5 Mistakes That Could be Killing Your Creative Team’s Productivity


Creative teams need to run like well oiled machines. Not only do creatives need to keep the minds in tip-top shape to produce the best content possible, but their managers need to build an environment that fosters creativity. Research consistently shows that the little things can have a huge impact on productivity. We’ve written before about how coffee shops can be inspiring, but what are some things managers should avoid at all costs?

#1 Keeping the staff sedentary

If you take a look at the daily routines of some of history’s greatest minds, you’d be surprised how many of them allocated a good chunk of their time to  walking. Freud walked around Vienna every day at “terrific speed” and Beethoven carried a pencil and paper with him on his walks, should he be struck with sudden inspiration.

Of course, the science is there too. A study by San Francisco State University found this of participants who were given a creative task after sitting or walking:

100 percent came up with more creative ideas in one experiment, while 95 percent, 88 percent and 81 percent of the walker groups in the other experiments had more creative responses compared with when they were sitting.

It might seem a little sacrosanct to do what some may consider “nothing” in the middle of a work day, but managers who encourage their idea-strapped team members to go for a stroll might be thankful in the end.

#2 Not Enough Sunlight

Lack of natural sunlight isn’t just a productivity killer, it can also be bad for your health. It’s a unique challenge in places like New York, where space of any kind is a real premium.

As Psychology Today notes:

Compared to workers in offices without windows, those with windows in the workplace received 173 percent more white light exposure during work hours and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night. Workers without windows reported lower scores than their counterparts on quality of life measures related to physical problems and vitality. They also had poorer outcomes in measures of overall sleep quality, sleep efficiency, sleep disturbances and daytime dysfunction.

Those quality of life issues easily spill over to the workplace. Another study found that people with access to natural sunlight were more productive and alert at work.

#3 Spartan Design

We all love the sleek minimalist look, but a lack of greenery could be hurting your team’s productivity by as much as 15%. As The Guardian writes,

Dr Chris Knight from Exeter University and his fellow psychologists, who have been studying the issue for 10 years, concluded that employees were 15% more productive when “lean” workplaces are filled with just a few houseplants, as employees who actively engage with their surroundings are better workers.

In one extreme example, an office had secured keyboards and staplers to the desk to ensure “tidy lines of sight.” By introducing just a few house plants per square meter, their employees began scoring better on memory retention and other performance tests. The researcher also hypothesized that other “clutter” like photographs could achieve a similar effect.


Altitude’s resident hipster window decal.

It’s incredible how our minds react so positively to plants and nature, another study at the University of Kansas found that spending time in the wild can boost creativity by 50%.

#4. Not Letting Them Goof Off (Just a Little)

It might be an instinctive response to swat the iPhone out of a procrastinating employee’s hands, but you might want to reconsider. As it turns out, microbreaks are a great, healthy way to deal with the stress of the work day and refocus your brain.

study at Kansas Study University found that most employees spent only 22 minutes a day using their smartphone for personal use. That’s not bad, considering many people work through lunch and stay late. Spending just one or two minutes to check Facebook, crush some candy or humiliate a coworker in Words with Friends can make the rest of your time more productive.

As the New York Times notes, the brain is like a muscle, and it needs rest to function at full capacity. Breaks shouldn’t be all one-minute phone breaks, the best kind involve movement, and a brief walk (see #1) to break up the work day can recharge your creative batteries.

5. Not Embracing the Unexpected

It’s easy to get into a routine. In fact, our brains are more or less programmed to operate that way. We’re creatures of habit. But a recent study suggests that being confronted with the unexpected might be exactly what you need to jump start the creative process.

In this study, participants were shown photos before being asked to create names for a pasta brand. Some of those participants were shown photos of people in their regular environment. Where would you expect to see an astronaut? Probably in space. But for the other group of participants, they were given photos of people in unexpected environments. Where would you probably not see an astronaut? The beach, or the arctic tundra, for instance. The ones who were shown picture that didn’t conform to their expectations were able to be more creative when later asked to produce pasta names.

But this benefit only happens for people who don’t mind when things don’t go according to plan. For people who hate when things don’t go exactly as expected, there was no increase in creativity.