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Top tips for keeping creativity alive in remote workforces

Aleksandra Sulimko, Global HR Director - TheSoul Publishing

According to the Bank of England’s chief economist, Andy Haldane, working from home is damaging Britain’s creative potential. He noted that while a mass shift to remote working has benefited many workers and employers, the sharp decline of face-to-face interaction is in some instances destroying vital opportunities for creative expression and innovation.

With the UK’s third lockdown expected to last until at least March, the longer-term challenges of remote working, beyond the practicalities of IT set ups, are starting to show.

But remote working doesn’t need to cull creativity. Sharing her thoughts on the subject is Aleksandra Sulimko, global HR director of independent digital studio TheSoul Publishing. Aleksandra manages a workforce of 1,700 people, across 70 different countries. Even before the pandemic, 80% of the team was working from home, around the world. Far from being a hindrance to success, TheSoul Publishing has grown to be the most viewed online content creator in the world.

Keeping creativity alive in remote workforces
While TheSoul Publishing is by its nature, a creative business, everyone across the company is encouraged to participate. And in any business, this is vital. Our mission is to produce captivating and positive content across a variety of digital platforms globally. One of our most popular channels is 5-Minute Crafts. As a creative DIY and crafting channel, our team constantly needs to come up with new ideas to keep our 70 million subscribers engaged.

Giving every individual the opportunity to contribute to improving our operations, and influence the direction the business takes, at some level, is key for engagement and a sense of belonging.

Next, is ascertaining whether people have the right amount of work. In a remote setting, understanding and optimising workloads is even more important. While being overstretched is the biggest killer of creativity and motivation, so too is being under-occupied. Ensure line managers are checking in with teams regularly, and consider software which allows you to monitor output, without distracting everyday intervention. It’s a fine line though and it’s important employees don’t feel “micromanaged”. Too much control can kill any great idea. This is especially important for first-time remote managers. Control obsession may decrease motivation among your team members, especially in a creative field.

Last but not least, allow individuals the freedom (as far as possible) to define the way they best like to work and determine what their personal objectives are. Different people prefer different levels of guidance, but everyone has personal goals in mind and preferred ways of working. Support genuine flexible working (not just working from home) and give people some autonomy in guiding on how they can be most productive.

Tools and techniques for remote collaboration
When we’re not physically in the same room, providing a virtual space for collaboration is vital. As well as creating an opportunity to exchange ideas, all team members will require support to develop their skills, in line with the business need and their own growth.

Sensing the need for a learning management system, we created TheSoul Publishing Academy. In the TheSoul Publishing Academy, the management team creates training courses, e-book quizzes, and various audio/video materials and makes them widely available. Collaboration software was also identified as a high priority, to reflect the normal pace of in-person communications. This allows teams to work together on ideation all around the world, each bringing their own unique perspective.

While our remote structure has been successful so far, it’s still important to find ways to bring the team together and inspire collaboration. Prior to travel restrictions, we flew in team members from around the world to a celebration in Cyprus. The conference featured thought-provoking speakers, leadership presentations, surprise entertainment and the chance to see colleagues in-person. This conference reinforced company values while allowing time for fun and networking too. Meeting in person, from time-to-time, gives a real boost to remote working.

Understanding business results is important, and this also goes for measuring team engagement. It can be particularly hard to judge mood when you’re not seeing people on a daily basis and remote working can be particularly challenging for team members experiencing it for the first time. Regular temperature checks of engagement and satisfaction with the role are vital, including those measures that are important to creativity, such as how important team members feel their work is to the company.

Why remote working can provide a creative advantage
Beyond creating a brilliant creative product, evidence suggests the diversity of teams themselves makes for better business results. A 2015 McKinsey report found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry means. And according to an article by the Harvard Business Review, a body of research has revealed another benefit of workplace diversity: non-homogenous teams are simply smarter.

Bringing teams together from 70 countries allows us to access the very best people, with a wide range of backgrounds. This diversity gives us a competitive advantage and succeeds because we’re able to reflect that diversity to our millions of viewers. It also means we can pick out – literally – the best teams in the world. From researchers to animators, editors, to voice-over artists, we can choose the best person for the job and bring them together with other experts, to create the perfect team, with no location restrictions.

A more flexible, creative future
While the last year has presented significant challenges for many businesses worldwide, in our experience embracing remote working for the long term will bring far more positives than negatives. Creativity is key for any business, regardless of sector, and the evidence shows that remote working can help achieve it. Respecting employee’s personal interests, goals and ways of working, as well as providing them the physical platforms to actively contribute, will make for a more productive and inspiring work environment.

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