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Remote work: The Recipe for Creativity

Jonny Whinney | December 2022

Sales Executive

We are all different, so it should be no surprise that we thrive in different circumstances. Some have stated that they find themselves to be more creative when working remotely, as opposed to working in-person. They have the freedom to tailor their own routine, enjoy improved health and lower stress levels.

And while all of those benefits of working from home are clear and evident, far more research suggests that creativity suffers in some way in a remote setting, with less ideas generated than would be in-person. Many employees have come to the defence of remote work as an act of resistance against employers who plan to return to pre-Covid working norms, hence the claims that creativity is improved by remote work.

In a survey by CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, three quarters of the 1000 senior decision makers surveyed stated that they were embracing a hybrid model (a mix of workplace and remote work). So, now that remote work has been broadly adopted, measured analysis of the relationship between creativity and remote working can take place. Such analysis is underway (see Nature’s study into idea generation) and the results at this stage suggest that the positive byproducts from sharing a physical space, such as ‘casual collisions,’ resemble big creative losses to fully-remote companies.

So, what can fully-remote companies do to retain all that creativity?

Great Question. I’ve written 6 key ingredients that ensure that your bubbling pot of creativity keeps bubbling.

1. Strong bonds and relationships

This ingredient comes first because it is the most important, and provides many benefits outside of creativity. Forgive me for stating the obvious, but people share ideas more frequently and more freely when confident in how their team will receive their ideas. Feeling connected to your colleagues goes a long way to instilling a sense of psychological safety. In robust relationships, we feel able to express our emotions and are, as a result, far more creative. 

It goes without saying that establishing strong bonds is made much more challenging when we do not share a physical space, therefore leaders must be active in their efforts to facilitate togetherness. Providing places and opportunities for spontaneous conversations is a good start. A dedicated slack channel, or a designated room in your SPACEIN office where people can interact casually, can make a significant impact.

Management style can also play a huge role in connecting people. Welcoming and encouraging vulnerability lowers inhibitions and builds trust. This can be done by checking in with people prior to team meetings, asking people how they are feeling. Furthermore, leaders who are express their vulnerabilities, who speak freely about successes, failures and learnings will encourage others to reciprocate the kind of transparency and openness that fosters trust. We are as a consequence more likely to venture innovative ideas freely without fear of judgement.

2. Prioritise patience and place

Pressure has rarely come to the aid of dwindling creativity. Providing ample time for idea generation is not necessarily a bad measure, but it is not enough alone. Mental and physical space needs to be created and dedicated to supporting free-flowing thought. Whiteboard softwares such as Miro have proven to be very effective dedicated spaces for remote collaboration.

It is also worth thinking about exercises that can help the flow of creative juices. Jumping straight into brainstorming without warming the crowd sometimes doesn’t yield the best results. It may be worth initially brainstorming questions or problems rather than ideas and solutions. It is also worthwhile considering the environment and mood of your brainstorming sessions. Surveying what conditions your creative teams feel are conducive to creative thought is the best way of ensuring your efforts bear fruit.

“Surveying what conditions your creative teams feel are conducive to creative thought is the best way of ensuring your efforts bear fruit.”

3. Impromptu brainstorming

We rarely get to choose when or where a great idea strikes. Often I’ll be boiling the kettle, or on a walk when the lightbulb moment occurs. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t quickly record and pursue that idea, it’ll leave me forever. Creative teams need to be able to seize opportunities when they strike, with the freedom to ride a tangent and go off-piece.

Following the inception of an idea with an impromptu brainstorming session is the best way of ensuring that the idea gets the best chance to blossom and bloom. It is wise to have a common space to store those thoughts.

SPACEIN supports a fluid approach to developing ideas, providing you with the ability to leap into an impromptu brainstorm as and when, or jump into someone else’s. A simple virtual tap on the shoulder is all that’s needed to start a conversation. And with co-browsing, you can embed your collaborative tools in your space and can collaborate live. Rather than sharing a screen and having to multitask, you can engage on the same material whilst also being able to read each other’s expressions, providing an experience much closer to that of in-person collaboration. Why not give it a go?

“Creative teams need to be able to seize opportunities when they strike, with the freedom to ride a tangent and go off-piece.”

4. Thoughtful alone/focus time

While many of us take inspiration from one another, others are most creative when undisturbed and allowed thoughtful alone time. Some suffer from ‘evaluation apprehension’, meaning that, during a creative brainstorm, they keep quiet for fear of negative feedback. Sometimes our ideas need more time in the oven so they don’t turn out half-baked, so allow others time to refine their ideas until they are ready to share.

Thoughtful alone time also allows us to recharge our social batteries. Your energy is a precious resource. Ensuring that you take frequent breaks, or at the very least, opportunities to stand and stretch your legs, is essential to give yourself the necessary rest so that you can function at your best. When scheduling creative workshops, it’s worth doing so at times when your teams have the most energy.

“‘evaluation apprehension’, meaning that (…) they keep quiet for fear of negative feedback.”

5. Equity of opportunity

Despite the best of intentions, this ingredient is not always easy to facilitate. It’s natural for certain individuals to be more vocal and active than others, and enthusiasm should never be discouraged, even though such characters have the capability to dominate a call. It’s worth thinking about facilitating the opportunity and space for all the members of your team to weigh in. Understanding the personalities of your team is very important, as is thinking about how you collaborate. Allowing your team a few minutes writing their ideas down in a shared place, followed by an opportunity for each member to elaborate on their ideas, can ensure there is equal opportunity for ideas to be heard.

Also, try to make sure your meetings are not overcrowded. Why not adopt Jeff Bezos’ ‘two pizza rule’- where meetings are ‘no larger than can be fed by two pizzas’.

“Understanding the personalities of your team is very important, as is thinking about how you collaborate.”

6. Synchronous communication

This ingredient is incredibly significant to wellbeing as well as creativity. Remote work has led to a vast increase in the usage of asynchronous communication, which is to the detriment of connection among peers. Relationships are harder to establish as we move further and further away from what we define as ‘true connection’- that which can be enjoyed through sharing a physical space. True connection was at the inception of SPACEIN, with the ambition to recreate physical interactions, digitally. By communicating synchronously, we operate more fluidly and efficiently, whilst also benefiting from seeing each other’s faces. Wherever possible, it is best to have a conversation face-to-face as opposed to typing a message.

“By communicating synchronously, we operate more fluidly and efficiently”

There you have it

I hope there are some useful takeaways from this recipe. We can’t claim to have all the answers. But if there is something to keep in mind, it’s that dedicated and determined effort is required to keep remote and hybrid teams connected and engaged. If you’d like to explore how SPACEIN can help your remote teams thrive, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Until then, ciao!

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