Remote Work and Creativity

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

  • Thursday September 9, 2021
  • Perception   Remote Work  

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

 

One of the main myths about creativity is that it disappears when team members are working from home rather than in an office. While it’s true there working from home has led to challenges, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, that doesn’t mean that it completely stunts collaboration or creativity.

 

Balancing family and work in one space, dealing with Internet issues, and moving to a new office space have all been concerns. But we want to look at the myths about creativity and share solutions for any problems that being remote might cause in that realm.

 

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.

 

The Impact of Collaboration on Creativity

 

One study of 1,000 workers and managers from across the United States explored the most pressing concerns in the workplace today. While many executives ranked productivity as the largest concern, 75% of team members instead said that collaboration was the largest thing suffering when moving from the office to working at home. It makes you wonder if these myths about creativity are true.

 

These findings should not be great surprises. When people are in the office, there are a million ways to collaborate. Workers might brainstorm around the whiteboard or stop for coffee and chat with other team members. With all interactions now scheduled to the minute, in-the-minute collaboration may not be as easy. It makes you wonder if some of these myths about creativity are true.

 

It might seem pretty obvious, but a lot of teams don’t realize that this lack of collaboration has other issues. It can impact the way team members work and have a huge effect on both productivity and creativity. As remote work looks to be going nowhere with more companies moving to a hybrid work environment, something has to change.

 

Solutions for Impacted Creativity

 

The good news is that creativity and collaboration can still be nurtured in remote environments. It just requires a reimagining of how we connect with each other when these informal moments aren’t able to happen due to being away from the office.

 

One option for this problem is to have small group meetings. However, instead of bringing together everyone in a team, consider a mixed meeting instead. Perhaps you can bring in account managers and marketing or developers and sales members. People will have the chance to connect organically while staying abreast of what’s happening in the company.

 

While you may not be able to get everyone together in the office, that doesn’t mean communication has to suffer. Bring in cross-functional teams through video conferencing software so everyone can chat and talk about priorities and goals. This tends to work better than email chains or instant messages that some people won’t respond to.

 

It’s especially important to make use of video technology (or similar solution) for big conversations. It keeps everyone engaged and ensures they know what’s going on. Small messages can still be sent through email or chat, but the important happenings should have more production behind them. With more communication, myths about creativity can remain only myths.

 


 

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