Creating together… apart: the impact of teleworking on the collective creative process
There’s been a great deal of back-and-forth about how individual creators have been able to maintain their creative edge during the pandemic even in the face of the negative impact social distancing is known to have on creativity. In these very pages, Philippe Jean Poirier even made the case that the health crisis narrative was, in fact, a source of inspiration.
Be that as it may, one can’t deny the vital importance of the team effort in getting any creative project off the ground, whether it’s a film, a TV series, or a videogame. It takes a lot more than the input of the solitary genius to organize the intellectual components in any such effort, where the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts as they say.
Sociologist Howard Becker, well known for his work on deviance and outsiders, published a study in 1976 concluding that every artistic act is, after all, a collective effort. Between the provision of creative tools, the definition of artistic conventions, and the public dissemination of the work in question, no creator, or individual for that matter, is exempt from working within the collective dimension.
The creative setbacks keep piling up
It’s now clear that social distancing and the COVID-driven reconfiguration of collaborative relationships have had a major impact on all creative mechanisms and processes in every facet of the audiovisual sector.
Inverse webzine has posted a series of short interviews with leading players in the world of videogames. They candidly share their experience in dealing with many aspects of the net losses they see in the collective creative process, including:
· Technical and technological difficulties that are still unresolved nearly two years later
· A drastic reduction in informal creative opportunities, including random meetings in the hall and unstructured after-hours time
· The challenge of maintaining processes like in-person social gatherings to review prototypes, features, art, and code that were once iterative and immediate
They also talk about the void created by the cancellation, postponement, and virtualization of major in-person industry gatherings and how this has been a disaster for the discoverability of in-progress content and emerging intellectual properties, which for so many were sources of inspiration in the creation and production of their own projects.
The creative gap between players keeps widening
There appears to be no limit to the barriers that teleworking poses to the creative process nor to the solutions audiovisual companies propose to break them down, from a Zoom living room that is always open, a better system for managing time slots, and formal daily missives from management, to sending materials, gifts and other surprises by direct mail to employees...Some organizations got very creative in the ways in which they tried to maintain connections and a sense of pride in the corporate values among the employees.
What’s at stake here is the collective creative process in the context of teleworking or hybrid work, which is really a matter of organizational culture more than anything. Over the past two years or so, the measures studios and producers have put in place to counter any decline in the process have varied enormously on both the technical and human levels, as well as in their intensity, complexity, and consistency. These reflect beliefs and values that often pre-date COVID and that have only intensified as the health crisis wears on.
As Eric Garton and Michael Mankins, authors of Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power, point out in a recent article, the pandemic has tended to widen the gap between organizations that score well in time management, talent allocation, and creative energy mobilization, and those scoring low in these areas prior to the pandemic and that have continued to fall further behind since then.
According to Garton and Mankins, the well-prepared, proactive organizations have enjoyed a 10% increase on average in terms of creative productivity at work during the pandemic, while the unprepared suffered decreases of from 3% to 6%.
Not all sectors are equal when it comes to meeting the challenges
The creative sectors that evolve more successfully are the ones that are less dependent on having people on site as part of the process. Animated film and television, videogames and all other forms of digital creation that don’t require actors are likely to evolve even more rapidly.
The idea that animation production was not impacted by the pandemic, however, is a myth according to Professor Mihaela Mihailova. Animation studios also felt the same disruption of workflows, isolation, and suboptimal physical conditions as others in the industry did.
The burgeoning interest in the production of animated series and films – which began long before the pandemic – continues, more as a result of the stars aligning. The Canadian animation sector is simply buzzing, with independent studios like Atomic Cartoons, Guru, and Digital Dimensions picking up numerous major creative projects in recent months.
The collective creative process has been taking a beating throughout the pandemic period and the bruises are beginning to show. What’s needed are face-to-face meetings, even on an ad hoc basis and with all health directives in place, in order to recharge organizational culture, reflexes, and creative mechanisms that keep teams and studios performing at their best.
Organizations with already strong corporate cultures were the first to put initiatives in place to mitigate the impact of the ongoing health crisis. The introduction of hybrid work methods will certainly be a phenomenon to watch carefully in light of the evolving creative dynamics at work in the audiovisual field.