If the remote working shift was as stifling for creativity as studies suggest, there could be a good reason for businesses to use the impetus of the Great Return to bring it back, and in droves, explains Sarah Groves, director at Catalyst digital marketing agency.

It’s often said that you are either ‘creative’ or you’re not. You’re either born with a wide imagination and that certain innate ability to rethink the old anew or you’re more of a ‘non-creative.’ That is not my experience. Having worked in the creative field for more than two decades, it is my firm belief that everyone can be creative, whether they realise it or not. It’s just a matter of whether they take the time to nurture it.

After all, much like any other skill set creativity is a process which can be learned, honed and mastered. In fact, over the years I’ve seen firsthand how even the most reluctant ‘creatives’ – with a bit of practice and a lot of team encouragement – are able to come up with truly groundbreaking ideas. From my experience though, it requires a culture of innovation – a workplace environment that encourages employees to share creative ideas underpinned by a willingness to go against the grain.

The big problem here though is that a large part of the innovative culture – where different minds come together, interacting, sharing and exchanging viewpoints to create truly original ideas– has been lost in the remote working transition. Even with the best will in the world, it is inherently difficult to conjure up the same level of innovation energy over a Zoom call without the physical cues afforded by in-person brainstorming. And it’s not just because of the scope for digital fatigue or technical issues (‘you’re on mute springs to mind!) but the fact that creative work requires social relationships and unexpected interactions. It requires having a chat with co-workers on the coffee run, mulling over an idea over lunch or an impromptu water conservation.

As a result, it’s becoming increasingly clear that for many people, working at an office isn’t a relic from a pre-pandemic world, but a crucial part of reaching their creative potential. In fact, one recent study which saw 600 volunteers paired up to tackle a creativity task either together in the same room, or virtually over Zoom, found that those who worked virtually had 20% fewer ideas than those who met face to face.

Indicative of this, at Catalyst even though we have continued to operate a hybrid working model since the tail-end of the pandemic, most of our employees prefer to come into the office anyway. This is because they find it to be more conducive to idea generation, brainstorming and the creativity essential to our agency.

In this way, as an increasing number of businesses reinstate in-office working in what’s being coined the ‘Great Return’, there’s a big opportunity to use the transition to create an environment where talent can thrive and great ideas can come to fruition.

Here’s how:

Innovation culture

As mentioned, culture is everything when it comes to creativity. This requires creating a workplace which is not just fun and exciting but underpinned by a tolerance for failure and a willingness to experiment. It’s about creating a safe space, where employees feel comfortable that they won’t be judged or criticised. At Catalyst, for example, we always stress that no idea is too big or too ‘out there.’ We want people to feel safe sharing their ideas and putting their suggestions forward irrespective of how different they may be. This approach is especially important for employees returning to the office who may have grown unaccustomed to in-person brainstorming and sharing their ideas out loud and in person.

Time to think

From my experience, some of our best thinking can happen when we least expect it. It could be while going on a loo break, popping out to get a coffee or simply when taking some time off to think about a particular brief in order to focus on something else. In this way, creativity isn’t just about big company-wide brainstorms and wide-sweeping ideas – individual focus is just as important too. Therefore providing areas for quiet work where employees can have some time to think alone can be vital to ensuring creative focus and success.

Change it up

Sometimes the ideas just don’t flow. You might have your most talented people on board sitting in a room trying to think up the next fantastic campaign idea for a client and nothing great materialises. Worse still, functional fixation can happen whereby you’ve all spent so long focusing on a particular problem that it becomes near impossible to shift to a new approach. In this scenario, I find the best remedy is to change it up. Take, for example, a walking brainstorm. This is a particularly great technique for helping quieter team members come out of their shells in a more dynamic, less enclosed setting. Also, a change of scenery can be a great way to get the creative juices flowing too. Other suggestions include team days out, impromptu coffee catch-ups, and even a yoga class.

Recognise and reward

Finally, it sounds obvious but make sure you take the time to recognise and even reward success. All too often, especially in busy agencies, it can be easy to win a pitch on the back of a fantastic idea, only to focus on the next new brief. This is a mistake. Whether it’s something as simple as acknowledging a standout idea in a team meeting or providing incentives for those suggestions which make it to the drawing board, it’s important to recognise those that come up with the creative goods. When creativity is rewarded it’s likely that your employees will be encouraged to go the extra mile in their creative thinking and feel like they are playing a vital role in the future trajectory of your business.

Secret weapon

In the midst of a difficult economy and diminished spending power, it’s becoming even more important for business leaders to use every tool in their armoury to build resilience and grow. Creativity is one of them. In fact, I would argue it is a secret weapon for innovation and growth, in its capacity to solve problems and create new possibilities even in times of change.

Therefore as we look to the Great Return, taking the opportunity to rethink the workplace and create an innovative culture where creativity thrives is a really great idea.

For further information please visit the Catalyst website here.

About Catalyst

Catalyst is a well-established, full-service digital marketing agency dedicated to doing things differently – by placing focus on tangible results (rather than vanity metrics) to deliver meaningful business impact.

With offices in both Birmingham and London, the business specialises in providing marketing support to B2B and B2B businesses operating in sectors including finance, energy, tech, manufacturing, insurance and office design build.



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