Over the past month, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted just about everyone. However, the impact to creative teams has been unique. Creative teams face the same challenges in transitioning to working from home as others, but with the added complexities of shifting priorities and tight deadlines on projects related to COVID-19. Read on to learn how the creative team at Vanderbilt University has met these challenges.
On a recent webinar for inMotion ignite customers, Michelle McMillen, Director of Creative Strategy at Vanderbilt University, shared how her team has been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shifting Priorities in a rapidly evolving situation
Perhaps one of the most disruptive aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic was how quickly it came on. For the creative team at Vanderbilt, it began with communicating important information about the virus, especially the practice of social distancing, to students on campus. The turnaround on this work was fast – all other projects had to go on pause so they could get the information out to students quickly.
Michelle described how crucial it was for work to be turned around quickly. “It was interesting to see how quickly we had to pivot. We had a team that had been working on monitoring [the COVID-19 situation], but as the creative team, we’re in an interesting position. The university communications team has been talking to the provost and the chancellor and are prepping these communications. By the time it gets to us we have to turn the work around really quickly because we want to get it out to students.” While students were still on campus, there was a big push for print pieces. However, the Vanderbilt team identified that they would need to keep these flyers light on information and direct students to the university’s website. Because the situation was evolving so rapidly, print pieces with too much detail would have been out of date as soon as they were printed.
The pace of work was so fast that at one point Michelle and her team spent four hours putting up flyers themselves so that that information was available to students as quickly as possible. Michelle reflected, “I feel like there is a lot of information [about COVID-19] out there now. But when this first started, we couldn’t get the information out there fast enough. We had to work really rapidly and everything else just sort of went away. We just had to stop doing other things and this became our top priority.”
Ultimately, just like colleges and universities all over the country, Vanderbilt University sent all their students, faculty, and staff home. For the creative team these initial days at home were an anxious lull, best described as “hurry up and wait.” Next steps for COVID-19 related materials weren’t finalized yet, and many ongoing projects were on hold indefinitely as the university decided on next steps.
Once the dust settled and everyone was hitting their stride at home, new areas of focus began to emerge:
- Focus shifted away from scheduled on-campus events towards digital alternatives.
- The spring issue of Vanderbilt Magazine was pivoted to instead focus on a COVID-19 special edition. The stories that were prepared for the spring issue were set aside for the fall issue.
- Requests began pouring in. Other departments were also beginning to find solutions and alternatives for their upended plans and needed new creative to support their own pivots.
- The importance of tone became clear – everything needed to be carefully targeted to the audience and mindful of the current situation. As Michelle put it “You can’t pretend that it’s business as usual, because it’s not. Messaging just won’t hit the right chords if you don’t target it.”
Transitioning to working from home
When the time came for the Vanderbilt creative team to start working from home, they already had a leg up. When Michelle’s boss asked her what the team needed to do in order to make the transition a success, Michelle let him know they were good to go. “I literally looked at him and said ‘we’re good.’ It was a really easy conversation. The most I had to figure out was how to get people’s monitors home. inMotion ignite made it really easy for us to transition. I spoke with our project managers and we all agreed, this was why we got it, so that we could be more agile and work in other places. I’m really glad we implemented ignite when we did because otherwise, we would be in rough shape right now.”
Once the team was set up at home, Michelle knew that their biggest obstacle would not be logistical or process-based, but a human one. For a team that had never worked from home before the biggest challenge would be keeping collaboration and team camaraderie going, even from a safe social distance. “We’ve been implementing things to try to figure out how we can collaborate more when we are so isolated. We used to have such organic collaboration, and that is crucial to be able to bounce ideas off each other. My goal has been to keep morale up and be honest with each other – it’s been hard, but we are navigating through it.”
One way Michelle found to help the team collaborate during remote work involved leveraging Review + Approval within inMotion ignite. Team members would upload something they were working on and the rest of the team would provide feedback. They coupled this with a Zoom call for real-time interaction. “We’re able to just feed off each other and get that creative energy that we get from being together,” Michelle said.
It was also important for the team to keep their spirits up by taking on some fun projects. One of these projects was making coloring pages that parents of kids at home from The Acorn School, an early childhood care and education program for the children of Vanderbilt faculty, staff, and students, could print out to keep their kids entertained. “We created these Vanderbilt-focused fun little coloring sheets and word searches to give parents something that they could print at home and have for their kids. It was a nice thing for our team to do, a small gesture, to brighten somebody’s day.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on a unique set of challenges for creative and marketing teams all over the world. The Vanderbilt creative team provides an example of how to adapt in rapidly changing times, while keeping a focus on the things and people that matter most. Watch the full webinar with Michelle below.
Make sure your team is equipped to keep up the collaboration no matter where you’re working from. Schedule a demo of inMotion ignite today to see how you can keep collaborating from anywhere.
Elise Hauser is a product and content marketer with a passion for telling brand stories. She has produced inMotionNow’s annual In-House Creative Management Report for 3 years, webinars, content sessions for major industry events reaching audiences of 1,000+, and of course, countless blog posts. When Elise isn’t writing about the marketing and creative industry at inMotionNow she is teaching economics and hanging out with her cat, Tucker, at her home in Raleigh, NC.