Times of isolation have led to some of history’s best thinking. William Shakespeare wrote King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra while isolated during a plague. Sir Isaac Newton was quarantined when he came up with his theory of gravity and laws of motion. As a climber myself, I’ve come up with some of my best ideas while alone in the mountains.
It’s not hard to be creative while working from home, but creativity is slippery and can be quite fickle. The things that used to inspire you might not be working anymore. For managers hoping to inspire their teams, asking them to “be more creative” or to throw out ideas during your next Zoom call isn’t going to cut it. In fact, it can backfire by making employees feel pressured.
With remote work changing where and how many of us work, it’s essential to build habits and strategies that keep the creative sparks flying. Here are five ways to recharge your creative juices from home and help your team do the same.
TURN OFF YOUR NOTIFICATIONS
Remote work itself may not destroy creativity, but how we manage it can. Genius and talent aside, Shakespeare and Newton weren’t distracted by Slack messages all day. Being constantly interrupted by texts, emails, and calls is an enemy of creative flow. Be sure to turn off all notifications at times during the day to give your mind the space it needs to imagine. I’ve personally had the ring and vibrate turned off my iPhone for five or more years. I see messages when I decide to check, and that mental space is freeing.
It’s also crucial to take frequent breaks throughout the day, which is easier done when you’re not constantly being notified of fires to put out or pulled into 3 directions at once. A few minutes of stretching, reading a few pages of a book, or stepping outside for some fresh air will refuel your body and mind.
SET ASIDE TIME TO BRAINSTORM ALONE
Brainstorming is a critical part of the creative process. Build time into your schedule to do so, such as jotting down ideas for 10 minutes each morning or putting a brainstorming hour on your calendar each week. Whether in the office or at home, devote a quiet space for brainstorming sessions. Going to that spot regularly sends a signal to the brain that it’s time to create.
PROMOTE COLLABORATION WITH TEAMMATES
It’s true that creativity most often sparks when you’re alone. But ideas also pop up through collaboration. Employees will be more open to sharing ideas if they trust their colleagues, so the first step for managers is to create space for activities that foster team building. Make time for in-person events no matter where your employees live and work.
At my company, every team leader has full discretion to hold in-person brainstorm sessions and reimburse travel expenses. Affinity groups, both online or in-person, are another way to build camaraderie and ensure safe spaces where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and trading new ideas.
ENCOURAGE EMPLOYEES NOT TO WORK
Burnout will crush creativity instantly. Remote work has made it harder for managers to catch its telltale signs, so it’s important to put preventative strategies in place. Encourage employees to take days off and keep people accountable for actually using their vacation time. Offering flexible schedules will allow employees to determine when and where they will work and help them set clear boundaries too.
FOLLOW A CREATIVITY DIET
Creativity is the ability to connect seemingly unconnected ideas. Encourage your mind to do that by paying attention to what you listen to, watch, and read. People sometimes put creating on a pedestal and look down on consuming, but you’ll want to strike a balance between the two. You don’t want to fall too deeply into a scroll hole, but if you aren’t aware of what’s happening in your industry, whatever you create may not resonate.
You can strengthen your creative muscles by trying new things like learning to play an instrument or picking up a paintbrush. Take a new route around your neighborhood on your daily walk, go to a new coffee shop, or try using your left hand instead of your right hand to brush your teeth or comb your hair. You might just fire a few creative neurons you didn’t know you had.
There’s a lot of mystery around where creativity comes from, but the truth is everybody can be creative. It is a matter of developing habits that allow it to rise up. Our traditional ways of working are changing, and change in and of itself demands creativity. We now have the opportunity to adapt, to innovate, and to find the ways remote work will inspire even more creative freedom.
Jonathan Ronzio, CMO of Trainual—the leading business playbook software for documenting SOPs and improving onboarding and training processes.