Glenn Karwoski headshot.

Outside Consultant: What Are the Best Practices for Fostering Creativity in a Hybrid Work Environment?

This "Outside Consultant" column by Glenn Karwoski, adjunct faculty member at the Opus College of Business, ran in the Star Tribune on April 25, 2022.

All the rules about working have changed and most of us are in some form of hybrid work environment. What does that mean for creativity?

Many leaders believe that people physically being in the same space promotes creativity through informal conversations and collaboration that don’t occur when people are working remotely. That may be true and the histories of fabled creative organizations like Bell Labs are filled with examples of how an informal hallway conversation piqued curiosity and eventually led to a great discovery. That’s hard to do when your only contact with a fellow employee is a scheduled Zoom meeting, but creativity can happen virtually too.

While virtual brainstorming generates more ideas in some controlled studies, what doesn’t get considered in those studies is overall cultural creativity, the informal get-togethers and hallway conversations that can prompt further investigation and curiosity that leads to more formal idea generation. So, in a new hybrid work environment, how can that work?

Sharing information about new work and developments often sparks creative thought, so try to have a mix of virtual and in-person monthly sessions. Someone may hear or see something that another area of the organization is doing that sparks an idea or further discussion.

Play is important in the creative balance between focused effort and relaxation, so having time for teams to get together with no agenda, either in the office or another location, is a good way to foster creativity. If someone is wrestling with a problem or wanting to share something new, it will emerge more naturally in an unstructured setting. Try alternating between in person and virtual each month.

Shared experience and investigation can be an important part of the creative process given the dialogue and questions that can arise, so whether it’s in an office or somewhere else, bring people together for exploration and discovery on a regular basis. Try some quarterly discovery sessions where you explore seemingly unrelated subjects and see how you can apply them to your business.

Like the hybrid work model, be flexible and experiment with different forms of creativity, structured and unstructured, some in person and some virtually, and see what works best for your organization One size doesn’t fit all. Test and learn. Modify. Repeat.

Glenn Karwoski is a member of the adjunct faculty at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.