Keep your remote teams productive

What if the secret to productivity lies in creativity?

I’m not talking about getting your developers to take a sketch break. I’m talking about the process.

Creativity can seem woo-woo and fancy-free. Corporate life, structured and responsible. 

That’s a common misconception. 

The best creatives in the world combine talent with grit. This isn’t speculation – it’s science. 

This isn’t where I tell you that injecting creativity into the workday will make grit suddenly sexy and therefore up your productivity. Artists can make grit seem sexy from afar. A lot of the time though, it’s just as drudgy as hard work is for you or me. They just make focus cool. 

Masterpieces aren’t made from fun, they’re driven into being through hard work and the ability to produce or use original and unusual ideas.

Apple didn’t disrupt and transform the market through rote use of old ideas; they were innovative. Neither did Netflix, nor Amazon. By default, creative thinking was employed to create something of greater value.

But how does this link back to the headline you clicked on? 

On a smaller scale, this is the hope we have for our employees. Do we really want them just to complete deliverables in a repetitive, stodgy way? No. In an ideal world, they’ll contribute towards driving excellence and the health of the business. That’s where creativity comes in.

So how can we best ensure this kind of productivity from our remote workers?

The knee-jerk reaction to remote work is that a loss of control equals a loss of quality control. That’s absolutely not the case. The control has always been in the hands of your employee — you were just able to supervise it in live time before.

What is in your control, is facilitating the conditions in which work is completed. That’s a management style, project management software and expectations around communication and deliverables.

I won’t go into why remote work has spiked – do you really need me or anyone else to repeat that? No. 

But let’s touch briefly on why it’s stuck:

  • The pandemic is still ongoing. That’s an obvious one. 
  • It cuts costs for businesses who can forgo office rental and operation to work fully remotely. According to GWA’s Telework Savings Calculator, “a single company can annually save $11,000 per remote worker who telecommutes 50% of the time.”
  • Employees are saving money on transport costs, meals and attire. 30% of remote workers are saving as much as $5,240 per year. Why would they want to start spending that again?
  • Workers believe they’re more productive. 77% say they feel that way
  • Employers believe them. 94% of them say that productivity levels since shifting to remote work have stayed the same or been increased

So if the above is true, this article is a moot point. 

Yeah, but you’re still reading. So I’ll keep going.

Where creativity comes in. 

According to Leh Woon Mok, “creative cognition [could originate] from an optimal balance between spontaneous and controlled processes.”

We do our best, most innovative work, in a state that is structured but free. Employees back this up – flexibility of schedule is the most gratifying aspect of remote work, according to 53% of them

So here’s the first takeaway – flexibility and autonomy. 

Trusting your employees to exercise dominion over their… dominion. Giving them the freedom to set their hours (within reason) and make choices for themselves will actually breed goodwill. 

No one likes being micromanaged. Do you? Probably like most people, you feel emboldened when you’re given the tools needed to thrive, and then trusted to do so. 

Next, let’s look at clear milestones and communication.

I can only think of cheesy, woo-woo metaphors as to why structure is so integral to productivity. 

You can’t hold water without a vessel.

You can only dance on solid ground. 

Sorry about that, but you get the point. Dynamic endeavours require a solid foundation.

In knowing their limits and direction, they’ll have room to move, explore and excel.  

You need to be clear with your employees in order for them to understand their focus and direction. Most importantly, you need to lead by example. Let them know what your expectations are around deliverables and touch-ins. If these change, communicate and acknowledge pivots and what the knock-on effects for their work are.  

Centralize your comms as much as possible. Using platforms like Slack and Jira can make things a lot smoother for your team. Most people who try to work with OneDrive quickly build up stores of potent resentment. 

If you abide by your own expectations, they’ll respect you. They’ll be far more motivated to do well and expect themselves to.

Another interesting insight from Bernard A. Nijstad, suggests that creativity is stimulated by ‘flexible switching between categories, approaches and sets… and in-depth exploration of just a few categories.’ Combined with hard work, of course. 

The biggest takeaways:

  • Be clear about expectations
  • Be consistent in your own behaviour with regard to expectations
  • Highlight two or three tasks or focuses for your employee at a time – variety is key but more than this can diminish productivity

Then there are methods of motivation

Think of the following from a personal perspective. 

A preventative mindset motivates through focusing on responsibility. What you need or must get done. Consequences could be losing reward, losing generally, or failing to measure up. 

A promotion mindset motivates through highlighting a goal. What you want to do. This is usually growth, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, discovery or a level of achievement.

As one aptly named Harvard Business Review article put it, Do You Play to Win – or to Not Lose?

No gold star for figuring out which of these inhibits creativity, and which promotes it. 

Take a small amount of time periodically (suggest: once a month) to check in with your employees. Just ten minutes to understand where their head is at, what their experience of the company really is, and what their values are, is huge. This means human, not corporate connection. 

Firstly, it makes them feel appreciated. Secondly, how on earth are you going to incentivize your workers if you don’t know what they’re into? What do they want to achieve? 

It’s becoming increasingly less common that employees nowadays want to stay that way; a 40-hour workweek worker. They strive for more, whether it’s in their personal lives, power over their use of time, financial compensation or stimulation. They’re not content just being the middleman. If you wouldn’t be happy in their shoes, how could you expect them to be? We’re all human, after all. And many humans have televisions, social media, and Tony Robbins YouTube videos.

If you understand what they’re striving for and can help them achieve that, it’s going to have a huge impact on their loyalty and output. 

For those who are financially motivated, set clear milestones for them to work towards. If someone’s looking to advance or start a side passion project, endorse it. If you can find a way to link it to your company, even better. 

Is autonomy or vacation time most important for your worker? Give them ample flexibility and endorse their self-care. Those who want growth or greater credentials – provide those opportunities. 

If you can’t provide them value, it’s unlikely that long-term, they’ll be able to do the same for you. Work to know what your employees value. Then work with employees you can provide value to. 

Actions speak louder than words, but words still speak. Make sure you appreciate the efforts of your employees. 

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