Remote working served a critical function in 2020 to help businesses continue to operate and technology supported this transition, allowing people to perform their roles from home. Even when we can return to the office, remote working looks set to continue as previous objections based on reduced productivity or poor tech just don’t stack up. What’s more, many people still won’t feel safe about returning to offices, especially in large cities.


With increasing reports of ‘Zoom fatigue’ and lacking spontaneity, this creates one of the challenges that is often raised by leaders working within creative organisations, such as architecture, marketing or designers: how can you lead creative people virtually and maintain creativity? We spoke to John McLachlan, an organisational psychologist, consultant and co-founder of Monkey Puzzle Training and Consultancy and co-author of Time Mastery; a number one best-selling book, and Real Leaders for the Real World – accessing his top considerations for leading creative people and how you can encourage creative thinking virtually.


Know their motivations

To be able to get the most out of creative people, you need to spend time understanding their motivations and behaviours. A typical internal motivator of creative talent is producing work of the highest standard, solving problems and fulfilling briefs to the letter. This is often fuelled by a want to compete with themselves, as well as other creative businesses, and can deliver a real creative ‘high’.


Knowing the individual motivation of your staff members will help you to get the most out of them. Some people are primarily motivated by financial reward and so offering this might generate increased yield, however for creatives this often not a primary motivator so is unlikely to create higher levels of creativity, although could contribute to retention. Instead, creative people are more likely to be motivated by working on projects that closely align with their values as these projects that contribute to the better of others and projects that allow them to showcase their talent.


Keep the individual motivators of creative people in mind when allocating tasks or taking on projects as this will contribute in generating the best work.


Company culture

Your culture also has a big impact upon how to get the most out of creative people. A working environment that has high levels of micro-management or bureaucracy can quickly inhibit creativity.  When working virtually there is a temptation for leaders to want to check in with teams multiple times a day to check they are working or gauge productivity, however daily on-screen interactions with colleagues are now widely recognised as detrimental to the overall well-being of the workforce and can halt creative thought processes. Zoom calls have become the go-to for meetings, but where possible and safe getting creative people together does wonders for idea generation.


Creative people are going to want to push the boundaries of innovation and leaders need to be promoting a culture that views failure as a learning experience and not penalise individuals for taking some considered risks. Be able to rise above the disappointment and manage the de-brief to ensure your team learns from any projects that don’t go to plan for the future.


Promoting wellbeing

When people are passionate and deeply invested within their work, they can become susceptible to stress. This ingrained desire to produce the best work possible and always competing with yourself can cause burnout as creatives overwork themselves and constantly seek perfection. If wellbeing and a positive workplace culture is a fundamental value, this should be reinforced virtually too through regular sessions that encourage laughter and conversations and celebrate achievements. This downtime can revitalise creative thought processes and some of the best ideas are actually spontaneous – when conversation is not purely centered around on the spot idea generation.


Everyone should be aware of the signs of burnout such as physical and mental exhaustion, increasing feelings of overwhelm, decreasing motivation for things you used to enjoy, increasing friction with colleagues and denial when asked about possibly unhealthy working patterns. Leaders play a pivotal role in raising awareness and encouraging everyone to prioritise sleep and other relationships too. This is to the benefit of the individuals, the team and the creative process.



Managing creative people specifically comes with unique challenges and some of these can be intensified with remote working. Spending time getting to know the individual motivations and working styles of your people will help to tap into how to get the most of their creativity. Investing in your workplace culture will establish a conducive environment for creativity that recognises the importance of prioritising wellbeing in the creative process. Following these steps will help you to get the most out of creative people virtually.