Andy Haldane is the Bank of England's chief economist. In a speech he gave online to the Engaging Business Summit earlier in the year, he stated correctly that the pandemic had "re-shaped our working lives, our economic contributions and our well-being". He also said that creativity was a core skill because it fostered innovation, which in turn fuelled growth of the economy. Again, this is absolutely correct.

However, the main thrust of his argument was that working from home risked stifling creativity because it cut people off from new experiences. He said that the absence of face to face contact with colleagues in the flesh meant that "social capital" was being eroded while "creative sparks" were being "dampened".

Effectively, Mr. Haldane was encouraging everybody to return to the office environment at the earliest opportunity because working from home was having an adverse effect on their productive creativity.

In this respect, I believe that Mr. Haldane was incorrect in his assumption for a couple of reasons.

The workplace is not designed for creativity

In the summer of 2020, GENIUS YOU published a Creativity Study. In between 2015 and 2020, over 2000 surveys had been completed by individuals from 17 major international organisations across 10 different sectors. The survey helped people understand their creative strengths.

It also contained one open-ended question which asked respondents to comment on the state of creativity and innovation in their own company. A number of key themes emerged that represented obstacles to a creative workplace. "Time poverty" and the "burden of process overload" accounted for 23% of all responses. One response sums things up nicely: "Our biggest downfall within the business is not giving enough time to creative thinking. We need to put importance on thinking as much as doing. The team are constantly executing projects but spend little time crafting new ideas."

In his speech, Mr. Haldane also said: "But I also feel the loss of working relationships and external stimuli - the chance conversations, listening to very different people with very different lived experiences". In the GENIUS YOU study, two factors accounted for just over 40% of responses when it came to barriers to creativity. Firstly a lack of internal sharing and cross pollination, and secondly, an insufficient amount of time spent brainstorming in workshops. Those ‘chance conversations' that Mr. Haldane refers to appear to be as frequent as shooting stars in the night sky.

Many modern-day workplaces are not cut out for productive creativity and represent prison rather than paradise. If people are being encouraged to return to the same pre-Covid environment, this really will represent a missed opportunity to change things for the good.

At the very least, I believe that businesses should do two things simply to make the office environment more conducive to productive creativity:

A.    Process pruning. Take a good, hard look at all the processes in place and work out which ones really add value to the business. If they don't add sufficient value to merit a place at the corporate table, then prune back hard. It's unlikely that anybody is going to complain about not having to fill in a template or two.

B.    Space to breathe. The net effect of a hard process prune is that all of a sudden, the clutter will begin to clear away, and companies will start to enjoy a strong sense of catharsis. It will be that same feeling gardeners get when, as part of the autumn sweep, all the weeds are dug up, the lawn is given its final trim, and all the dead leaves are disposed of. The garden is given the equivalent of a short, back and sides and you are gifted with the space to create when spring returns.

Introvert versus extrovert, that is the question.

The second reason why a mandated automatic return to the office environment, five days a week, would be a bad move is that most offices are set up for extroverts.

During the last twenty years of my career as a management trainer, I have either worked for a small business or I have operated as an independent, running a small agency. I have been at my happiest, most productive, most creative when squirreled away in my home office, door shut, undisturbed. That's because, by nature, I am an introvert.

Self-confessed introverts like J.K Rowling and Barack Obama get their creative energies from the inside rather than the outside. Too much human contact acts as an extinguisher of creativity. On the other hand, extroverts like Margaret Thatcher, Muhammed Ali and Steve Jobs were energised by the presence of people around them. An overdose of isolation has the opposite effect. This is simply human nature. It took me a number of years, in fact most of my career, to discover this, but once discovered, I have guarded this right to solitude fiercely!

And although Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the world at large, I must confess, with a slightly guilty conscience, that I have never felt more energised or creatively productive. Imposed lockdowns have given me the perfect ‘get out of jail' card to remain in glorious isolation.

I think there are two things that businesses could do to make the workplace a more productive place for both introverts and extroverts alike:

C.    Make location a personal choice. It should really not be a question of working from home versus working in the office. Within reason, employees should be given the choice as to where and when they work, based on personal preferences. Or maybe insist on a 3 days at work, 2 days at home model. Or vice versa. Allow people to satisfy their introvert/extrovert needs and you will allow them all to flourish.

D.    Reconfigure the office environment. Let's be honest, most offices are designed with extroverts in mind. Plenty of open spaces and open plans, made for mingling and mixing. Assuming that a fair percentage of the population are more introverted by nature, let's introduce little cubby holes they can visit to produce their very best work, removed from the glare of others? Meeting rooms for one? Cubicles for two?

Both A. and B. above should be implemented for the sake of everybody returning to the office environment. C. and D simply recognise the fact that we are different animals requiring different kinds of habitats. If we get A, B, C and D right, everybody will more likely be productively creative and this will at least be one significant silver-lining to have emerged from the horrors of Covid-19.

Mark Simmonds is a creativity, insight and innovation expert and the founder of GENIUS YOU - a company which helps teams develop winning ideas by strengthening creative muscles