After a year of mostly unsocial, work-from-home, a lot of folks are in a funk—feeling uninspired and uncreative. In the office, creativity slumps are often overcome by spontaneously discussing ideas with a coworker during a walk around the office or to the cafe.
With the continuation of remote work and hybrid arrangements, how can you inspire more creativity and connectivity in your people and boost team performance?
Psychological safety makes for more effective teams. Creative risk-taking requires vulnerability, especially in a workplace with multiple collaborators, contributors, and managers. To foster more creativity within your remote and hybrid teams, create a psychologically-safe, virtual environment. This means freedom to think differently and express “dumb” or “socially unacceptable” ideas without judgement.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, two organizational behavior and leadership professors said, “…future work arrangements, and attending to employees’ inevitable anxieties about those arrangements, will require managers to rethink and expand one of the strongest proven predictors of team effectiveness: Psychological safety.” Psychological safety is defined as the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake. This idea that “mistakes are learning,” lets employees take reasonable risks, often discovering better ways of doing things.
Leverage your internal comms channels to encourage transparent conversations. If you want to foster psychological safety, make it simple for employees to provide feedback and ask questions.
With open feedback channels, the risk is that anyone can—and likely will—say anything. This is actually a good thing because psychological safety must apply to everyone; People should be free to speak their mind. Otherwise, you’re left with one-dimensional and often counterproductive groupthink.
At the same time, you want to avoid Twitter-style snarky commentary where individuals attain social points for sharp negative criticism. Consider defining an open feedback window so that your communications team can moderate those channels within a time period, with the goal of rewarding constructive criticism.
You may also want to down-regulate overly negative feedback. To avoid the temptation to delete or censor anything, simply add moderator comments to keep people directed towards positive collaboration. By modeling acceptable behavior, these groups will likely self-regulate as trust builds and leaders emerge.
You can measure success of these programs by monitoring the change in percent of the audience contributing and engaging over time along with a sentiment score. Your objective should be to engage the silent majority of the peer group, instead of being satisfied with the more enthusiastic and competitive minority.
Remote work may have reduced trust. Start rebuilding it. Creativity depends on psychological safety, and psychological safety relies on trust, so half of your communications work should be understanding and building trust.
College faculty, Mortensen and Gardner, hypothesize that “…the isolation of remote working may be tied to lower trust for another reason: we unconsciously interpret a lack of physical contact as a signal of untrustworthiness.” Mortensen and Gardner offer several recommendations for building trust; One is to recognize and leverage reciprocal trust, writing, “…research shows that the more you trust someone and act accordingly, the more likely they are to trust you in return.”
While trust-building events and outings may still be off the table, try a weekly 2-minute quiz game (like QuizBreaker or your own invention), to encourage your teams to learn about each other. The idea is to make time for employees to get to know each other personally, in addition to their work styles and skills. As you share leadership and employee stories, build trust by using casual video interviews with facial expressions, eye contact, and other nonverbal cues.
Employee engagement happens among co-workers. There is a reason why one of the best indicators of your total employee engagement score is the answer to the question, “Do you have a best friend at work?” New friendships are much harder to achieve in remote work environments. Consider starting and promoting special interest groups to help employees connect, even if they are simply online discussion groups about cooking, gardening, or classic cars.
These groups can help set expectations—and model—how you will communicate as a group. This includes training on how your communications tools work, but recommended do’s and don’ts. Ideally, you will provide relevant examples during open discussions.
You may need to discuss the importance of over-communicating ideas, disagreements, and hesitations. Often, the intended tone is missed or misinterpreted in the digital channels and even during virtual meetings. When you teach employees to intentionally over-communicate, you may feel like you’re repeating yourself, but it’s better to be clear than to miscommunicate an idea or opinion.
Inspiring creativity, trust, and a sense of community in remote or hybrid working environments is nuanced, but with good communication programs, it’s possible. Continue to foster psychological safety, build trust, and encourage personal collaboration. With these, you will inspire more creative and effective teamwork—whether they’re working from home or back in the office.