The promise of open offices was that by eliminating walls and doors, employees would happily collaborate and come up with innovative ideas at shared desks and next to water coolers.
The reality was that most employees despised them and tried to compensate for the lack of privacy with headphones, Do Not Disturb signs, and other creative methods to reclaim personal space.
Yet, as companies are contemplating their return to office plans, one of the biggest arguments for in-person work is to regain the opportunity for spontaneous collaboration. That’s simply not how creative ideas are born, says Natalie Nixon. Nixon is the president of Figure 8 Thinking, author of The Creativity Leap: Unleash Curiosity, Improvisation, and Intuition at Work. She joined me on the latest episode of The New Way We Work to talk about how teams can work together to come up with creative ideas even when they aren’t in the same place.
“One of the things I often like to remind people is that creativity actually loves constraints,” Nixon explains. “Creativity does not come about because you get to do whatever you want, and it’s this nice free for all. It’s actually in those times and in those moments we have constraints on the most precious of resources—time, money, and people talent—that we are the most creative.”
So, regardless of if you are remote or in-person, Nixon suggests always breaking into smaller groups so that everyone’s ideas can be heard. One method that she has found a lot of success with in her work is called “Think, pair, share.” In this method, everyone is prompted with a question and spends a few minutes “quiet-storming” by themselves about it. Then the larger group breaks off into pairs to discuss the ideas together and then come back to the larger group to share their thoughts. With this method, Nixon explains, everyone gets to feel seen and heard, and the most extroverted personalities don’t dominate.
Listen to the full episode for more of Nixon’s ideas on how to bring spontaneity into a Zoom call, how to improve your company culture when employees live in far-flung places, and more.