What it takes to be happy and creative at work

A man sitting at his desk with a stack of papers, and a woman standing at her desk in front of a computer monitor

At Dropbox we build products that help people get work done. We keep your documents in sync between devices, and we keep your team in sync no matter where they are or how they work. We believe that flexibility at work is an increasingly important value in the global economy. Why? Because we want people to be happy and creative in their jobs, and to be both, you need the ability to work the way that makes most sense to you.

At least, that was our intuition after spending years observing how people and teams work. Research plays a big part in how we design products and understand our customers so we commissioned a survey from Ipsos MORI on what we call “Collective Creativity” to explore what makes people feel happy with their jobs and able to be creative at work. Ipsos MORI surveyed 4,073 information workers online between 17th November 2015 and 18th January 2016 in the US, UK, France, Germany, Netherlands and Australia. The survey results showed some interesting things…

Creativity is not just for artists and designers. In a business context, creativity is the ability to create value within your organization. We wanted to find the relationship between flexibility at work, collaboration tools, creativity, and happiness. Does increasing flexibility at work—working from home, flex time, and no-meeting Wednesdays—increase people’s happiness? Does combining access to collaboration tools with flexibility also make people feel more creative?

The evidence from our global survey is very clear. The biggest distinction we found was between people who lack flexible working conditions or collaboration tools, and those that have both. Across all countries surveyed, the people with both are more likely (81%) than those with neither (62%) to be happy, and over twice as likely to feel creative in their work (65% vs 31% respectively). How quickly this cohort of flexible, collaborative workers is growing is the subject of future research, but it’s clear that they represent the leading edge of where the workplace is going.

A frowning man standing in a grey suit, and a smiling woman in jeans jumping in the air. Statistics: For "non-flexible and non-collaborative", 62% are happy in their job and 31% believe that their work allows them to be creative. For "flexible and collaborative," 81% are happy in their job, and 65% believe their work allows them to be creative.

Collective creativity is in fact a good description of what teams and businesses do: people work together to create value. But how can they create more value and be happier doing it? This is a critical question for business leaders and HR departments. Tech companies have been particularly progressive in adopting flexible working practices and collaboration tools because they understand the value they bring—especially in combination. What we see from this research is that this understanding is spreading among more and more industries. For example, in the US, 40% of all surveyed employees said they could occasionally work from home or from a location other than the office. This was a familiar pattern across all the countries surveyed. Such ‘flexible’ companies are not only poised for business success, but they will also attract and retain the best talent, broaden their diversity, and further a virtuous cycle.

The biggest myth that our survey explodes is the technological advantage of the millennial “digital natives.” Although younger workers see their older co-workers as slower to adopt new technologies, our data shows that adoption levels are quite even across age ranges. Older workers are just as likely to use as much technology as their younger peers. Younger workers are also more stressed out, anxious and frustrated by it than their older peers. For example, in the UK over a third (36% of Millennials (18–34) find using technology at work stressful compared to only a quarter of those aged 55+ (25%). This seemed counter-intuitive at first, but I can think of a reasonable explanation: “it just works” technologies like smart-phones, Dropbox, social networking, etc. have become completely ubiquitous in the personal lives of younger workers. But let’s face it, the software used to get work done in the office hasn’t historically met that same standard of simplicity. So perhaps when millennials in the office are confronted with a messy array of technologies that do not function seamlessly, stress levels increase? For workers who have been around a bit longer, technology has always been a work in progress! We’ll continue to do our best to bridge that gap.

As a product company, we listen to our customers. But we don’t limit our view just to people that use Dropbox. This kind of independent research helps us validate our direction and understand how companies in different industries and geographies are working together. Collaboration is an integral part of this global value chain and Dropbox is an integral part of how people around the world collaborate. Look for a forthcoming post from our Global VP of Revenue, Thomas Hansen, on how flexible collaboration is delivering value around the globe.