Remote worker creativity

by Chuck Chapman-Content Strategy Coordinator

We make no apologies for our unbridled enthusiasm for remote work. Not only is is remote work at the heart of everything we do on this site, it’s how we work ourselves. And now that most of the the rest of the world has had at least a taste of remote work, we get excited about growing our devoted following.

Sometimes we have to take a step back, however, and acknowledge reality. Remote work isn’t a panacea and it’s certainly not the solution for every business or every worker. While it’s great for us, we recognize it does have its shortcomings. And now that organizations are back to getting to choose whether to work remotely, it’s wise to be honest about the pros and cons of remote work.

This article in Harvard Business Review looks at several studies that suggest that working remotely can be a hindrance rather than an aid to creativity and innovation. The findings make a lot of sense. Remote workers don’t have the same amount of interaction with coworkers as those who work together in site-based settings. This can inhibit collaboration and prevent much of the spontaneous creativity that often occurs when co-workers are “spitballing” ideas while the next pot of coffee brews in the break room.

The article also cites the physiological and psychological effects that come with a more sedentary lifestyle when working from home. It’s a variation on the old theme of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” In this case “All sitting and no activity dulls Jack’s sense of creativity and adventure and may even contribute to Jack’s depression and anxiety. None of that is good for creativity.

So what can remote leaders do to promote creativity among their remote teams?

Encourage interaction

Don’t be content just letting your team members operate independently in their silos. Set up processes and routines that ensure team members will be interacting with one another. And don’t insist that all interactions are “on the clock” or about work. Set the example and encourage team members to take an interest in each other beyond their work-related responsibilities. Start up a chat about last weekend’s big game. Reward and encourage sharing about family and personal accomplishments. All of this conversation is lubrication for the creativity machine.

Allow scheduling freedom

Many companies have fitness centers on site or include gym memberships as perks for those who work there. Leaders of remote teams need to be just as intentional about encouraging physical activity, maybe more so because the nature of the work is even more sedentary. You can certainly give or help pay for gym memberships, too, but you have even more freedom, provided you’re focused on outcomes and not watching the clock. Encourage team members to go ride a bike or take a walk during work hours if it’s a sunny day and there aren’t any pressing team meetings. As long as the work gets completed, what difference does it make if it’s within a certain time frame? When you allow your team members to unchain themselves from their desks, the creative energy will start flowing.

Utilize scheduling and communication tools

One thing that will help you as a leader encourage these healthy behaviors and still maintain your own peace of mind is the presence of good scheduling and communication software and tools. These allow the entire team to communicate with ease and with the freedom remote workers need. For instance, it’s easy for that remote worker to take a half hour to enjoy a nice run on a bright day when he/she has Slack on their phone and can respond to any office emergencies while they’re out. They can also communicate with ease and confidence that “I’m stepping out for a few to enjoy this great day.”

Remote workers can enjoy all the perks and still maintain peak creativity and productivity. It does take a united team effort. If you want to ensure your team is traveling that path, check out our new learning experience 12 Weeks to Being a Great Remote Teammate

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