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Apple, Googleand other companies requiring that employees working in the office most or all of their time say any time spent working remotely is suffocating innovation. According to the CEO of Apple Tim Cook“Innovation isn’t always a planned activity. It’s crossing paths throughout the day and pushing a idea that you just got. And you really need to be together to do that.”
Yet is it true? On the one hand, to research at MIT discovered that remote work weakens the transversality, the inter-crew “weak ties” that are the basis of the exchange of news ideas that tend to foster innovation. A study by Microsoft also found that remote work weakens innovation since workers communicate less with those who are not part of their own teams.
On the other hand, McKinsey to research points to a different conclusion. He found that in the more than two years of the pandemic, there were a record number of new patents in 150 global patent filing authorities. Moreover, in 2021, global venture capital more than doubled compared to 2020, increasing by 111%. McKinsey suggests it’s because more innovative companies have developed new ways to connect remote workers to build and sustain the cross-functional and cross-term connections necessary for innovation, thereby expanding the pools of minds that could generate new ideas. Deloitte likewise strong points how adapting the innovation process to remote environments offers the key to driving innovation for hybrid and remote teams.
My experienceHaving helped 21 organizations transition to hybrid and remote working demonstrates that innovation is entirely doable. But this requires adopt best practices that deal with the weakening of cross-functional connections and the lack of natural spontaneous interactions that engender innovation. Unfortunately, companies like Apple and Google have taken a traditionalist perspective on how to innovatewhich, ironically, stifles innovation.
A great innovation technique in hybrid and remote teams to replace random conversation in innovation lanes is to rely on collaborative software As Soft or Microsoft Teams. What you need to do is set up a specific channel in this software to facilitate the creativitythe spontaneity and collaboration behind serendipitous innovation, and inspire employees to use this channel.
For example, in a late-stage SaaS startup that used Microsoft Teams, each small team of six to eight people set up a team-specific channel for members to share innovative ideas relevant to the team’s work. ‘crew. Similarly, large business units have established idea channels applicable to the entire business unit. Then, when someone had an idea, they were encouraged to share that idea in the relevant channel.
We encouraged everyone to pay attention to notifications from this channel. Upon seeing a new post, if they found the idea relevant, they would respond with additional thoughts building on the initial idea. The answers would snowball, and good enough ideas would then lead to the next steps, often a reflection session.
This approach combines a native virtual format with people’s natural motivations to contribute, collaborate and claim credit. The initial idea poster and subsequent contributors are not motivated simply by the goal of advancing the team or business unit, although of course that is part of their goal. The initial poster is motivated by the possibility of sharing an idea that could be recognized as innovative, practical and useful enough to implement, with some revisions. Contributors, in turn, are driven by a natural desire to give advice, especially advice that is visible and helpful to others on their team, business unit, or even the organization as a whole.
This dynamic corresponds both to the different personalities of optimists and pessimists. You will find that the first ones will usually be the ones who post the initial ideas. Their strength is innovative and entrepreneurial thinking, but their flaw is being risk-blind to potential problems with the idea. In turn, the pessimists will massively serve to develop and improve the idea, pointing out its potential flaws and helping to fix them.
Remember to avoid undervaluing the contributions of the pessimists. It’s all too common to pay too much attention to initial ideas and over-reward optimists – and I say this as a die-hard optimist myself, who has 20 ideas before breakfast and thinks they’re all awesome! Through a combination of bitter personal experiences and research on optimism and pessimism, I learned the need to let pessimistic colleagues check and improve my ideas. My clients have also found a lot of benefit in placing a high value on Devil’s Advocate insights.
This is why you should both praise and reward not only the generators of innovative ideas but also the two to three people who contributed the most to improving and finalizing the idea. And that’s what the young company in the start-up phase did. Team or business unit leaders made sure to publicly recognize the contributions of the initial idea generators and idea enhancers, and also gave them a bonus commensurate with the value of their contributions. Indeed, many of these ideas ended up generating patent applications.
If this technique makes it possible to respond to the problem of spontaneous interactions, what about the weakening of interfunctional links? To help solve this problem, while improving the onboarding of newly hired staff, we asked the SaaS company to implement a hybrid and remote mentoring program.
The program involved several mentors. One was from the own team of recently hired staff. This mentor helped the mentee understand group dynamics, on-the-job learning and professional growth.
However, we have also included two mentors from other teams. One came from the same business unit as the junior staff, while another came from a separate business unit. The role of these two mentors was to integrate the new employee into the general culture of the company, to facilitate inter-team collaboration and to strengthen the “weak links” between the personnel of the company to promote collaboration.
Six months after these two interventions, the SaaS company reported a notable acceleration in innovation at all levels. The sectors dedicated to innovation have made it possible to bring out many new projects. Mentor-mentee relationships allowed mentees to offer a fresh and creative perspective on the company’s existing work, while mentors outside the team helped stimulate productive conversations within teams that fostered innovation and collaboration.
If a late-stage startup with 400 employees could adopt these techniques, so could Apple and Google. Certainly, some tasks can be done better in person, such as sensitive personal conversations, intense collaborative discussions, key decision-making and strategic conversations, and fun team-building events. Still, the more tasks you can perform remotely, the better. The future belongs to companies that can make the most of human resources around the world while minimizing the time lost in rush hour commutes. For this, it is necessary to adopt best practices for hybrid and remote workinginstead of being stuck in the past.