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Remote Work and Creativity: Does Remote Work Destroy or Improve Creativity?

Many teams returned to their virtual workplaces this week. With ambitious 2021 goals still outstanding, will virtual collaboration jeopardize teams’ creativity and brainstorming outputs?


In this MIT Sloan Management Review article, Kellogg professor Leigh Thompson shares the most common myths about creativity and shows why shifting to remote work can help groups generate better ideas — and more of them.


1. Creativity Myth #1: Creative ability is fixed or inborn.

Research shows that the groups that believe creativity is under their control significantly outperform the other groups.


Implication for remote work:
You don’t need to collaborate in person to embrace a proactive mindset about creativity — you can do that independently, from anywhere.


2. Creativity Myth #2: Teams are more creative than individuals.

Most studies have found that “per capita” creativity declines precipitously as group size increases.


Remote Work and Creativity


– Implication for remote work:
Facilitate idea expression through brainwriting. Set aside time for individuals to write down ideas; afterward, come together as a team to discuss them. Virtual communication is ideal for brainwriting, because participants can anonymously contribute to a common virtual whiteboard or shared document without significant group influence.


3. Creativity Myth #3: To enhance creative teamwork, get rid of rules and norms.

Researchers found that working within limits pushes us to solve problems in ways we wouldn’t if given free rein.


Example of positive brainstorming


Implication for remote work:
With virtual meetings, teams can impose more constraints in order to stretch participants beyond their usual ways of thinking, boosting creativity.
Examples: control the size of breakout groups, enforce time constraints, allow one person to speak at a time, diminish nonverbal signals.


4. Creativity Myth #4:Keep the same team members intact.

Actually, the presence of a single newcomer can stimulate group creativity, yielding a larger number and variety of ideas. Yet, in a typical face-to-face meeting, people sit by their friends and colleagues, which has the unintended consequence of promoting conformity and narrowing creative focus.


Implication for remote work:
In a virtual meeting, you can’t choose your seat and have sidebar conversations easily. Consider using breakout functionality to assign people randomly or/and adding an outside participant to your brainstorming activity.




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