Remote-work productivity is a fickle thing during the pandemic. For some companies, their workforces see themselves as somewhat successful. A 2020 research study from Microsoft showed that productivity levels have either held steady or increased as a result of work-from-home telecommuting. Meanwhile, other companies have struggled to maintain a creative edge, with leaders struggling to inspire new ideas. No wonder this same study found that remote work may be hurting employees’ creativity.
With my online company, we’ve experienced ups and downs in 2020, but have still managed to make strides in terms of innovating (we were even able to release a new product this year). Here, four strategies we’ve used to keep our creative juices flowing.
Invest in proper training
From Slack and Zoom to Trello and Basecamp, a perk of modern-day telecommuting is the variety of tools at our disposal. Today’s variety of applications allows us to connect in more ways than one. I’ve noticed that as leaders we too often assume our teams intuitively understand the best way to communicate. However, from my experience managing three offices across two countries, employees aren’t always aware of the proper methods and channels.
This is why it’s crucial to train your team on the right protocols. Wharton professor Michael Parke, one author of the Microsoft-commisioned study, told the Wharton Business Daily that training was a “major factor that contributed to employees’ collaboration effectiveness, their empowerment and their ability to share information across their team.”
You may want to reserve Slack for time-sensitive matters only, weekly videoconferences for status updates, and email for everything in between. For my company, our teams have a standing Friday demo day to discuss what they’ve been working on, so we always know when we’ll be fleshing out new ideas.
Regularly connect, outside of work hours
If you’ve ever collaborated, on a presentation, a hackathon, a movie script, or any team-oriented project, then I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s no substitute for the synergy that happens when two or more minds brainstorm and build off of each other’s momentum. As LinkedIn editor-in-chief Dan Roth told CBS, “I think that companies are going to struggle with finding ways to have those bits of inspiration where something connects.”
A danger of the shift to remote work is the loss of that valuable chemistry between colleagues. Leaders have to be proactive about ensuring that their team members can enjoy these moments of connection. We can start by scheduling regular videoconferences, but I’ve found it’s even more effective to go one step further and encourage face time outside of work matters. Roth recommends carving out times for joint activities—such as baking or completing puzzles.
Anything where you can just leave the camera on and enjoy the same casual interactions you might in the office, be it a Zoom happy hour or a group movie screening, can help reestablish your team bonds.
Empower with responsibility
In its study, Microsoft suggested, in order to keep creativity high, employers should aim to empower their employees—or entrust them with greater responsibility, allowing workers to make consequential decisions without the input of their manager.
In the early days of my company, I wore every hat, from programming to customer service. Once I grew my team and harnessed the power of delegation, I had more time for higher-level thinking. Not only that, but I also noticed a difference in my employees. The more responsibility I afforded them, the more engaged they became. This highlights a well-understood management technique: When employees are challenged and engaged, they’re more likely to find better, more innovative solutions.
Initially, it may feel counterintuitive, but the more you delegate, the more resourceful and creative your team will become.
Encourage time for “nothingness”
As the best innovators will tell you, sometimes it’s during those quiet mental moments, when we’re far from our desk, that our minds manage to synthesize the daily input and generate novel solutions. Sara Blakely, founder and CEO of Spanx, has said she gets some of her best ideas at traffic lights. For Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing and screenwriter of The Social Network, his “eureka” moments often arrive in the shower, prompting him to take six per day.
These days, it may seem harder than ever to schedule time for nothing, especially for those who are juggling additional responsibilities such as childcare. But a little time for nothing can make a big difference in our creativity, despite how unproductive it may feel.
With rapidly changing work and economic conditions, business owners know that the need for finding innovative solutions has never been more critical. If I’ve learned anything it’s that the answers are often more accessible than we realize. It’s just a matter of slowing down, finding the right tools, and trusting in the process.
Aytekin Tank is the founder of JotForm, a popular online form builder. Established in 2006, JotForm allows customizable data collection for enhanced lead generation, survey distribution, payment collections, and more.