If I were an HR professional whose employer viewed creativity as a core competency required for growth, I would like to think that this is what I would have done during COVID times:
I would have treated the lockdown, enforced isolation and remote work as an opportunity, not a threat. A beautiful constraint to be embraced rather than avoided. After all, the frantic workplace can hardly be considered the natural habitat for creativity.
In 2020, Genius You carried out a study involving over 2000 respondents from 17 multi-nationals across 10 sectors. It contained one open-ended question which asked respondents to comment on the state of creativity and innovation in their own company.
A number of key themes emerged that represented obstacles to a creative workplace. “Time poverty” and the “burden of process overload” accounted for 23% of all responses. One verbatim quotation sums things up nicely: “Our biggest downfall within the business is not giving enough time to creative thinking. We need to put importance on thinking as much as doing. The team are constantly executing projects but spend little time crafting new ideas.”
The main reason the workplace is not creativity’s natural habitat is that creativity does not respond well to stress and anxiety.
Introvert or Extrovert
Like JK Rowling and Barack Obama, I am an introvert. I get all my energy from within. Lockdown has not really presented me with any significant personal challenges.
I have felt incredibly energized and creative the last nine months. However, a large proportion of the population are extroverts. The late Steve Jobs, Margaret Thatcher and Muhammed Ali were all strong extroverts. Their energy came from human interaction. And one thing that creativity requires in an abundance is energy. So, it is probably fair to say that lockdown has been harder on extroverts than it has been on introverts.
One thing I would have done in my HR role would have been to ensure that the extroverts in particular were catered for. Plenty of Zoom calls, WhatsApp groups, permission to work in the office where possible.
Time saved commuting
The good news about working from home is that many people have been spared long hours of painful commuting. The bad news is that many employers have not taken their foot off the productivity pedal. In fact, quite the opposite
Many home-bound employees have been asked to work even harder on the day to day stuff, clicking from one team call to the next. This has been even worse than having back to back meetings in the workplace where at least you can benefit from casual corridor conversations and a short walk.
With the saved commuting time, I would have asked line managers to allow teams to ring fence this for a combination of leisure time and creative thinking time. What a wonderful opportunity to re-charge batteries and start thinking strategically about the bigger issues of tomorrow rather than focusing purely on the nitty gritty operations of today.
Paradise or prison
I would have made it my responsibility to provide some guidelines to home-bound employees for how they might go about structuring their day. I would have encouraged them to maximize all the space available, view each room through a different lens, and start to see remote work as a paradise rather than a prison.
However, I would also have walked the walk rather than simply talked the talk. I would have been prepared to share my own daily routine.
Here it is:
- 6:30 am – Wake up and shower to release all those ideas the subconscious has been forming overnight.
- 7 am: – Start work in a space full of color. Post-it notes and pens galore. Photos everywhere. Framed images of inspiring seascapes. Window ledges packed with potted plants.
- 11 am: – Lunch with family. Time for banter, gossip and some creative chit chat.
- 2 pm: – Fifteen minutes of fresh air after to get the heart pumping.
- 3 pm – A 30 minute power nap on the sofa to ensure that both body and mind stay in sync with their Circadian Rhythm — otherwise known as an ‘internal meeting’.
- 6 pm – A 45 minute session in the makeshift gym in the garage to decompress and give the endorphins a run around.
- 10 pm – A steaming hot bath to reward the body and mind for their efforts during the day and prep them for the night ahead.
With vaccines on the horizon and a return to some kind of normality, the talk now is how well the home working experiment did. Many business leaders have said it had a clear adverse effect on both productivity and creativity
One of the main concerns has been that “social capital” gained through casual workplace conversations has been lost and this has led to a dampening of “creative sparks”. I very much doubt whether the introverts would agree with this.
However, it does seem clear to me that we do have this once in a lifetime opportunity to find a balance that works for everybody, employers and employees alike.
It won’t be five days at work or five days at home. But it could be a 4-and-1 or 3-and-2 model.
So, my last job to be done as a forward-thinking HR manager would be to do two things:
- Carry out a comprehensive piece of research with all employees around the ‘work at home’ versus ‘work in the office’ issue.
- Work hard to persuade the rest of the management team to implement whatever conclusions come out of the research.
My strong hunch is that the numbers will be 3-and-2 rather than 5-and-0.
And that would be great news for everybody’s productivity, creativity, and most important of all, their sanity.