Without creativity, we’d all be out of business. Creation and innovation is central to every organisation, but without proper nurturing, it’s stifled – meaning business stagnates and morale drops. What can we do about it?

Worryingly, it seems the modern workplace itself is causing the problem.

According to a recent survey of 100 people, just 28% of those surveyed were at their most creative during team brainstorming sessions, and only 36% felt most inspired while working with other people.

With open plan offices, and brainstorming as the usual means of generating ideas, the results are eye-opening. The question posed by My Own Stationery, the online retailer who conducted the survey, is critical.

How can we bring creativity back to the workplace – how can we excel?

1. The Problem with Open-Plan

With ever-mounting demands placed upon us in the workplace, and the dreaded culture of ‘presenteeism’, leaving work at the office is no easy task.

However, we need time away from our desks – and our co-workers – if we’re going to do our best work. 64% of those surveyed felt most inspired when alone and away from distractions – suggesting open-plan offices detract from productivity and best practices.  

Awareness around the pitfalls of open-plan offices is growing. Once hailed as a means to generate ideas, and encourage the exchange of knowledge, now it’s understood open-plan offices create distraction and stress – hardly the most creative environment.

What’s more, it’s not just introverts, who are often creative and work best alone, who are suffering, given then survey results. Creating quieter spaces and encouraging reflective time benefits everyone.

2. Unplug to Recharge

However long you spend slaving at your desk, there are only so many hours of the day you can call productive. Alex Pang, US researcher, has discovered that most of us are only productive at work for 4 hours a day.

Long hours may be rewarded by modern work culture, but you’re only going to achieve so much in any given day. Once energy levels wane, and concentration lapses, opportunities for creativity disappear – why stay in the office?

There’s always going to be work left over. And, chances are, after a twelve-hour day you’re not going to solve that big problem on your desk without a break. Go home, turn your email notifications off, and forget about work until it’s time to return to the office. Get that change of perspective you need before you can perform at your best.

Take advice from Marc Cohen, CEO of Wrinkl. He keeps a notebook by his bed for those late-night ‘lightbulb’ moments, because creativity strikes when you least expect it.

Turn off your computer, switch your focus – give yourself time to solve those big problems!

3. Step Outside

It’s called a lunch hour for a reason. With work piling up, it’s easy to skip lunch in favour of coffee breaks and trips to the vending machine. But monotony, whether it’s the task you’re doing or the environment you’re in, lowers productivity, and your work suffers as a result.

Out of those surveyed, 54% work better, and get their best ideas, when they’re away from the office and getting fresh air.

A shift in focus improves your frame of mind, relaxes you, and sets you up for the rest of your day – not to mention walking around keeps your heart healthy.

It’s scientifically recognised that a never-changing environment stifles creativity. Even a simple change of scenery wakes your mind up and helps you refocus. Step away from your desk for 5 minutes. Take your laptop outside for an hour – or, better, go for a walk and take a notepad in case inspiration strikes.

Forcing productivity generates stale ideas and lowers morale – worrying for anyone serious about bringing innovation back to the workplace. Why not head to that coffee shop across the street during lunch hour and try it for yourself?

Moreover, actually being outside has been proven to positively affect your stress and creativity levels.

In an experiment conducted in Japan, researchers found that those who were walking in nature had a lower heart rate and reported better moods than those in urban settings.

So, if possible, get away from the hubbub of the cityscape with a walk in your local park or botanical garden on your lunch break. You might just find your creative breakthrough by the time you get back to the office.

4. Claim Your Downtime

As job security decreases and we feel the pressure to excel, it’s easy to assume ‘work-life balance’ is a myth. But, out of those surveyed, 59% felt more inspired while relaxing away from work.

Exercise boosts happiness and lowers stress – instead of spending an hour checking emails before arriving at the office, why not visit the gym instead, or change up your commute by walking to work, at least partly?

You’ll already feel like you’ve achieved something, setting you up for a productive and innovative day.

It’s also important that when we leave the office in the evening, we really leave it. Smartphones have allowed us to be more connected than ever, but taking work calls or answering emails throughout your evening isn’t good for your stress levels or creative ability. Do yourself a favour and switch off your notifications.

We can take something positive from the fact that attitudes are shifting.

Employees and employers alike are recognising that gruelling hours don’t foster creativity or positive morale. And, if we’re truly only productive for 4 hours a day, being in the office for 12 hours isn’t serving anyone’s interests.

If work never ends, and we’re stuck in open-plan offices with too many distractions, what can we do?

We can set ourselves challenges. Set goals and self-imposed deadlines. Complete that task you can make last a whole day in 2 hours. Mute email notifications and allocate set times to check them – swap checking emails before work for a walk instead.  

If you’re a manager, why not set up ‘focus spaces’ where staff can go work quietly and reflect on ideas without distraction?

Encourage staff to get away from their computers and walk around. Give them the freedom to get creative. They’ll thank you for it – and so will your business!

Written By
Laura McLoughlin is a Digital PR based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, with a background in web content creation and management. She writes for My Own Stationery, an online retailer of personalised notebooks based in Carryduff, Northern Ireland.