Why Your Remote Team Sucks and How to Hack It

You have a remote team. Congrats, your business is being run by the best you can get your hands on, no matter where they live. No relocation fees, no office clock-ins and outs. But with this newfound luxury for businesses comes twists, turns, and downsides.

The #1 downside? Making everyone work well together, when the closest thing you have to personal contact and collaboration is a video conference.

How do you get people to effectively collaborate on complex problems across timezones and continents? How do you get them to create new, unique solutions? And not just create these solutions, but do it on demand, within budget, on a deadline? Sounds like some kind of utopia. If you manage a remote team, you know what I mean.

The issue is that many organizations, between all the important day-to-day activities, forget that great creative teams aren’t an accident. They’re the result of careful design.

Creativity isn’t magic, it’s a process — a process that a project manager, operations manager, or the founder should design, implement, and maintain, whether your team is all in the same building or all across the globe.

Basecamp, 10UP, Upworthy, Zapier are just a few examples of successful remote creative teams. If you do some research about how these companies treat their creative process, team culture, and HR, you’ll see that their success is no accident.

You have to optimize your organization to maximize high value activity and minimize all the fluff in between. If your bread and butter is generating ideas and making unique stuff that people love, your organizational design should support the creative process.

9 Things Killing Your Team’s Creativity

Oddly enough, most remote organizations shoot themselves in the foot, whether they’re aware of it or not. Things that we think are necessary to keep projects running smoothly can kill the creative process before you know it.

If you manage a team, especially a remote team, I bet you’ll find yourself guilty of at least a few of these.

  1. Stifling the definition of billable time, leading to inability of your team members to bill for “thinking time,” which is the biggest part of creating anything worth your company’s money
  2. Overly invasive time tracking software that will give anyone an anxiety attack
  3. Rushed and poorly planned projects, stemming from inexperienced project managers and/ or inadequate goals set by executive teams
  4. Project briefs that want a creative solution yet leave no room for any creativity — any designer knows this issue all too well
  5. Poor, inconsistent, or nonexistent feedback loops
  6. Poor, inconsistent, or nonexistent collaboration between creative team members
  7. Poor, inconsistent or nonexistent reward systems, which leads to low motivation, hence no creativity
  8. No vacation time, no days off, no wellness programs in place (yeah, believe it or not, this “pro” to having your team be remote is probably more of a “con” in the long run)
  9. Teams are expected to be “on” at all times, which leads to constant distractions and breaks the flow state

4 Creativity Types Your Team Needs

Why are these things so bad for creative teams? Science has an explanation.

Here’s a little glimpse of how creativity works. In 2004, Anne Dietrich wrote a paper about the 4 types of creativity we’re all capable of, based on the 4 different neural circuits we all experience when involved in a creative process.

Each creativity type requires specific conditions to be true in order for the magic to happen. Hint: the nine behaviors mentioned above prevent the creative process from happening. We can’t control the cognitive processes happening in our consciousness (or in our employee’s brains), but we can manipulate the conditions of our work to maximize our creative output.

Deliberate and Cognitive Creativity

Deliberate and Cognitive Creativity needs a high degree of knowledge and plenty of time to happen. It’s the type of creativity that’s necessary to approach complex problems and methodically find best solutions. It’s also the type of creativity you’ll need in order to reverse engineer and improve any process or product, or to outsmart your competitors with a better marketing strategy.

Deliberate and Emotional Creativity

Deliberate and Emotional Creativity doesn’t require as much specific knowledge. It does require lots of emotional intelligence, empathy, and time. When you’re researching your prospect and looking for better ways to build rapport, you’re flexing your deliberate and emotional creativity muscles. Other situations where you might need to apply deliberate and emotional creativity to achieve best results are customer relationship management, building a great team culture, retaining best talent, or nurturing long-lasting partnerships within your industry. In other words, any goal that requires you to build strategic relationships.

Spontaneous and Cognitive Creativity

Spontaneous and Cognitive Creativity is responsible for those moments when we suddenly think of a solution to a problem without really sitting down to work on that problem. Maybe you’re out partying, or you’re on a run, in the shower, or you’re talking to someone and suddenly realize that you know exactly what to do. The key to spontaneous cognitive creativity is that, while it requires you to have sufficient knowledge to solve the problem, it requires lots of time away from work to spark the creative process. You need time off. You need vacations. You need to be involved in various activities outside of your office (whatever your work setup looks like) to achieve best results.

Spontaneous and Emotional Creativity

Spontaneous and Emotional Creativity is the only type of creativity that happens by accident. At least, that’s how it seems at first glance. There’s no way to design for it, aside from generally building an open-minded, supportive organization that will value and prioritize all kinds of creative thinking.

Your Next Steps

Depending on what you’re trying to create in your organization, you’ll be interested in optimizing your processes to maximize one or all of the above creativity types.

Do you see the pattern? Creativity requires distraction-free time, access to necessary knowledge and resources, enough days off and vacation time, high levels of collaboration and trust, as well as emotional intelligence.

The key to building a rockstar creative team is approaching your team composition, organizational design, and project management processes with a clear strategy in mind.

What is your unique selling proposition as a business? What activities are core to delivering on your USP to customers? Are you optimizing your processes to prioritize and optimize your core activities?

If the answer to the last question is no, go back to the drawing board and rethink the way you manage your workflow and team policies.


If you want to learn more about how to optimize your team for maximum creativity and efficiency, stay tuned for my next article where I’ll talk about specific tools and strategies you can use to collaborate better, build in effective reward systems, increase motivation, and create more value as a business. 💚

I’m passionate about helping companies prepare themselves for the Future Of Work. Learn more about how I do that at www.nadiasotnikova.com 🚀