This week marked the one year anniversary of the UK’s first lockdown. In remembrance of the hardships, sacrifices, and the lives lost at the hands of the pandemic, the 23rd March was marked with a minute’s silence and memorials across the country. Amongst these heartfelt tributes was a collective feeling of reflection: a mutual musing on a year that has changed all of our lives, and cut short the lives of so many others.
From the moment workplaces, schools, and universities closed telling their staff and students to work from home, there has been extensive conversation about, and scrutiny into, the impact of remote work. The transition to working from home has highlighted, and worsened, the striking inequalities evident in modern British society. As we reflect on the past year and look towards the easing of restrictions over the coming weeks and months, and the return to workplaces, we need to consider how we can learn from the lessons of working from home.
What have been the struggles of remote working, what have been the benefits, and how can creative industries, such as publishing, adapt to the advantage of their staff and their business?
There has been a flurry of research over the last 12 months into how working from home, and largely working on your own (with the exception of the occasional Zoom team meeting and often relentless Slack stream of communication), impacts people’s efficiency and creativity.
One large randomised trial found that employees working from home tended to be 13% more efficient in their own homes than in an office environment. Researchers have also claimed that, whilst efficiency increases when working remotely, creativity is stunted when working in the confines of your own home.
But, is it possible we have an overly simplistic notion of what activities generate creative ideas? The idea that we struggle to work creatively on our own is based off the assumption that team work, collective ‘brainstorming’ sessions, and group discussions are the most productive means of generating creative ideas. Are we actually associating creativity with activities and behaviours we normally code as typical of ‘extroverts’?
Last year I read Susan Cain’s incredible book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It really struck a chord with me, in particular its insights into the ways in which working environments play to the strengths of extroverts, placing emphasis on collaborative work, and valuing the presentation of ideas to a team more than the quality of the idea itself.
In recent decades, workplaces have sought to embrace open plan office environments and place greater emphasis on creating space for collective work and conversation. And whilst the constant buzz of a bustling office environment might help inspire creativity in the more extroverted characters amongst us, in Quiet Cain debunks the idea that these busy work environments are the most effective way of encouraging creative thought and generating novel ideas. Cain adds that there’s ‘zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas’.
Apple co-founder, and introvert himself, Steve Wozniak famously said ‘I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has ever been invented by committee.’ Wozniak tries to demystify the notion that collaboration is the fruit of all creativity. Over the last year we have all been restricted in our ability to work by committee, to throw ideas around a room of colleagues, but maybe this has given us the space we need to consider how best we work creatively.
Creative industries feed off creativity. If many of us actually need time alone to stumble upon that light bulb moment, then we need to embrace this diversity. Most creatives work alone and often find silence, space and self-reflection to be conducive to their best work so maybe it’s about time publishers give their staff the freedom and quiet they grant their writers. Maybe a greater freedom to work remotely is exactly what introverted creatives need.
On my placement at Luath Press, I definitely missed the opportunity to meet my colleagues and fellow interns in person and work in the office but, I also relished the opportunity to work in my home and have the time, space and silence to reflect on the manuscript and tasks set on my own. It gave me greater confidence knowing I had time to dwell and prepare before discussing my work and ideas with the rest of the team. Like many people, I can’t wait to spend time with peers, colleagues and friends again but I also work better, and more creatively, alone. Not everyone will have the privilege of a peaceful home workspace so employers need to ensure they provide quiet space for creative work alongside the buzz of collaborative work environments. Everyone needs the space to work in an environment that works for them and publishers need to prioritise this.
Creative businesses, such as publishers, need to acknowledge the strengths of its staff and provide a balance of working alone and working collaboratively if they want to stumble across the brightest ideas possible.