• Katie Best

How leaders can encourage creativity, even when working remotely and online

Updated: Nov 26, 2020


There are some office activities which convert very easily to an online environment: meetings with a clear agenda, collaborating over document editing, and conveying information. A good blend of having the right technology and the tasks not being too abstract helps. But one area that can leave work teams feeling stressed and confused is how to take their creative and innovative activities into the online environment. Those who do inherently creative jobs, such as design or future thinking have been forced to overcome these hurdles quickly. But if you’re leading an HR team looking to come up with great ideas for recruitment next year, or a finance team exploring how you might look three years in the future, you might still be avoiding this sort of work because you can’t see a way to be creative online.


But this avoidance is a mistake: creativity is a key way in which businesses can stay at the forefront of their market and retain top talent. However, in industries and that aren’t traditionally ‘creative’, and so don’t have lots of tools and techniques in the front of their minds and at their disposal, it can be easier said than done. Leaders talk the talk of ‘wanting their employees to be more creative’ but can’t always walk the walk, and in this online environment, avoid the topic altogether.


You should make it your mission, as a leader, to stop avoiding activities that require creativity. There are lots of simple actions you can take very quickly to make sure that you are helping your business to undertake, flex and develop their creative thinking, even online.


1. Show them that it’s a desired behaviour


Too often, leaders say that they want teams to be creative, but they do nothing to show employees just how desired the behaviour is. Do you have a way to incentivise online creativity or virtual innovation? If they’re not already included in your people specifications at recruitment or your appraisal criteria, can you include them? Can you award with half-days off or have a ‘wall of praise’ for examples of online bravery? Even small actions that show you are thirsty for new creative ideas can help to incentivise employees to demonstrate innovative virtual progression.


2. Try to get disparate people working together in online meeting rooms


The research is conclusive on this: whilst people might not always feel their most

comfortable in mixed-discipline settings, they can be absolutely brilliant for the types of

cross-fertilisation that brings useful new ideas. Online, it can often be easier to get a mixed group of people together because diaries seem to be a bit less busy when everyone is working from home. Getting diverse people having conversations across the ether can be excellent for the business of innovation and creativity. You may just need to come up with a good reason for getting together, and make it clear that this is a meeting for ideas sharing. If you can have some questions or ideas up your sleeve to throw around, that will help to get the conversation going, too.


3. Make it clear it’s OK not to get it right the first time.


A common-touted idea is that, in creative companies, it’s OK to fail. That needs a small

caveat attached: it’s OK to fail as long as you tried hard to make it work. If people are

committing themselves wholeheartedly to new online ideas, even if they’re not quite working out, their efforts should be lauded. The grit it needs to fail, admit it, and try again, is essential to

creativity, too. It can be hard to transition to an online working environment, so be patient with employees as they try to add creativity into the remote working mix.


4. Give them great tools to help them think


Often, leaders want to be creative and want their teams to be creative, but they don’t know where to start. That might be why you’re reading this article, too. Sometimes, it can be as simple as giving people the tools to help them think creatively. I think that’s the reason that my ‘Have Great Ideas and Learn How to Use Them’ workshop is so popular. It’s a practical way to arm people in corporate environments with a handful of tried and tested tools for working creatively. It also has the added benefit of putting them in touch with people across the firm (see point 2).


There are lots of great tools for prompting creativity online as well that aren’t too ‘out there’ to work in a corporate environment. Post-it-note boards, journaling, word cloud software, mind mapping...there are so many options to get people away from just talking and towards writing things down, collaborating, and freeing up ideas. And if you as their leader can learn to use these technologies before you are all going to use them, you can lead the way with on-the-spot training regarding how they can be used in the context you’re imagining.


If it’s a more complicated idea you’re trying to embed, adequate training should be provided for the use of any new equipment and time given to allow new creative systems and online procedures to be properly absorbed into practice and culture.


5. Find an outlet to share good examples of online creativity


In the world of online work, it can be difficult to keep up to date with what colleagues are up to in their day to day routines, and it can be even harder to discover what creative practices are being deployed. So find a way to share standout examples of online creativity. Perhaps a closed social media feed, Whatsapp group, or even a simple email chain, be sure to shout loudly about success stories in order to inspire others to think creatively. If you have an internal comms function in your organisation, see if there’s a way they can support with fostering this as a focus of the comms work that they are doing in the upcoming months.


If you would like to talk about remote creativity at work, my workshops, or how I might be able to help your firm to think and act more creatively in a virtual environment, please get in touch.


Take a look at our course programmes if you'd like to further help promote creativity in your workplace.


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