Andy Haldane is the Bank of England’s chief economist. In a speech he gave online to the Engaging Business Summit earlier in the year, he stated correctly that the pandemic had “re-shaped our working lives, our economic contributions and our well-being”.
He also said that creativity was a core skill because it fostered innovation, which in turn fuelled growth of the economy. Again, this is absolutely correct.
However, the main thrust of his argument was that working from home risked stifling creativity because it cut people off from new experiences. He said that the absence of face to face contact with colleagues in the flesh meant that “social capital” was being eroded while “creative sparks” were being “dampened”.
Effectively, Mr. Haldane was encouraging everybody to return to the office environment at the earliest opportunity because working from home was having an adverse effect on their productive creativity.
In this respect, I believe that Mr. Haldane was incorrect for one main reason: The working population is comprised of both introverts and extroverts and they both have different needs. A one size fits all model does not work.
During the last twenty years of my career as a management trainer, I have either worked for a small business or I have operated as an independent, running a small agency. I have been at my happiest, most productive, most creative when squirreled away in my home office, door shut, undisturbed. That’s because, by nature, I am an introvert.
Self-confessed introverts like J.K Rowling and Barack Obama get their creative energies from the inside rather than the outside. Too much human contact acts as an extinguisher of creativity. On the other hand, extroverts like Margaret Thatcher, Muhammed Ali and Steve Jobs were energised by the presence of people around them. An overdose of isolation has the opposite effect. This is simply human nature. It took me a number of years, in fact most of my career, to discover this, but once discovered, I have guarded this right to solitude fiercely!
And although Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the world at large, I must confess, with a slightly guilty conscience, that I have never felt more energised or creatively productive. Imposed lockdowns have given me the perfect ‘get out of jail’ card to remain in glorious isolation.
I think there are two things that businesses could do to make the workplace a more productive place for both introverts and extroverts alike:
- Make location a personal choice. It should really not be a question of working from home versus working in the office. Within reason, employees should be given the choice as to where and when they work, based on personal preferences. Or maybe insist on a 3 days at work, 2 days at home model. Or vice versa. The blended solution will allow people to satisfy their introvert/extrovert needs and this in turn will allow them all to flourish both productively and creatively.
- Reconfigure the office environment. Let’s be honest, most offices are designed with extroverts in mind. Plenty of open spaces and open plans, made for mingling and mixing. Assuming that a fair percentage of the population are more introverted by nature, let’s re-think the workspace. For example, introduce little cubby holes introverts can visit to produce their very best work, removed from the glare of others? Meeting rooms for one? Cubicles for two? Let’s also run meetings and projects that better understand the way both introverts and extroverts think. Whereas the latter are happy to contribute their thoughts and ideas in an open forum setting with everybody chipping in, the latter crave some private time and space to think things over first before throwing in their two pennies worth.
Coviod-19 has been a real monster, make no mistake, but it has also thrown up am wonderful opportunity to re-configure the working day. If we grab this with both hands, we can satisfy the needs of everybody, and both introverts and extroverts can wake up on a Monday morning with a smile on their faces rather than a miserable frown!
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