Changes to the Way We Work from a Distance

The widespread outbreak of the pandemic has made remote work the new normal for most knowledge-based professionals globally. A large number of employees now express their preference to keep working remotely or in a hybrid arrangement, even as many employers contemplate resuming operations from the office. To better understand how remote work is changing the work landscape, remote working has become imperative.

Challenges with Telecommuting

Before the pandemic, most companies didn’t usually have remote workers. However, some prominent corporations like IBM and Yahoo had implemented a “remote first” policy, which they recently reversed, suggesting that employees work from the office more often, even if they are not assigned to a specific office.

Initially, companies aimed to “flatten the curve” during the pandemic, but they have now adopted long-term “social distancing” policies that have enabled knowledge workers, teams, and businesses to maintain their productivity levels while working remotely. This widespread experiment has effectively silenced any lingering doubts about remote work’s ability to increase productivity. Nonetheless, many senior managers still prefer working from an office setting when given a choice.

The survey showed a distinct preference for working in an office, with respondents pointing out the advantages of cultural diversity and the potential to enhance creativity. Although the organizational culture might vary, senior executives expressed concern about their widespread remote workforce feeling disconnected from the company in their absence.

It is natural for leaders to worry that having more remote workers could reduce the potential for spontaneous creativity. Conversations between employees from different departments – for instance, over coffee or at the water cooler – could lead to novel ideas and collaborations.

It makes sense to assume that before initiating a video call on platforms like Zoom or TeamSpeak, prior knowledge of the person is necessary rather than randomly selecting a name from a phone book. Collaborating with individuals outside of one’s immediate circle has the potential to unlock a range of opportunities, especially for engineers with expertise spanning across different areas of the company. Combining their knowledge and the skills of an expert from another division could lead to the creation of innovative ideas.

Considering the current competitive job market and the proven efficacy of remote work, is it truly essential for companies to invest in retraining their entire staff in the hopes of sparking the next big innovation through casual conversations?

You’re Already Innovating Remotely

There is a common assumption that remote workers cannot be creative. Nevertheless, many businesses already use remote collaboration to innovate along with external providers. Professional innovation labs offered by organizations like Works are available, and it’s probable that teams have established their own less formal versions of such spaces.

The advent of tools like Zoom’s integrated whiteboard and Miro, which provide virtual equivalents of using post-it notes on a whiteboard, illustrates the potential of a new era of collaborative technologies. Though technology on its own cannot foster creativity, numerous creative teams have developed effective remote collaboration techniques that could be adapted by larger organizations.

Creative Collaboration from a Distance

It may seem challenging to recreate the atmosphere of an in-person meeting, including whiteboards and close collaboration, in a remote environment. Nevertheless, with proper preparation, it’s possible to find creative solutions. One of the biggest hurdles is dealing with ‘video fatigue,’ whereby people tend to become drained more quickly when working through video compared to in-person. An effective approach to counter this is to use video for concentrated teamwork followed by a one or two-hour break with cameras off to allow for individual work.

The key to successful remote innovation seems to be maximizing the value that can be obtained from video conferences that last no longer than 120 minutes. Here are some suggestions to help you make the most of your time:

  • Read up on tips for making video conferences more productive.
  • Define the goals of the meeting beforehand.
  • Keep the meeting focused on the agenda items.
  • Distribute important information beforehand to participants.
  • Take breaks and avoid back-to-back video meetings.
  1. Think about creating cross-departmental innovation teams comprising of employees who are passionate about innovating. Recreate the informal conversations between different departments by inviting team members to participate in sessions outside their area of expertise.
  2. As a next step, it is recommended to offer a “pre-read” document that includes context and essential information for the session. Though not everyone may read it, if it’s concise, compelling, and states the estimated time of completion, it’s more probable that some individuals will.
  3. Make sure that facilitators are thoroughly prepared before leading the meeting. Rearrange the sequence of the ‘presentation’ and the group discussion. Step in when any individual starts to monopolize the group’s time with long-winded explanations. This can impede remote collaboration if one person dominates the discussion.
  4. Document group discussions in an open and transparent manner. One method is to share a blank document and take notes as the conversation develops; more advanced solutions could involve creating templates and spreadsheets that are filled out during the discussion. Visualizing progress can aid in maintaining motivation and efficiency within the team.
  5. Following the meeting, ensure everyone is aware of what occurred and what will happen next so that each person can see the outcomes of their efforts.

When preparing your session, consider the participants and ensure that they not only acquire new knowledge but also have a constructive experience. The ability to facilitate remote innovation may be cultivated by creating something valuable, engaging, and enjoyable. By investing extra effort into improving the experience of those in attendance, word will rapidly spread that remote innovation is not only feasible but also advantageous.

Although remote brainstorming may not be able to replicate the high-energy atmosphere of an in-person session, conducting a series of shorter sessions may prove effective in producing the same results. Creating “processing time” between sessions can be useful in advancing ideas that might have been overlooked during a full-day session. Additionally, taking advantage of remote sessions enables the invitation of external specialists and staff from diverse locations, without the time and cost concerns associated with travel and logistics.

Remote innovation can be a potent complement to an established innovation strategy, offering the same benefits as other approaches without any compromise.

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