One of my favourite studies is called Having a Creative Day. It tracked the day-to-day lives of 62 entrepreneurs to see how big the differences were between the most and least creative.
The finding? The differences in day-to-day creativity for a single entrepreneur was three times greater than the difference between entrepreneurs.
It didn’t matter which of the 62 you were, if you were in the right conditions, you could, and would, be both creative and productive.
In that case, the question then becomes how to find the right conditions.
Until a few years ago, that question was simple. For the vast majority of the time, there was only one default condition. You’d go into an office for five days a week.
But almost four years ago that blew up. The option set widened. And kicked off a period of experimentation we remain in today.
Whether it’s mandating several days a week in the office, eschewing collocation entirely, or building in a programme of annual meetups and retreats - what once was one, is now many.
And I can’t help but feel that no one’s yet got it quite right.
I think most founders can feel this. When it comes to performance the rev counter feels like it’s maxing out at 80%.
Right now only 10% of employees would describe themselves as “engaged with their work” - and in the last two years, 88% of UK employees have experienced burnout.
Something’s gone missing since the pandemic, and we’re struggling to get it back.
That isn’t due to talent - every year a whole new wave of brilliant people enter the labour market, better trained and smarter than ever.
But it’s clearer than ever that conditions matter.
So it’s no surprise founders of remote-first companies are relentlessly experimenting to find the conditions that deliver performance.
The first option that founders often explore is some sort of return-to-the office - the thinking being that giving their teams a break from home setups, plus getting them together, will give them that extra 20%.
This is more straightforward for big companies, who have the financial heft to keep on an office that’s often half-empty, and just eat the cost.
Plus if you’ve got to product-market-fit and you’re operating at scale, you have a bit more flex in the system to tolerate low performers.
But founders of early stage teams need to get creative: often using part-time offices or WeWork subs to ensure there’s a space they can use to casually get together each day.
That’s what offices are great for. It’s what they’ve always been great for.
But it doesn’t do anything to change what offices have always been bad for: focus.
On average we’re interrupted in the office every 11 minutes or so, and it can take 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption.
It’s no wonder that Bill Gates - who I imagine has a pretty great private office - still spends two weeks a year in a secluded cabin to focus on his most needle-moving work.
And if you’re at an earlier stage in your journey as a company, focus is all that matters.
I always love the line from Matt Lerner, founder of SYSTM that in the early days of any company, 90% of growth comes from 10% of the things you try.
So if you’re in the stages of building a company you need a lot of shots, and the closer you can get them on target (by thinking creatively, strategically, and intensely, before you shoot) the better.
As a result, most founders look for another option: the offsite.
Stepping out of the everyday and going somewhere new works.
It’s what writers and artists have been doing for centuries, and now has a pretty excellent weight of evidence behind it:
But team and company offsites are almost always compromised from the start. Why? A simple reason: you can’t get anything done with more than a handful of people.
Call it the two pizza rule, or whatever you want, but we’ve all been in meetings or projects with too many people since the beginning of our working lives.
Team and company offsites are the same. If you're a super small team, that's great, but otherwise when it comes to getting stuff done, they often don’t work.
Because the more people you invite, the more you need structure, which is patently not the best way to get creativity flowing.
That’s not how the world’s most creative people do things. The Beatles didn’t get together with an agenda every day - they turned up in the morning, and the rest was up for grabs.
The structure plus size problem also means you’re limited to talking about the work you plan to do as a team or a company, instead of actually doing the work.
And so when everyone returns back to their day to day, all too often the outcome is a set of unimplemented strategies and vision documents.
You might say that the value of offsites is purely a social one, replacing the drinks after work on a Thursday, and that alone is enough.
A three day period of enforced socialising is a one-size-fits all approach applied to employees that will usually have a diverse range of lives.
Asking your sales manager who’s a mother to a six month old to leave them for a week isn’t something we should be doing lightly.
And it’s something we should be able to justify to them in terms of how that time sacrifice is actually going to move the company forward.
So how can we fix work?
Think from first principles about what you want done, figure out the minimum number of people needed to do it, and give them the conditions needed to get it done.
And ultimately, if you do that, you’ll find that for many projects or decisions the best number of attendees for an offsite is one.
For the rest, a small team will do the job much better than a large one.
That’s where we come in.
Remote work stays for small teams and high leverage individuals. In the best possible spaces to think and work. For the builders, and the deciders.
Set up how you like it: whether it’s our best-in-class Ashore workspaces, gear for creating content, or whiteboards and Apple TVs to help you collaborate together.
Working in beautiful parts of the UK, with a guarantee that you know you’ll be able to use our locations to work productively, and never have to roll the dice again.
Execs, managers and employees can book a stay with us in about 60 seconds - so no need for an endless process of emails, calls, and shortlists.
We’ll be rolling out our Ashore for Teams programme over the coming weeks, and sharing some examples of people and companies who have made Ashore weeks an integral part of how they work.
And if you feel like it's time for your startup to make a change - then let’s talk.