S. Mitra Kalita wrote an interesting article for Fortune this week about unlocking creativity amidst the pandemic, with so many people working from home. Kalita writes:
CEOs are nervous as they ponder how working from home affects output, innovation, and productivity in the long term, according to Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford economics professor. “Creativity is the biggest single issue,” he told the Financial Times. “New ideas and new customers and new segments and new business models [are] all the CEOs are concerned about.”
Kalita went to explain, "A Leesman survey of 145,000 workers globally found 28% of those working from home said they were unable to collaborate on creative work." These numbers surely are troubling. Yes, vaccination rollouts have picked up speed, and many of us have high hopes of a return to normalcy. However, we surely will have many people working from home in the future, even when the pandemic hopefully subsides. We have to conquer the challenge of creativity and innovation in a remote work environment. Kalita interviewed Blythe Towal, a senior manager of engineering for Shield AI, for the article. She offered the writer some good principles for how they keep employees innovative at Shield AI in these trying circumstances. I've summarized and added some commentary below.
Good ideas come from everywhere: Use virtual collaboration as a means of democratizing participation in meetings and projects. That type of democratization may come in many forms virtually... chat, break-outs, polling, as well as normal conversation during meetings.
Overcommunicate: Encourage instant messaging and frequent check-ins, to make up for the fact that informal conversations don't just naturally happen while people pass one another in the hallway. You might think certain messaging is being redundant, but put aside that fear. You can't connect too much when working remotely. As I've written elsewhere, you have to engineer serendipity to spark innovation in a remote work environment.
Connect: Use "all-hands" type meetings not only to communicate, but to encourage the formation of bonds across units and teams. Seek to build relationships and expand people's social networks. Use these opportunities to also help new employees integrate and connect.
Values matter: An emphasis on shared values helps people remain poised amidst the tendency to be fighting fires constantly during turbulent times. It also helps insure alignment while people are dispersed geographically.
Project positive energy: Watch out for negative energy. Be realistic, but relentessly optimistic. Don't get bogged down by small failures or hiccups. Focus on the big picture, and celebrate any and all triumphs together. Small wins are crucial. Don't just focus on the large projects and goals. You need to build momentum and use small wins to persuade those who might be skeptical about innovative ideas and initiatives.