Is Remote Work Killing Creativity and Innovation? David Sable Shares His Thoughts

  • By digitaldiary
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  • on October 14, 2021

As originally published by David Sable on LinkedIn. Subscribe to the newsletter!

Last week I sat in a room with a few young entrepreneurs and brainstormed. It was the first time we had all been together, in person, ever. After an hour of incredible creative productivity….sharing ideas….building on them….evaluating and starting again….the unanimous decision was that it was exponentially empowering when compared to ZOOM, TEAMS, or GOOGLE MEET (for the duration to be lumped into ZOOM).

I emphasize that they were young to be clear that I did not skew the session with my ancient thinking, and mostly to call out the canard that all young folks want to work remotely, alone, from anywhere but an office, and in any way but face to face, so as not to suppress their personal productivity.

A second encounter.

This time with a young law partner in a prestigious firm who was lamenting the lack of personal contact with his other partners and the younger associates they were hiring.

He had the advantage of in-office workdays pre-covid. But, while briefs can be worked on productively remotely, nothing replaces the drop-in—quick question and discussion—with experienced older members of the firm. Not to mention the complete lack of personal integration that comes from meeting people, serendipitously, at the coffee machine where the currency of social information and cues are exchanged.


It’s time we stopped mixing personal productivity metrics, like counting lines of code, pages of text, minutes of curating, or whatever your KPIs are, with the harder-to-measure value of personal and group growth that fuels success and innovation. The first is short-term and seductive to bean counters….the latter longer-term and cherished by leaders and visionaries.

Yet, many companies are scared to ask employees to return, even for key events… Many employees are playing the card of, “I’m being recruited by a company in Maine who is happy for me to live in Hawaii.” Analysts, pundits, and opiners love leaning into the notion that offices as workplaces are dead and gone, never to be resurrected…Short-term thinking with long-term implications.


We need real leaders. People who lead by example and who understand that personal growth might seem an intangible value when measured against never having to come to work to be at work but is, in reality, the ultimate reward to strive for.

Here is my checklist, my 10 thoughts (so much for Charlton Heston) for leadership and work ethic in the time of plague:

  1. If you can go to restaurants, bars, and parties, you can find your way to an office. Be that person.
  2. Clearly, fear of Covid isn’t the real issue….Let’s be honest. If the problem is your workplace—politics, toxic environment, or a lack of respect—whatever it is, fix it. Be the catalyst for change, not the person Zooming in from the beach.
  3. Create a workplace that is warm, personalized, and ownable….not cold, impersonal, and ubiquitous….Even Starbucks is better than that. Advocate for your team….Make them want to come back and see each other. Do what you have to do, but make it work.
  4.  Make it easy for people to work from home. Make it crystal clear when you need them together in person.
  5. Stop pretending that ZOOM solves all problems….not even they believe that.
  6. Make personal growth a KPI for all….incentivize for it.
  7. Bring in-person serendipity back as a sought-after perk….dinners; brainstorms; coffee meets; walks in the park….ZOOM drinks don’t cut it
  8. Stop talking about productivity….focus on true personal success
  9. Stop knee jerking to threats….Build a team that gets it, wants to really make a difference, and not just work from elsewhere
  10. Don’t ever get complacent about the “New Normal”—there isn’t one….Be ready every day to pivot, evolve, adapt.

Work ethic is often conflated with hard work. Google or Bing (I owe a mention now and then) the term work ethic, and most of the quotes and articles will be about hard work….and we all know that. Work is hard—see my post on “I Work”. It’s true and obvious; leaders get that….but they also know that they have to inspire, think long term, set the standard for personal growth, and make sure that the conditions align…


“If you have built castles in the air; your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” —Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau was talking to us. We need to put our castles in the air. We can and must find new and better ways to work and interact. But the game will go to those who build the strongest foundations.

As I have written before, my bet is that the next big disruption (I hate that word) will come from a bunch of people sitting together around a table….and yes, no doubt they will have an army slaving away remotely, being paid for their personal productivity at its most basic.

Be a leader. Get that table going.

KNEE JERKERS take note….The age of the hybrid workplace is here, and some form of physical and virtual engagement is staying for the foreseeable future…

What’s your view?

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