Remote working: how to keep the creativity flowing

As more companies explore alternatives to the traditional office, how can distributed workers keep their thinking fresh in isolation? Here are some tips and tools to bridge the gap.

For marketers, creativity doesn’t stop at compelling copy, inspiring video or a cutting-edge design. Climb up a level and they'll say creative problem solving is essential when meeting ever-changing business objectives (especially this year, when everything is changing even faster than we’re used to).

illustration of below statistic about creative training

It's a valuable skill: original, fresh ideas are what helps us stand out in a crowded marketplace, address issues specific to our customer base, and save our companies time and money. However, it’s a skill that doesn’t magically appear - we need to maintain and develop it, just like we would with anything else in our professional toolbox. A 2018 study found groups with even a minimal amount of training in creativity tools and principles came up with 350% as many ideas than untrained groups. And as a bonus, their ideas were 415% more original.

And in addition to training, an equal challenge to nurturing creativity is physical location. While working from home has its benefits for our brains – think less time commuting, more time with loved ones – very few people are lucky enough to be able to sustain creative thinking in isolation.

Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they're doing, you say 'Wow,' and soon you're cooking up all sorts of ideas.

- Steve Jobs

Whether it's because of social distancing or longer-term distributed working, when we're not in the same place it's harder to summon the magical 'sparks' of ideas – these impromptu flashes of inspiration that usually emerge in encounters by the kettle or brainstorms around a Post-It peppered whiteboard. An Econsultancy survey of marketers in the early months of lockdown found one in six said they thought a distributed environment posed a challenge to creativity (needless to say, we're intrigued to know what the results would be today).

We've certainly found this to be the case for Third Light, as our teams work on our biggest Chorus update yet. As mostly distributed workers, we've found our own strategies to help sustain the spark that helps us collaborate and innovate when we’re not together – and here're just a few.

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Exercise your brain

While the brain isn't a muscle, it can benefit the same way muscles do from active training. The brain processes information via routes called neural pathways; when fully formed, they help us do things instinctively and with minimal thought. Studies have shown that stepping outside what we already know and learning new things adds new pathways to our brains. "Working from home, especially now that we can't get out much, can make days feel like a playlist of only two or three songs on repeat," says Marco Michelutto, Third Light’s Product Specialist. "Learning new things is what keeps me sane. I get up earlier than usual, have a walk outside and learn how to code until it's time to start work. Learning something this different pulls my creative strings in new and interesting ways - and helps me understand my technical colleagues better!"

Leave space for ideas to come

While we freely admit this idea can be filed under 'Easier Said Than Done', carving out even a small amount of time for free thinking can yield surprising results. As early as 1926, London School of Economic co-founder Graham Wallas proposed the best-known sequence for creative problem solving: preparation, incubation, illumination and verification – with the second and third stages requiring space and time to happen, almost organically, before verification. Doodling at your desk or chatting with colleagues about life outside of work can often solve the stubbornest of problems in an office; there's no reason to deny yourself these opportunities at home. If this feels unachievable, assigning some time every morning for reading or researching may help too.

Get a change of scene

In the office, it's called a breakaway area for a reason. Making use of as many different areas of your home environment as you can, even if that's the other side of the room, can mix up your perspective and transform your thinking. And if you can get outside? Even better. "I love to keep life varied," says our Business Development Manager, Carol Parish. "Before lockdown, I even had plans to travel while working remotely this year. But while I’m at home I find it helps to work around different areas of the house – the garden’s my favourite spot."

Make use of temporary and virtual tools

This year's instant shift in work locations has thrown up a multitude of digital and physical simulations of the tools we use to collaborate in a physical office. From temporary stick-on whiteboard plastic for home scribbling to online whiteboards launched by a slew of tech giants and start-ups alike, there's a solution out there to spark and gather your team's ideas. Trello or Asana boards can serve as a more orderly repository for everyone's suggestions and thoughts – and Microsoft's new Outlook Spaces (currently in beta as 'Project Moca') looks set to do the same if your company has a 365 subscription.

Would you like to experience Chorus for yourself? We're offering a free 30-day trial so you can see its powerful, next-generation features in the best possible context: in action on your own projects. Any questions? Just [email protected], and we're here to help.

Try Chorus today!

Author: Edie Mullen

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