Three ways place brand leaders can foster innovation and creative thinking in the virtual workplace

written by Shaun Loftman, Executive Creative Director, CEEMEA at Landor & Fitch  

 

As we find ourselves in the midst of a fundamental shift to remote working, questions of how to ensure creative stimulation are never far from our thoughts. The daily physical interactions of the workplace that we took for granted have been replaced by a mechanic 2-dimensional interplay of screens. We have been forced to quickly learn and adopt a totally new set of principles for working with each other across our virtual and separate workspaces.

Establishing a strong workplace culture is vital, with studies revealing companies that actively manage their culture have 30% higher levels of innovation and 40% higher levels of retention (1). At Landor & Fitch, we conducted a research study with 10 Unicorns (former start-ups that are valued at $1bn+) which revealed fast-moving organisations drive performance and innovation by putting culture at the heart of their business strategy.

In this new state of a displaced workforce, how can leaders of place brand teams foster innovation and creative thinking?


1. Find your North Star

Purpose-led businesses are proven to perform better and drive growth. A business’s brand purpose is its north star and ultimate belief, that defines every decision. Purpose needs to come from the heart of the business and be championed by leadership to ensure that it is fully embedded in the workplace culture. It must be lived and breathed by everyone, so clear communication from leaders to teams and involving employees in the journey is key.

Establishing a common vision and ambition connects employees with leaders and encourages a sense of belonging and trust. When employees have a genuine understanding of why they do what they do, they feel empowered to help make a meaningful difference. This leads to a deeper level of engagement, which helps to drive innovation and productivity.

A clear and well communicated brand purpose serves as every employee’s motivation for creativity and big picture thinking.


 2. Build in time for creativity 

With remote working here to stay, company rituals need to be reimagined virtually to bring back moments of creativity into the day and ensure there is time for reflection. Rituals are an excellent way to engage creatively with employees; they can be both large scale, such as regular town hall gatherings, and on the small scale with simple recipe sharing.  

At Landor & Fitch we have adopted micro-work sessions where we can co-create as a team in short sharp bursts of 15-20 minute idea sharing sessions. These help to encourage dynamic and agile thinking, and because of the time constraint, people are less likely to be precious by filtering their thoughts, but more likely to be far more spontaneous and fluid.

It can be intense and pressured, but as the old adage goes “pressure makes diamonds”. Another ritual that boosts creativity in the workplace is inviting guest artists to share their creative journey or process in a live session with the office. It acts as a great way to infuse informal learning into the working day.

Daily or weekly rituals are crucial in developing a company culture that is inclusive. Studies have shown that just completing the acts of a normal working day has a positive impact on employee mental health and productivity.

Creativity and innovation needs time and head space, we should not see the loss of a  commute as desk time gained – this is where burn out lies.


3. Make the most of technology 

One of the positives to come out of the pandemic is the dramatic surge in our adoption, reliance and familiarity with technology ­­­worldwide. This has opened up new and exciting opportunities for innovation and creativity, with working practices now able to operate at lightning speed and reach.

Fixed borders within global companies have become a thing of the past with virtual think tank sessions now bringing people together across geographies and time zones meaning we have the opportunity to merge cultures together and use diversity to enhance creative thinking in ways that we could only dream of before. For instance, if you want to gain inspiration from a Far Eastern point of view, then invite that perspective into your meeting. For Landor & Fitch, there has never been greater access to include the right people to tackle a creative problem.

This diversity is proving to be critical for innovation, as it forces new ways of thinking by investigating different levels of the creative problem, and I find that when we look at the same problem through a different lens, we uncover what is lying deeper below the surface instead of defaulting to a predictable and superficial response.

Business leaders should take advantage of newly introduced technology to enhance efficiency. At Landor & Fitch we created the ’25th Hour’ – where, for example, a project can kick-off in Mumbai and then follow the sun as it is handed to creative teams across the world, ending up finalised on the other side of the globe. This truly maximises the might of our global network and drives forward creativity at pace. This innovative approach was also the engine behind the Landor & Fitch Extraordinary 24-hour live webinar event last May, which started in Sydney and ended 24 hours later in San Francisco.

Never before has our working culture been quite so challenged. Not only do place brand leaders have to keep the work force stimulated and performing at a consistently high level, but the internal culture needs to be strong enough to bring newcomers along on the journey.

This is done best by immediately exposing them to a hothouse of activity that often means throwing them into the deep end with a task or initiative designed to stretch them. Tough, I know, but you will be surprised at how creative and inventive people can be when given a difficult challenge to overcome. The trick is to pair new joiners with an existing employee that you consider as dynamic, to show the level of engagement needed to bring value to the work.

As we look to the future, leaders must establish a strong and collaborative workplace culture that will withhold the tests of remote and hybrid working. It is vital that employees are motivated and driven by a shared vision and that leaders make time for creative thinking in the working day. With endless opportunities for collaboration, I believe place brand leaders have a huge opportunity to foster a new era of dynamic creative thinking in the workplace.


1 - Bersin, Josh, Becoming Irresistible: A New Model  for Employee Engagement, Deloitte Review, Issue 16, 2015 


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