read body language, but it also makes it more difficult for one person to dominate a conversation and talk over others, leveling the field for communication.


“The introverts on my team are really shining in this space. Those who maybe would have taken  a back seat in terms of sharing their opinions in person are actually pushing forward and having more confidence,” AJ says.


Extroverts, on the other hand, can feel starved for interaction, so it’s also a good idea to create opportunities for virtual socializing that can meet that need and strengthen relationships, which leads to smoother collaboration.

3. Take advantage of the opportunity to diversify your team.

Research shows that diverse teams are more creative because they bring in more perspectives. That extends to neural diversity — for example, team members with ADHD or dyslexia — as well as gender, race, and age diversity. Remote work exponentially expands your talent pool by allowing you to hire people who live anywhere.


“From a recruiting standpoint, it allows us to bring diversity to the table in new ways, and awesome ways, because creativity thrives through diversity,” says AJ. “It’s opened us up to a broader group of candidates, which has made our team stronger.”

“From a creating standpoint...[remote work] has opened us up to a broader group of candidates, which has made our team stronger.”

AJ Joseph

Chief Creative Director, Adobe

4. Don’t assume remote and hybrid configurations are the same.

As creative leaders prepare for a return — or in many cases, a partial return — to the office, they may be tempted to assume that the lessons of all-remote work teams will apply to hybrid situations. However, a McKinsey report notes, this is a dangerous assumption.


The organizational norms that create cohesion and trust work differently remotely and in-person, and a hybrid configuration “risks allowing two organizational cultures to emerge, dominated by the in-person workers and managers,” according to McKinsey. “Remote workers can soon feel isolated, disenfranchised, and unhappy….Performance deteriorates accordingly.”


If your team is transitioning from an all-remote arrangement to one where some return to the office while others remain fully remote, invest in building a culture that provides social cohesion, identity, and belonging to all team members — wherever they happen to log in for the day.


5. Give team members options for working together and alone.

The caves and commons model recommends communal spaces for face-to-face collaboration as well as private spaces for uninterrupted, focused work. The idea also applies to how distributed teams work — especially creative teams.


“As creatives, we need to take in all the information and then retreat to let it spin in our minds and consolidate,” AJ says. “It’s essential to have the conversations to drive consensus, but for real ideation and creative development, we need that cave time.”


The new balance of cave and common time during the pandemic has helped drive success on AJ’s team over the last 18 months. Creative Cloud tools have facilitated this by supporting both kinds of work — solo inspiration and creation, and collaboration on prototypes and designs later in the creative process.

“As creatives, we need to take in all the information and then retreat to let it spin in our minds and consolidate.”

AJ Joseph

Chief Creative Director, Adobe

6. Beware of blurred lines between work and home. 

Even though AJ’s team has been highly effective during the pandemic, he says leaders should be wary of prolonged periods of elevated productivity.


“When you’re working from home, there is not a fine enough line between personal life and work life, and that can be dangerous for a creative team,” he says. “As leaders, we have to really watch out for that. We don’t want to burn people out. It’s on us to be thoughtful about our teams and their families and their lives — not just how much more productivity can we get out of people because we’re working from home now. That’s not the point.”

7. Use creative tools that foster remote collaboration.

More than half of US workers — 55% — say it’s hard to collaborate remotely, according to the Gensler 2020 Work from Home Survey. But the right tools can make it easier. If you lead a small or midsize creative team, Creative Cloud for teams — a creativity platform tailored just for you — can give you access to the same collaboration tools AJ’s team relies on.


For AJ, Adobe XD — included in Creative Cloud for teams — is an example of a tool that allows multiple contributors to work on a single document. Some of their projects, such as the annual Adobe MAX conference, involve hundreds of different deliverables. “When we’ve got multiple teams from different locations contributing to a single document, seamlessly, it’s super empowering,” he says. “Each of the teams can stay in sync. They can work together flawlessly with XD libraries.”

Rebooting the creative industry

AJ’s experience leading a remote team during a pandemic leaves him hopeful for the future.


“We shouldn't be afraid,” he says. “This is a really good moment to rethink old ways of looking at creativity and creative development. We should use it. It's a powerful time for us to really dig in and rethink and restrategize and do a little bit of a reboot to set the path forward for creatives and the creative industry in total.”


To learn more about creativity and remote work, watch the on-demand webinar The Future of Creative Collaboration, where AJ talks with teamwork and creativity expert Dr. Leigh Thompson of Northwestern University.

Adobe can help.

Adobe Creative Cloud for teams gives you the world’s best creative apps and services in a single, secure, integrated platform. With 20+ desktop and mobile apps, Creative Cloud Libraries for keeping assets in sync across apps and devices, and 1TB of storage per user, this complete creative software solution is designed to support your business at every stage of growth. Plus, you can count on simplified license management and total control over your software to help your team stay focused on creating great work.