The pandemic changed the way we work almost overnight. Offices went dark as employees switched to remote work, and teams had to find new ways to collaborate.
Research shows that telecommuting can make us more productive when faced with creative tasks, but being stuck at home indefinitely can leave us feeling uninspired. Working as a team on creative projects is even more difficult. According to a recent report, collaboration is one of remote employees’ top challenges.
Brainstorming via Slack and Zoom just isn’t the same as bouncing ideas around in the office. But just because you’re working remotely doesn’t mean creative collaboration has to suffer. You just need some fresh ideas for working together while apart.
Here are four powerful ways to jumpstart creativity:
1. Rethink your teams.
When your company made the shift to remote work, you probably kept your teams structured the same. But the traditional top-down corporate structure with separate departments isn’t necessarily ideal for creative problem-solving. A McKinsey study found that while non-agile teams struggled to make the shift to remote work, agile teams transitioned seamlessly.
Agile teams are usually made up of eight people of different skill levels and disciplines. They’re self-organizing, autonomous, and have all the people needed to complete a project from start to finish. These teams aren’t selected at random. They’re carefully chosen based on interpersonal dynamics and skill sets, with members being added or removed as needed.
Not only are agile teams more productive, but their cross-disciplinary nature also encourages creativity. Great leaps in innovation happen when people of different backgrounds look at a problem and find solutions that others missed. Take Tal Golesworthy, for example — the engineer who invented a breakthrough surgical treatment to fix his own heart. When people of different disciplines start working together, you’ll see your team’s creativity flourish.
2. Expand your toolset to enable visual collaboration.
Technology can be a wonderful thing, but sometimes project management tools leave you pining for a good old-fashioned whiteboard. Unfortunately, there’s nothing very shareable about the analog version. You need a whiteboard for the digital age.
For example, BeeCanvas is a visual collaboration platform specifically designed to help teams brainstorm better. Once you create a canvas, you can drag photos, videos, helpful articles and sticky notes into a whiteboard-like document. Then you can draw, create flowcharts, leave comments and even video-chat with team members within the canvas itself. No more losing track of links and comments. Everything you need for a project is right in front of you.
3. Take idea walks — not Zoom meetings.
Creativity is an elusive beast. You get a brilliant idea in the shower that morning. But the instant you log onto Zoom to brainstorm with your team, all your ideas seem to scamper away.
It’s a well-documented fact that most people get their best ideas when their brain is relaxed. This is why it can be helpful to make brainstorming sessions less formal.
If you and your team members live in the same city, set a time to get together for a walk, hike or bike ride to generate ideas. (You can replicate this with a walking phone call if your team is geographically dispersed.)
Bouncing ideas back and forth while moving your body has several advantages. For one thing, walking has been shown to boost creativity, and spending time in nature enhances problem-solving abilities by as much as 50 percent. Plus, getting together outdoors is safer than taking a meeting inside.
4. Make time for mindfulness.
What can 10 minutes a day do for your team’s creativity? The answer may surprise you.
A growing body of research suggests that mindfulness meditation boosts creativity and innovation. It’s one reason that companies such as Google, Goldman Sachs and Ford Motor Company have brought mindfulness practices into the workplace. The late, great Steve Jobs was a well-known meditator, and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner has credited meditation with helping him strategize.
According to Danny Penman, author of “Mindfulness for Creativity,” mindfulness allows for divergent thinking, which opens our mind to new ideas. It’s one possible explanation for why, when studied, meditators are able to generate a broader range of ideas than non-meditators.
To help your team get started, try a guided meditation app like Calm. When new users sign up, they’re guided through a short questionnaire. These questions help the app learn their goals, challenges and experience level so it can recommend the best meditations. With just a few minutes a day, your team can start experiencing the benefits.
Distance creates interesting challenges for collaboration, but it doesn’t have to inhibit creative thinking. You just need to build better teams, find the best tools and develop new brainstorming practices. With a few minor tweaks, your team can work together (apart) just as well as they did in the office.