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Engagement & wellbeing | 5 min

Spark innovation through collaboration in your distributed workforce

Spark innovation through collaboration in your distributed workforce

Have you been missing those moments of inspiration, innovation and collaboration with your distributed team?

Where you’re on the verge of a fantastic idea and one of your team members completes the thought and sparks a new initiative?

You’re not alone! 

A distributed workforce is fantastic for your team’s work life balance, but those passing conversations that spark new projects and create new initiatives may not be happening as much as they previously were. Now, a great solution could be to organize days where your teams are able to come into the office and work together. 

But this isn’t the only solution. 

Anything is possible with your distributed and hybrid teams when you set your people up for success. Check out the five ways below that will foster collaboration and innovation with your people from the comfort of their home office. 

 

Why do we need creativity? 

Before we get stuck into the nitty gritty about how we can create an environment that sparks creativity, why do we need it?

Creativity plays a role in developing new business ideas and forging new pathways with your teams that can create new and exciting business opportunities. 

Creative people are happy people. We spend a huge chunk of our life at work, shouldn’t we want to be happy during that time? One of the largest factors impacting team performance is how happy your people are. So it’s not just good for your business to have happy and creative people, it’s also good for your bottom line. 

 

What are the main blockers of creativity? 

Before we get into some real-world examples of how you can help your people be more creative, it’s important first to be aware of what could be hindering it, so your efforts aren’t wasted. Consider the following three creativity blockers and be sure to check-in on your team to see where they’re facing issues and if you can offer any support.

  • Your mental state: is your brain ready to tackle the issue at hand? Are you feeling stressed or on edge about external issues?
  • Your physical space: are you free from distractions and do you have the right physical environment that’s going to allow you to use your mind?
  • Your behaviour: what is our approach to an issue? Are we open to new ideas and actions or are we being too critical?

Check out insideHR if you want more information on the mental barriers to creativity.

 

1. Make room for creativity 

I’ll set the scene: your team has run into a block and they haven’t figured out a solution yet. They make their way to the ping pong table for a few hits and they begin to discuss their dilemma. 

With their minds slightly distracted and relaxed, they’re able to think about things in a different way and they start approaching the problem with a new perspective. Even just 10 minutes of stepping aside and doing a different task can help get your creative juices flowing. 

Bingo, there’s the idea! 

These moments are a bit harder to create from home, but not impossible – so how can we recreate a similar environment? It doesn’t necessarily have to be over a game, and it doesn’t necessarily have to take place on your computer. 

Take a break and go for a walk. This has been proven to be an excellent way to stimulate your creativity and works to both give yourself a chance to move around after being seated all day and also think about what you’re working with differently. And it doesn’t have to be a solo activity. 

It may seem a bit strange, but consider bringing your headphones and doing a walk-and-talk with your colleagues about what’s working and what’s not, encourage them to get out of the house and pop on their walking shoes too – for the betterment of the team!

If getting out isn’t really your jam, consider staying in and hosting a meditation for your team or go through some mindfulness exercises to help your brain get a rest. 

 

2. Cross-functional teams

Cross-functional hybrid teams are the way of the future. Comprised of members from different business functions all coming together for a project, the diversity of knowledge, experience and expertise brought by each individual creates the perfect environment for new ideas and better solutions to arise.

In the office, this mingling and sharing of ideas often happens organically, which can give rise to new projects and self-forming teams. But with a distributed workforce, this bumping of shoulders isn’t happening as much as it used to. 

So how can you fix this?

Have kick-off meetings

If you’re beginning a new project then consider having a kick-off meeting to get everyone on the same page (even if they’re not in the same room) and get the creative juices flowing. 

The collaboration that comes from kick-off meetings will set your team up for success because they can brainstorm and discuss various aspects of the project, providing:

  • ideas for the project/campaign/initiative itself
  • input how to approach the project
  • information and expertise around their area of specialty
  • new perspectives
  • risk mitigation strategies
  • input on how tasks will be divided (and what they’re keen to work on).

Invite other teams for consulting 

Similar to our previous point, if your teams are struggling to think outside the box or ideas are becoming stagnant, it could be useful to pick some interesting minds from other teams to assist. Organize for people from different teams to pop into a meeting and contribute to the discussion on the topic, which can bring new perspectives that may spark ideas into a project and give it a new life. Or alternatively, you could have a quick catch-up on a dedicated slack channel.  

Create a discussion space

More and more organizations are using technology that allows their people to chat or message in real time one-on-one and in groups. At intelliHR, we use Slack, which, in addition to providing a space for people to raise and discuss ideas, also allows us to facilitate mood boards and scrapbooks of different ideas that we’re able to comment on and refer back to.

So if one team member finds something online that they think is interesting, they’d simply send it to the channel for people to see and maybe that sparks an idea in a co-worker’s head about something they were thinking about. 

For example, you might have a chat group (or channel) for HR ideas specifically. Then if a team member finds an example of something they find interesting online – maybe they see a Facebook post from another company recognizing their staff achievements or anniversaries – they simply take a screenshot and post it in the channel for other group members to see. This might spark discussion, suggestions for doing it differently or new ideas altogether.

If you create a dedicated place where creativity and innovation can happen that’s always accessible for your people to share ideas, then you’re going to get more ideas.

There are a range of tools out there that you can do this on, here’s some ideas:

  • Zoom
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Workplace by Facebook

 

3. Make time for creativity 

Creativity happens in the moment, but more often than not, it will grow if you give it time. You may have 100 bad ideas before you reach a golden one, you simply have to trust the process. 

Are you giving your team the space and time to be creative?

Speak with your team to see how they work best creatively and organize a weekly activity that incorporates this. 

Here’s some examples of how this could work: 

  • A weekly brainstorming session where everyone brings their ideas on a certain point and discusses them. 
  • A team member could host a training session with a series of exercises that encourages everyone to use their brain differently. 
  • Add an agenda item for your team meeting where new ideas can be shared.

The options for this are endless and will rely on the talents you already have within your teams. 

 

4. Encourage training

People don’t know what they don’t know. 

A great way to spark some new ideas is to bring outside expertise into your team and watch as the new ideas they’re learning about translates into their work. 

Now here’s the fun bit. The training can absolutely be specific to your team’s discipline, although learning new techniques and theories related to their job will assist with their work, it’s not the only reason for training. 

There are plenty of resources out there on things like design thinking and creativity, which can help your people think differently about thinking. 

Training in related disciplines can also have the potential to create some really innovative ideas that could take your business into the future. If you’re managing a marketing team, getting some training in sales could benefit how your team thinks about team projects.

If your team members are doing training, why not ask them to share some key findings, and how they can apply to certain projects.

 

5. Effective communication

Online communication isn’t always easy. If the above ways just won’t cut it in your working environment then there are other alternatives that can help your teams collaborate effectively, no matter where they’re located. 

If communication in meetings isn’t flowing as well as you’d like it to, you can work with your team on how to communicate their ideas effectively. 

Provide the space for your people to share

If your people don’t share their ideas with the team, it could be worth evaluating if they feel comfortable doing so. Speaking in an online environment can be a little uncomfortable, particularly when all Zoom screens are blank and you can’t see how people are reacting. You should look to create an environment that is psychologically safe for your people so that they feel comfortable sharing.

Reach out to your people and see what arrangements can be made to make them more comfortable, if presenting to a room of blank screens is the issue, ask your team members to turn their webcams on. 

Think about setting an agenda. Knowing when it’s appropriate to raise or query something makes it easier to do so. Make sure to distribute the agenda before the meeting, to give your team time to think about and prepare their contributions.

Create an open and safe environment so that your people are able to communicate effectively with each other. This will provide a great base that innovation and collaboration can take place on.

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