We all know the stereotypes: Formal attire, tedious time sheets, cookie-cutter resumes and beige office furniture add up to the staid environment of many traditional firms across many sectors. They’re filled with brilliant employees who have a technical mastery of their field, but creativity rarely enters the conversation.

However, creativity has never been more important for companies today. We need to invest in creative skills that make office cultures more collaborative, strengthen our talent development processes and help us stand out. At our law firm, we went on our own journey to make sure creativity plays a more central role in everything that we do. Here is how we went about it:

It All Starts With Culture

Firms today need to encourage collaboration and self-improvement more than ever. COVID-19 has shone a bright spotlight on the strain of corporate culture, as teams are forced to find new, remote ways to balance much-needed personal time with steady workloads. Life in quarantine often feels stale, so it’s essential to foster a constant attitude of curiosity and self-improvement, rather than making every day on the job a draining to-do list.

While it can be easy to check the employee mental health box by encouraging a creative hobby outside of work, these efforts often fall behind day-to-day responsibilities. The key to levelling up a firm’s culture and employee well-being is weaving creativity directly into the work experience. We pride ourselves on being much more than a law firm — indeed, the law firm of the future — and we know that creativity needs to be at the core of the job.

Most law firm employees plan to continue working remotely through 2020 and potentially into 2021, so subscribing to online learning platforms is a great place to start. It is important to show genuine care for each employee’s personal growth, as happier, fulfilled workers will make more impactful contributions to the firm in the long run.

Collaboration and open communication naturally blossom when employees explore creative pursuits together. What may begin with the thrill of sharing art projects with one another could evolve into a more supportive environment for expressing ideas and sharing feedback. In an industry known for long hours and heavy workloads, this constant communication is crucial for helping remote teams (large or small) feel more connected and push the limits of what is possible in their day-to-day experience.

Taking a Creative Approach to Employee Development

Once creativity becomes part of the culture, firms have an opportunity to ingrain it into their internal talent development processes. Outside-the-box thinking enhances the work of every employee, and human resources (HR) teams should incorporate it into how they address work performance. Setting goals for typography or web design skills, for example, helps keep employees engaged and enables them to flex their creative muscle.

The first step is identifying the creative skills that the firm lacks and determining how they map to employees’ daily work. For example, if someone is finding it difficult to design in PowerPoint, seeing it as another canvas just like InDesign or Illustrator can ensure that he or she can also design within this more standard office system. The possibilities are endless — the critical part is looking at each employee individually and assessing which creative activities will best address their specific needs and complement their learning preferences.

No matter their role or creative interests, all employees are part of one company — one vision, one brand and one voice. Rather than clinging to values and characteristics of the past, the best firms embrace the creative makeup of their workforce. A firm with creativity at the heart of its operations makes each employee’s career path feel like a journey of personal growth and development, not just a predictable cycle of five- and 10-year milestones.

Creativity: The Key to Growth

In today’s competitive market, a technically brilliant legal counsel isn’t enough to win over prospective clients. How the firm presents itself is critical. Firms need to be creative about how they articulate why they are different and why they are more appealing than other firms. This differentiation isn’t something your marketing team can manufacture with modern design or flashy presentations. The only way for a firm to have creative ideas is to build a team of people who approach problems differently and with purpose and to foster a culture that genuinely promotes creativity. Doing so thoughtfully and intentionally will set your firm above the rest and ultimately, drive new business.

The legal profession isn’t one that people naturally associate with creatives. But after years of working at the world’s largest law firm, we’ve seen firsthand how it’s possible to make creative growth a part of every employee’s day-to-day experience. From the courtroom to the copy room, creativity is the glue that holds every great organization together.