As remote working drags on for many, it may be time to re-energize employees who are feeling bored or uninspired. Techniques from five artistic disciplines can propel your team’s creative thinking and break up the monotony of remote working. Visualizing and drawing outcomes to business problems can help you separate what’s important from the details. Taking inspiration from improv helps you see problems from new perspectives. Moving around physically releases endorphins and helps you feel relaxed. Poetry helps you access different parts of your brain. And finally, music can help you connect with others. These techniques aren’t just fun for fun’s sake — they allow employees to channel thoughts and pent-up emotions into something constructive.
As we reach the one-year mark of working from home, remote teams are at risk of losing motivation. By drawing on techniques used by creatives, business leaders can revitalize teams and spark fresh momentum and innovation. For example, studies show that jazz musicians’ improvisational skills are achieved via heightened sensory activity in the brain alongside a deactivation of cognitive control functions, leading to an incredible, unbridled process of self-expression.
But a “state of flow” isn’t something that only jazz artists can reach. It spans beyond the music sphere and can be summoned in the offices (and homes) of any company in the world. Everyone can tap into free-flowing creativity to compose ideas beyond their usual boundaries. Techniques from the following five artistic disciplines can propel your team’s creative thinking and break up the monotony of remote working.
Paint new perspectives through visual arts.
Visualization works through brain imagery, with neurons interpreting that imagery as if it were a real-life action. That means that when we visualize something, our brain cells perform similarly to how they would if it were actually occurring. You probably know the expression “seeing is believing,” but really, seeing is doing.
Let’s take an actual example. We had employees at a major nonprofit organization visualize that they were attending an Academy Awards ceremony. They were tasked with picturing which awards they would not have made the shortlist for, which awards they were nominated for, and which awards they ended up winning. This helped them realize what they were and weren’t set up to achieve; by visualizing the scenario, they could understand how they needed to reorganize and bring their goals to fruition.
Seeing what you want to achieve puts you in the end-goal position, so you don’t lose sight of the core aims as you wrestle with the process. You may not want to print out photos of your clients, but consider having their logo, mission statement, brand colors, or advertisements in your workspace. If you operate in B2C, try to illustrate your users or your target personality profiles.
Another exercise is to draw answers to business problems. Drawing is a powerful way to open the raw, creative side of your mind. When you encourage people to change the medium they typically use to answer open-ended questions, you replace the structured, step-by-step process with something more exploratory. People shouldn’t be drawing a flow chart or Venn diagram, but should otherwise be given minimal direction or limitations.
Here’s a brilliant brief: Tell your team that in 2,000 years, an anthropologist will stumble upon cave paintings they’ve drawn. Ask them to illustrate this particular moment in time as best they can on a single sheet of paper. Condensing reality in a single artistic expression gets at the heart of what’s occurring, rather than the details, and perhaps some will even choose to represent it in emotional, sensory ways that are often absent in the workday.
Entertain, energize, and escape in theatrics.
One of our favorite artistic transplants is improv. It helps people learn to read cues, laugh at themselves, listen more intently, and loosen up. And because improv is a team sport, it’s ideal for connecting everyone through a joint scenario. Improv doesn’t have to be full-on dramatics (which can sometimes scare people away). You can pull elements of improv into team meetings and exercises so people won’t immediately withdraw from the spotlight.
For example, during a team call, ask individuals to take one minute to find an object in their house that reminds them of an issue at work or with a client, then explain their choice to the group. As they’re challenged to act with limited resources, this exercise encourages people to do some mental gymnastics to reach an efficient conclusion. It also places a physical object on an abstract problem, forcing people to see it from a new perspective.
Another exercise is to get your team to imagine they’re starting a new company with the sole aim of outdoing your current business. They have all the investment and materials they need, and they have to describe how they’d blow open the market while embodying a different character. Push them to pay attention to the details of this fictional brand’s personality and approach. Are they ruthless where your current company is cautious? Are they empathetic where your company is objective? Creating a character to counterbalance your own allows you to detect your weaknesses and adopt powerful traits you’ve been too shy to execute.
And don’t forget the classic improv game, “Yes, and…,” which teases the state of flow out of people because they have to riff off of one another continuously. Someone begins the game by saying a statement, and each person has to provide a follow-up statement starting with “Yes, and.” The game teaches players to accept all ideas, to stitch them together and compile something using only their reflexes.
Create harmony through WFH dance.
Over a third of remote workers worry they’re not moving enough at home, now that commutes and coffee breaks with colleagues are scarce. That sedentary activity can lower employees’ energy and motivation over time.
Physical movement triggers the release of endorphins, which interact with receptors in the brain, stimulating positivity. Something as simple as changing locations can benefit employees, whether it’s taking a meeting in another room, changing the desk position, or walking while on a call. A great suggestion is a walking group call where everyone in attendance is on the go (outdoors or indoors) as they chat, stretching their physical and mental muscles.
Every now and then, you can set up a Zoom dance party where people request songs, dance (camera on is optional), sing, or simply enjoy the music for a while. Not every second of the workday has to be serious, and this is a shared moment to be silly and human. Think of a virtual version of The Office’s “Cafe Disco” episode — it might start a little awkwardly, but people will let their guard down on their own terms, pulling out their best moves and a refreshed state of mind.
Consider people with different abilities when you propose these activities so everyone can participate, even if, for example, they use a wheelchair or are suffering from a physical injury.
Use poetry to merge creativity and content.
Sometimes, the biggest energy rush comes from an outpouring of sorts, when you’re hit with inspiration and spew out an endless string of ideas. Poetry helps people extract thoughts from the recesses of their mind in a completely free-flowing, non-judgmental form. It isn’t about sonnets and iambic pentameter — poetry can be as abstract and nonsensical as you like.
Try implementing a poetry session in the morning where people take a few minutes to free-hand. It could be a stream-of-consciousness ramble, a six-word response to a prompt, or a carefully structured poem. Like all poetry, some will be absurdist babble, while some could tangle into that person’s reality. Don’t force people to share this with the team unless they want to draw out its potential — to see whether any themes emerge from their internal monologue and how these can apply to what’s happening at the company.
If people respond well to these poetry sessions, you could organize regular online poetry slams or open mic events, giving people the space to experiment with their communication style, ultimately switching up how they process and deliver their creativity.
Jam through new concepts and connections with music.
Jazz musicians’ state of flow lets them access different parts of the brain and perform in a wholly fluid manner. Like any type of flow, it gains momentum as it progresses, but there are no expectations — it’s purely reactionary.
When it comes to meetings, use music to insert energy into silences. You could curate a playlist for when you’re waiting for people to join or when people are reflecting on a certain topic. This music can help people relax or carry them into a pensive state. You could also propose a shared playlist, where people add songs based on their mood or recommendations. Music has an innate ability to connect people and allow them to share a part of themselves. And because music should be universal, be conscious of anyone with hearing impairments and offer them tools, such as transcriptions, music visualizers, or specific-frequency songs.
The arts have an important place in business. They’re not just fun for fun’s sake — they allow employees to channel thoughts and pent-up emotions into something constructive. Especially for remote teams that are at risk of feeling bored and uninspired, artistic activities unite people while they feel out new flows. Try out these artistically inspired techniques to see if they help your team tap into their creativity.