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Building organizations where employees can be creative

  • 5 Min Read

A creative atmosphere is key to the happiness of your workforce and the success of your business. Welcome to the new world of work. Melissa Fairman, Strategy and Leadership expert and HRD Thought Leader, shows how you how to get started.

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Businesses across all industries are facing unprecedented disruption: rapidly evolving technology (AI, automation, etc.), new entrants in traditional markets, and changing business and consumer expectations. These disruptors are forcing organizations to compete in new ways that are putting enormous pressure on people and organizations accustomed to a traditional business process.

At the center of this rapidly changing environment, people are working and trying to thrive in organizations, that at times seem designed for anything but the creativity necessary to succeed in disrupted markets. From “always-on” cultural norms to offices that compete for the most shades of beige, a less than stellar employee experience takes away from people’s ability to be creative.

As HR practitioners, how do we design organizations where people can think deeply? Work with impact? Create? Innovate?

Create and Maintain Environments That Facilitate Creativity and Deep Work

Did you notice the above header doesn’t say anything about the “office”? That’s deliberate because, thanks to technology, many people do not need to work in a traditional office.

It’s time to embrace the remote work revolution. Although we can’t expect all work to become remote, we also can’t ignore the advantages of a remote workforce – flexibility, diversity, and highly engaged employees (source: LinkedIn Talent Solutions 2019 Global Talent Trends).

Companies open to remote workers have their pick of the best talent in the world, but also must make special considerations in the technology space for remote employees.

For those of us still working in a physical office location, there are still plenty of opportunities to build an environment conducive to creativity that doesn’t necessarily include foosball tables and beer.

Spend Money on Technology That Makes It Easy to Collaborate

In 2019/2020, this is non-negotiable. Many people no longer work traditional 8-5 office jobs; they are working from the road, coffee shops, homes, co-working spaces, or any other number of places. And this is why technology that makes collaboration and communication from any device or location simple is non-negotiable.

Have a Nice Office Space

This is easier said than done. Most people will read that header and think that they must have a brand new state of the art building, which doesn’t hurt…but for those who can’t afford a new building you can still create a pleasant office space:

  • Repairs – this is basic, if there’s a hole in the wall from the movers, pay the $100 and have someone come in and fix the drywall, same with replacing light bubs
  • Keep the place clean – there is nothing more unappealing than seeing stains, overflowing trash bags, and general messiness. If you can’t afford an office cleaning service, you could try a rotating team of people who clean the office space to ensure no one gets stuck with the “stinky” job
  • Go green – adding plants to the environment helps purify the air and aids creativity
  • Be careful with the open office concept. Some studies show that open offices reduce collaboration, as usual, the real story is more nuanced, make sure to check out this HBR article for all the details (note paywall).
  • Try to locate your office near a park or in an office park with walking trails or at least sidewalks – physical exercise is vital for creativity and sanity.
  • And yes, you can add a game room, pool table, etc., its always good to have a place for fun but it is not required.

Focus On Leadership

Managers have a significant impact on the day-to-day well being of individuals in the organization. You can have a beautiful environment engineered by the most innovative designers, but poor leadership can sink all of that. At a minimum, leaders should focus on building teams that respect the creative process and model that process.

Give People Space – Literally and Figuratively

Encourage people to unplug daily: sign out of OC, Slack, email – whatever is the standard method of communication at the office. Encourage people to work in different parts of the office or outside of the office; these are vital when work requires creativity or innovation.

Everyone on a team should feel comfortable disconnecting for a couple of hours/days/weeks/whatever is necessary, depending on the task or even if they are (gasp) taking their vacation.

Model the Behavior

As a leader and a teammate, you should demonstrate the behavior you want to see. Unless it’s an emergency (and really how many true emergencies are there in most workplaces?), leave your direct reports and your peers alone!

There Are Limits to Human Productivity

Very few people are productive after 50 hours of work in a week. It’s true. Have you ever worked with a team that is pushing 60+ hours of work? They are scattered, frantic, edgy, and often don’t do their best work.

Sometimes we have to pull out all the stops to get a job done, and that means working a LOT of hours, but companies must support employees as necessary, including time off after the project has closed.

Where to Start

Throughout this post, I’ve provided several suggestions, some of which are easy and not-so-easy. Before attempting to make any culture or workplace changes, it’s essential to start with understanding your organization, its long and short term plans, its operating environment, and the work of the organization. Support from your leadership team, assuming this is a process and collecting data as you go, is critical to building an organization that supports creative work.

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