If you believe the rumors, remote work is killing our creativity. It’s dulling our synapses, and holding us back from being our most innovative selves at work. It’s robbing us of our good ideas.
Except that’s not true — not by a long stretch. Because our creativity never went anywhere — it’s more that the rituals that we relied on to drive innovation before were built on the assumption that we need to be physically together to have new ideas and solve problems.
And those no longer work when we’re working remotely.
But instead of trying to make our old ways fit into new norms, we now need to focus on the ways that remote work can make us more creative. We need to create new rituals that redefine how we collaborate, share ideas, and explore new ways of thinking together beyond post-it notes or virtual brainstorming meetings. We need to shake up our environment to drive creativity, make time for it in our schedule, and optimize our routines around how we work best.
Because when we have the flexibility to work smarter and better, we have more time to focus on ourselves, and do the things that re-energize us and help us fuller lives. And when we’re able to rebuild our lives around work, we can see that our lives around work give us the fresh perspectives that drive true creativity.
In today’s episode, we zero in on how remote work and creativity intersect for Nino, Naida, and Cecile — and explore how each is rediscovering creativity on their own terms.
“Having more flexibility fuels my creativity.”
Nino Filiu, Developer at Toucan Toco, France
Nino has been making art since he was old enough to hold a crayon. But when it came to picking his future career track back in school, he didn’t choose art — he picked science instead. He figured the pay was better.
Up until he started working remotely, he was living a bit of a double life. By day, he was a software developer at a busy Parisian startup. By night, he stole back every moment he could to do something creative. It was an alter-ego of sorts.
“Kind of like Batman,” he jokes. “I always kept a clear separation between my creative mind and my technical mind — I found it really hard to have a dialogue between the two. And when I was working nine to five, it didn’t leave much time to meet with my creative friends — to create anything. I had to meet them in the evenings or on weekends. It wasn’t a productive way to be creative. We never finished anything.”
Much like Batman, Nino’s creativity after 5pm was lonelier, his process pared down, his art constrained to inked sketches on a page. But remote working has given him the time back to create on his own terms.
“It was really great to go from drawings that fit inside this,” he breaks off and motions to his sketchbook, “to things that were really physical and big. I have more flexibility during the day to meet creative people. Every time I showcase my work to someone, I get this instant feedback that motivates me to do more.”
Remote working has evolved Nino’s style beyond the borders of his sketchbook, because it allows him to meet creative new friends, and find fresh perspectives.
But it’s also intertwining his technical and creative personalities in new ways. Coding has become part of his art, as he layers algorithms with photography to create a clash of distorted colors and pixels. He has the flexibility to work on bigger projects, and exchange ideas with people — he’s just participated in a collaborative installation.
Nino’s creativity is dependent on his environment — he calls it “setting up a playground.” When he wants to draw, he assembles his art supplies in his room. If he wants to do some creative coding, he heads to a cafe.
“Timing and organization is more important,” he says. “I must have at least several hours in front of me where I have the freedom to be creative without being disturbed. And some days when I just know I’m going to do something different, it’s very important to set up the day so I get the most out of it.
“It's a whole different order of magnitude in terms of motivation,” he adds. “If you go to a 9-5 job everyday, you become convinced that you have to be something, pursue the same goals or progression as everyone else. But even just having the flexibility to work at a cafe instead of an office, you look around and see that life isn’t about that. This tiny change to how I work has made me much more flexible to take my art more seriously — it’s fueling my creativity.”
“Nothing is more annoying than a call in the middle of a great sentence.”
Naida Allen, Content Writer and Blogger, London
Naida never saw herself ending up in sales. She fell into a role at a busy London startup straight after university, because she was trying to — as she puts it — “get my act together”.
“I did enjoy it at first, but it was very emotionally taxing,” she says. “In sales, you have to have the personality, but also the strength to push yourself to overcome rejection. I was spending a lot of time having stressful conversations.”
Naida spent the majority of her time warming up new leads to part with cold, hard cash. But it wasn’t until she started doing the role remotely that she realized she didn’t enjoy it. Unmoored from the office, team in-jokes and restorative rants over a cup of tea with a colleague, Naida found that the parts of the job she enjoyed the most — “writing sales emails and marketing scripts, mainly,” she says — were things she wanted to do more of.
“At first, remote working was just a change in my routine. But when you take away the office vibe from a job like that, you don’t have much left. My mental health was feeling low. I was just... tired of it. My brain was telling me this felt wrong, and I believe that if something’s costing you your mental health, it’s too expensive.”
Naida quit. But she didn’t go back into sales — instead, she used her newfound mental freedom to tap into her creativity, and restart her career.
“I was writing a blog with a friend at the time. But after I quit, I did a few creative internships and started writing more. I was like, ‘oh my god, I’ve finally found my thing’. And then that creativity opened up.”
Naida’s creative process looks a little different to her sales pitch. She usually needs to get some energy out first, she says, to shake out the restlessness in her limbs. Then, she carefully arranges her schedule, carving out undisturbed blocks of time to be creative.
“I mute all notifications, I leave my phone in another room. I make sure that I write when I know no one will disturb me — so I block out two hours in my calendar around meetings. Nothing is more annoying than a call in the middle of a great sentence.”
When writer’s block strikes, Naida doesn’t force it. Instead, she gets up and takes a walk to refresh, has a chat with a friend, or listens to a podcast. She can do that, because she has the flexibility to own her time.
“I think remote working made me realize I needed a life change,” she says. “I have this new energy and ownership over my time and work. I went from feeling trapped to having so much more mental freedom to do a job I enjoy.”
“Remote work makes me better at my job.”
Cecile Bussy, Writer and Community Builder, London
Cecile says she feels at her most creative when she’s connecting with new people, and exploring new places. She’s been working remotely and meandering her way around Europe since 2017, after completing her degree in Vancouver.
“I've used my university education to travel and when I graduated from my Master's degree, I didn't want to stop,” she says. “I started to wonder if this kind of lifestyle would be possible for me.”
When the pandemic happened, Cecile was working as a journalist at a tech publication. She moved to Spain and Portugal when the UK went into lockdown — and when her company called her back, she realized that she wasn’t ready to box her world back in.
“They were ready to be back in the office in London again,” she says. “I wasn’t. I never really understood why we have to go to the same place every day — I can work from my laptop from anywhere. We don't need a physical space to be able to connect with people.”
A change of environment is the thing that drives Cecile. It ignites her creative process. It brews animated conversations and connections that lead to new ideas. It makes her a better writer. And that, she says, isn’t as easy when she’s tied down in one place doing the same thing every day.
“It’s a matter of changing your environment,” she says. “When you stay too long in your comfort zone, you do the same thing every day, you tend to create the same things."
She now travels slower and stays at least two months in one place. To keep her creative flow going, she switches work environments from her Airbnb to cafes to coworking spaces throughout the week.
"That’s why I like working remotely. I can travel, work in different places, and get new ideas. I can get inspired by eavesdropping in a cafe or have conversations about a similar topic with different people –– I always get different perspectives."
“That exchange of ideas, getting out of your comfort zone, discovering new places … It drives my creativity and fuels my writing. It makes me better at my job.”