A Global Innovation Survey by McKinsey highlights that “innovation is critical to growth, particularly as the speed of business cycles continues to increase”. That said, while 84% of executives agree on the importance of innovation, only 6% are satisfied with innovation performance within their organization. If you want your employees to excel at problem-solving, it’s essential that you create an environment that encourages innovation and creativity in the workplace.
Organizations should emphasize the value of challenging the status quo—the way things have traditionally been done—allowing employees to present unique solutions that could help cut costs, improve client or customer retention, and even create new streams of revenue. Focusing on creativity in the workplace can also unlock new opportunities for business innovation and growth within your organization.
Google, recognized as one of the most innovative companies in the world, encourages its employees to dedicate 20% of their work time (i.e. a work day) to Google-related passion projects. Introduced in 2004, Google’s 20 Percent Project led to the invention of AdSense, Gmail, and Google Talk (also known as Google Chat)—to name just a few innovations.
As an added benefit, the more you encourage and support creative thinking at your company, the more it becomes an essential part of your company culture—and an attractive prospect for future employees who want an employer that values individuality and welcomes ideas from everyone.
Here are some ways that you can inspire creativity in the workplace (and gain the benefits associated with it):
1. Encourage creativity with an inclusive and fun team environment
A genuine team-based environment, in which connections are forged through collaboration and social time, is essential for innovative teamwork. Managers will notice a remarkable difference when the effort is made to “de-silo” the organization. Instead of staying separate and heads-down on only their own projects, employees have the opportunity to interact with other colleagues in different departments and gain an informed understanding of the company as a whole. This will spark creativity and allow for ideas and inspiration to flow freely across departments.
Additionally, humour in the workplace plays a significant role in team-bonding. Research shows that humour can reduce stress, increase relationship building, and create better cohesion. Create a "water cooler" channel on Slack or similar chat software to allow your employees to enjoy some office banter, especially if your team is remote or hybrid. You can also add buffer time to your team meetings to allow time for everyone to chat about their weekend plans or other casual conversation.
Of course, humour should be universal and non-exclusionary. Avoid any hot-button topics or things that run the risk of being mean-spirited such as pranks or teasing. It’s also important to note that sarcasm—while common—can “have a corrosive effect” and even come across as degrading when it’s at someone’s expense.
A playful but polite company culture helps create a sense of belonging and safety, which is the gateway to creative expression and thought-generation.
2. Promote creativity through office design
An inspiring workspace inspires creativity and innovation. Even if your office layout is more cubicles than open space, there are still ways that you can help employees feel inspired by their surroundings. For example, you can encourage employees to bring in photos, prints, or small decorative objects from home. If possible, hang up some artwork on the wall and bring in task lighting and tall lamps. Add office plants to help purify the air and bring a touch of nature inside.
You should also consider investing in sit-stand desks to give your employees flexibility and better health, as backaches aren’t conducive to creative thinking.
These elements, along with others, can create an atmosphere in which employees feel more comfortable and creative.
3. Provide freedom and flexibility in how work is done
Creativity in the workplace does not have to mean creativity in the workspace.
Sometimes a change of scenery can help spark new ideas. Every now and then, switch up your team routine with off-site and walking meetings. Brainstorming at a coffee shop might generate more ideas than you think, as it helps to break up the routine. You should also encourage any remote or hybrid employees to do the same.
If your employees have returned to the office full-time, consider expanding or updating your current remote work policy to allow employees more flexibility while helping them cut costs and save time when it comes to commuting. Offering flexibility in the workplace is essential for not just creativity, but also retention and recruitment, “with 80% of employees identifying it as a crucial factor in job evaluation”.
4. Offer the space for knowledge sharing
There is no shortage of talent and skills within your organization that are just waiting to be passed on. Encourage your employees to share what they know and what they can do with other coworkers. This can be done through lunch-and-learns or special classes taught over video or in small groups. Sessions can include Excel tips, LinkedIn profile best practices, and guided meditation/yoga.
Sessions are a great way for your team members to discover new interests or passions that they can master and apply in their role or to help maintain their work-life balance. By providing a platform for your people to engage in knowledge exchanges, they’ll benefit from professional development in the forms of thought-leadership, increased confidence, and increased creativity.
5. Encourage the practice of self-reflection
When the workload picks up, it’s easy for your employees to become focused on the work and forget about the significance of what they’re accomplishing.
Encourage employees to get in the habit of self-reflection check-ins. This exercise helps them to focus on what they’ve achieved, as well as what’s coming up next, and helps inspire them to see things differently. Rise’s performance management feature includes weekly check-ins. Employees are prompted to rate their week, what went well, and what could’ve gone better. It’s a great way for managers to keep track of how an employee is doing, while also giving the employee a chance to reflect on their work.
If possible, also share monthly or quarterly accomplishments with your team so they can see the concrete results of their contributions.
6. Support employees in creative risk-taking
Cultivate an office culture that rewards creative risk-taking. One reason why employees are not thinking out of the box or proposing different solutions could be due to a fear of making mistakes and not having their ideas supported. As much as possible, make it clear to your employees that your organization values creativity—and understands its importance. This can be clearly communicated by being receptive to new ideas and recognizing risk-takers for the impact they've made.
As well, be open to feedback and suggestions from your employees. Provide an open door policy or offer an anonymous outlet for anyone who wishes to share their thoughts privately.
Generally, creativity in the workplace won’t have a one-size-fits-all approach. What’s appropriate and works for your organization will depend on the industry/culture/size/demographics/many factors. The above methods of supporting creativity in the workplace can be a great way to start for most organizations.