Creativity doesn’t always come easily in person, let alone when done from a distance—so it may not come as a surprise that plenty of distributed teams struggle with forming and sharing innovative ideas. Longtime remote worker Lisette Sutherland sums it up this way: “When teams are remote, they struggle with having high-quality conversations, staying aligned, building trust, and maintaining a sense of team.”
However, there are plenty of approaches businesses and individuals employ to thwart creative stagnation, inspire collaboration, and foster a team mentality.
Check out these practical tips from remote-friendly businesses and pros in the field to encourage creativity:
Refocus on the mission.
Remote work can allow your employees to experience the culture of whatever locale in which they find themselves. But it often falls short in allowing them to experience the culture of the company for which they work. Simple [A] founder Cruce Saunders offers this advice: “Culture matters first and foremost. Organizations need systems in which teams can communicate and work effectively, signal issues and problems, facilitate creativity, and celebrate success.”
Organizations would do well to remind their distributed team about common company goals, humanitarian efforts in which they’re involved, charitable causes they support, and the overall company mission statement to keep everyone aligned. Global affiliate and performance marketing management firm Acceleration Partners actually created a culture deck—a visual representation of the company’s values, vision, and the expected behavior of its team members.
Provide the right tools.
From communication tools like Google Hangouts and Skype, to project management tools like Trello and Basecamp, there’s no shortage of remote-friendly platforms for keeping teams connected and on task. But creativity and collaboration require a slightly different functionality from chatting or checking off to-do lists.
The top two tools for team collaboration from a survey we conducted with 58 remote-friendly companies were Slack and Yammer. While also great for general communication and idea sharing, these apps really excel in bringing multifaceted teams together to get work done faster, while offering users the flexibility to pop in and out of channels for quick hits of inspiration.
Find a sounding board…or five.
Remote worker Lisette Sutherland’s time-tested strategy for keeping herself in a creative mindset is to work “with” other people. For example, she invites colleagues to a group video call where everyone keeps their microphone muted. When someone needs to speak with the group, they unmute. Simulating the office environment like this often inspires the same kind of off-the-cuff creativity you’d get from shouting out to the group from across a shared workspace.
The fully remote team at Buffer offers plenty of insight on this. The biggest takeaway? Structure doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Author and Forbes contributor Steve Denning agrees. “It is structure that enables creativity,” he says.
Sounds rather counterintuitive, perhaps, but it’s true. Just how do you start? Establish priorities for yourself–getting up early, exercising, tackling the biggest task first–and run with that schedule for a bit. (When trying to find a structure that works best for you, you’ll need to be flexible at first.) Eventually, you’ll settle into a rhythm that focuses less on how you’ll find the time to get everything done, and more on actually doing those things.
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