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There’s no question that creativity in the workplace is an asset.
Research from McKinsey shows that companies who promote creativity and reward their employees for thinking outside the box are those that prioritize innovation and value employee satisfaction.
It isn’t a coincidence that these companies are also leading the race to acquire top talent.
Below, we’ll dig into the best ways to boost creativity in the workplace — and why it’s so important. This will include:
A recent Gallup study of more than 16,500 employees identified the three key ingredients to successfully foster creative at work:
Unfortunately, the same study found that few companies successfully invest in these three key areas. That’s a missed opportunity.
Rebecca Shambaugh, the President and CEO of Women in Leadership & Learning, writes in the Harvard Business Review:
"No matter what procedures you have in place, it’s only the creative confidence and drive of individuals — and the collective intelligence of teams — that takes companies to new frontiers, revealing a better world and boosting an organization’s bottom-line performance.”
Without empowering people or asking them to be creative, companies run the risk of losing out on innovative ideas and thinking.
Encouraging workers to think critically and creatively — and giving them the tools and support to do so — pays dividends.
Cultivating creativity requires a conscious effort by employers and employees alike — and a workplace culture that gives people the license (and time) to be creative.
Here are five ways successful companies inspire creativity in the workplace.
Foundationally, the two most essential components to promote creativity in the workplace are spaces and times to brainstorm.
This entails giving employees places to meet up informally and time to think and question basic assumptions.
Some companies have taken cues from activity-based working design and flexible workspace environments, which both offer a variety of workspaces that motivate employees to find a workspace that best meets their needs.
These workspaces can range from cafes and lounge areas to quiet huddle rooms for small groups and private office suites. Each space will typically offer employees a number of collaboration tools ranging from whiteboards to wireless screen sharing.
Even if you can’t provide your employees with a large variety of workspaces, the goal is to give them space to think freely — and time (either once a day or once a week) to encourage that free thinking.
Whether anonymously or publicly, it’s important to make sure people are heard and have opportunities to share feedback with one another to help foster a culture of asking questions and challenging ideas.
After all, if people don’t feel they are being heard or have the opportunity to engage in dialogue, you’re likely to face a creative deficit in the workplace.
And when people do contribute, don’t just sit on their ideas. Acknowledge receipt and provide a response.
If people see that their suggestions or those of their colleagues aren’t implemented or even taken seriously, they will be much less likely to engage in the future.
Keeping people engaged and motivated requires recognition of a job well done. And by recognizing and rewarding engagement from individuals and teams, you’re more likely to be able to foster a creative work environment.
So, when employees do present an idea for a better way to solve a problem, complete a task or even develop a new product or service, they should be recognized for their efforts.
Even if your employees are remote — say, due to COVID-19 — it’s important to create avenues for conversation and engagement among your teams.
Whether it’s over video conferencing tools such as Zoom and WebEx, chat applications such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, or a simple phone call, make a point to offer people a chance to speak freely and share ideas — and recognize and reward them for it.
Over the past decade, companies have invested in a number of workplace settings and perks ranging from breakout spaces to cafes where staff can recharge, chat with colleagues and think freely.
The goal: To increase connection between employees and inspire creativity.
Health and wellness perks ranging from yoga classes to healthy snack areas have also emerged as an essential investment among an array of companies.
And even if some of these perks have raised eyebrows, research shows they do make a difference. One study by the World Economic Forum found that companies that invested in wellness benefits and health perks had employees that were eight times more dedicated and three-and-a-half times more creative and innovative.
When people from different backgrounds come together, they bring a variety of strengths, skill sets and ideas to the workplace, resulting in a cross-sharing of perspectives that can challenge assumptions and shape better ideas.
“[But] while diverse team composition does seem to confer an advantage when it comes to generating a wider range of original and useful ideas,” HBR writes, “experimental studies suggest that such benefits disappear once the team is tasked with deciding which ideas to select and implement, presumably because diversity hinders consensus.”
In short, diversity is good — but diversity without good management and executive decision making can run awry.
“It … [makes] sense for organizations to increase diversity in teams that are focused on exploration or idea generation,” HBR says. But it often helps to have a dedicated management team in place who can turn these ideas into action.
For companies, the goal should be building diverse and thoughtful teams to bolster creativity while creating leadership teams that can channel that creativity into business success.
Diverse teams tend to be more creative. But building a diverse employee base is harder than it sounds.
From implicit bias to managers and employees who are more likely to hire former colleagues and referrals, there are a number of reasons why companies can set out to increase diversity in the workplace — and come up short.
But the benefits of diversity in the workplace make getting it right an important investment.
A group of experts recently weighed in at Forbes to share some tips when hiring a more diverse team.
They suggest that companies adjust how they screen and search for candidates, and to look beyond the resume when assessing a candidate — lived experience is often just as valuable, if not more so, as work experience.
They also suggest hiring diversity managers to oversee efforts to maintain a strong team that values differences, provide diversity training to staff and to celebrate all religions and cultures.
Strikingly, a 2013 study found that up to 80% of jobs were filled through referrals and internal hires — and never even publicly listed, online or otherwise. Additional research has found referrals and internal hires tend to result in less diverse organizations.
If the majority of your staff is one demographic, increasing diversity through referrals may not yield the diverse results you’re looking for.
That’s why it’s important to try and hire people from different schools and backgrounds. Doing so ensures that the people sitting at the table can push each other to see beyond their own individual perspectives and experiences.
The places where we work can play a massive role in boosting — or tanking — our feelings of productivity and creativity.
But what mix of workplace settings, environments, amenities and tools best help inspire creativity in the workplace?
To find out, we surveyed 1,000+ office workers to understand the workplace environment, amenities, tools and technology top talent says matter most — and the offices that encourage creativity are those that give workers access to the perks they actually want.
To make sure your office space encourages creativity, try these tips:
A recent Harvard survey found that 96% of professionals say they need flexibility, but only 47% have access to it.
In this survey, flexibility was largely defined as the ability to structure the workday around their lives. But a big part was also empowering employees to decide where and how they work — both at and outside the office.
Flexible workspaces are designed to give employees just this, offering an assortment of working environments — sometimes across several locations — that offer professionals the ability to choose where and how they work.
Studies have found that having a variety of workspaces in the office — and not a visually monotonous environment of homogenous cubicles — improves workplace fulfillment and can fuel productivity and creativity.
Nothing will zap your creativity more than a splitting headache. And sitting under artificial lighting in an office all day can cause this — and more.
That’s why natural light is one of the top workplace perks. This basic perk can lead to better overall health and wellness, increased productivity levels and improved employee satisfaction.
People spend a lot of time sitting at their desks, and studies demonstrate how harmful this can be to our health. In our survey, 79% of office workers said ergonomic furniture is critically important, but just 34% said their employers offer ergonomic furniture. That leaves room for improvement among quite a few companies.
Professionals also look favorably on more generous workplace perks like sit-stand desks with almost 60% saying they’re important. Yet, less than a third have access to them.
This gets at an important point: People connect comfort with productivity and creativity and expect their employers to invest in making sure they have an ergonomic place to work.
Research shows that offices that are either too hot or too cold can have adverse effects on productivity and creativity.
In one study, Dr. Alan Hedge, an expert on workplace design and ergonomics at Cornell University, discovered that when the average temperature of an office was raised from 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, people were 44% less likely to make typing mistakes — and their typing output increased by 150%.
Bad workplace acoustics are one of the most common complaints in offices today — our survey found that “quiet spaces” are one the most in-demand workplace perks.
And even though there are easy solutions that most people want, like providing barriers that block noise or white noise solutions, only 16% have access to them.
Creating dedicated quiet spaces and dedicated social spaces, incorporating acoustic baffling and sound absorbing materials and adding more noise to the mix with sound masking technology are all ways to help mitigate noisy environments and help people get into a creative zone.
Cafés can help provide employees with healthy snacks and meal options are a well-regarded perk among employees. In fact, four out of five office workers say that snacks and beverages are valuable in the workplace.
Despite this, only 32% of office workers say they have access to snacks and beverages. But among those who do, a striking — if unsurprising — 75% say they take advantage of them multiple times per week.
Companies that offer complimentary snacks and cafe-style beverages — plus a dedicated place to congregate — don’t just have happier employees. According to Fast Company, studies show that people who work in cafe-style environments tend to be more creative in part due to the ambient noise and social element.
When asked the top two most important things it takes to be productive, professionals consistently referred to “quiet” and “privacy.”
Research shows that long stretches of focused work can lead to bursts of inspiration — and focused work is more likely to happen in distraction-free spaces.
In recent years, office designers have taken this cue, building focus rooms and private workspaces into their plans.
And that’s a good thing. According to The New York Times, “people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.”
Ultimately, fostering creativity in the workplace requires little more than hiring a diverse set of professionals and giving them the freedom and flexibility to move around a thoughtfully designed office space, the charge to challenge ideas and the tools necessary to do their work efficiently and effectively.
And when employee ingenuity is valued and rewarded, workers are happier, more energetic and feel more fulfilled — and that’s a win for everyone.
To learn more about our research into the perks employees really care about, explore our white paper Forget Foosball: People Want a Better Place to Work, Not Play.
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