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Is Innovation Doomed In A World Of Remote Work?

Is Innovation Doomed In A World Of Remote Work?

Innovation happens serendipitously, and many CEOs set up their offices for these collisions to happen naturally

Remote work is not the villain when it comes to innovation

Remote work offers employees the flexibility to choose their own working hours and work in their own comfortable space

When they made a sudden transition to remote work, most CEOs had the same concerns.

Will my teams collaborate with each other as well as they used to in the office?

Will they exchange ideas as fluidly as before?

Will my teams face a lack of productivity because of communication lags?

You may have confidence in your digital tools, but you are just now testing your digital culture. Will it be strong enough to keep up the progress you made in building innovative products?

Innovation happens serendipitously, and many CEOs set up their offices for these collisions to happen naturally. Getting a group of skilled people to gather in an office space and waiting for the magic to happen is the simplest way for organisations to collaborate and innovate.

But what happens in remote work? Employees may choose their own hours, leaving little overlap time. Conversations that would take a shoulder tap and five minutes in the office might take several hours or sometimes days while working remotely. Coffee breaks and brainstorming sessions are less frequent and productive.

Collaboration seemed so natural in an office setting, how can it be done as effortlessly in a remote environment? If you hastily switch to remote work overnight without a clear digital strategy, will the magic of innovation and collaboration disappear?

Innovation Doesn’t Die On Remote Teams

Remote work is not the villain when it comes to innovation. Just because teams are no longer working in the same space, doesn’t mean they can’t collaborate. Organisations like GitHub, Automattic,  Zapier and Stackoverflow are great examples of how entirely remote teams can still be extremely innovative.

In fact, remote work can actually enhance creativity and innovation.

Remote work offers employees the flexibility to choose their own working hours and work in their own comfortable space. This gives them the ability to roam and find answers in unexpected places. As long as they have access to the tools they need to record their thoughts and communicate with team members, remote workers can be primed for innovative thinking wherever they are.

Employees who are introverts often need an isolated space to work and be creative. Remote work brings forth a familiar comfy space with no one watching over the shoulder. Additionally, with online messaging applications, email, and other virtual tools, there is a degree of physical separation that may make them feel safer to express their ideas.

Extroverts who get their energy from being around others are suffering and craving more interaction with others. Sitting in a room by themselves for hours on end sounds more like a prison than productivity. But while the right set of tools and schedule isn’t a perfect replacement, it can be a great holdover until they can get back to being around others.

Success in a remote work setup is reliant on establishing the right digital culture. Your organisational culture has to complement the technology set in place to enable remote work in your organisation. GitLab’s remote manifesto is a perfect example of how to think deeply about digital culture.

An effective remote work strategy is the perfect blend of culture and technology. To ensure that your entire organization adopts the remote-first mindset along with you, you have to focus on developing a work culture that is inclusive of employees irrespective of where they are working from.

Building A Strong Collaborative Digital Culture

While working together in a physical office space, teams interact and collaborate fluidly. A physical office is something everyone is accustomed to and teams know how to function. But when it comes to remote work, you need something more. Some aspects of a physical office need to be rebuilt or at least renovated to fit in the remote work environment.

When employees don’t see each other daily, conversations happen only when absolutely necessary. A mere birthday celebration of a co-worker can build team spirit in the physical office while in remote work, even a birthday celebration requires extra effort. Team bonding has to be consciously built in a remote work setup. If you don’t work on building your digital culture, you will have disconnected teams with no collaboration. Without an effective channel for open communication, all you have is a bunch of skilled people waiting around for work to be assigned to them.

As a leader, here are some concrete ways you can start building a digital culture.

  • Create a set of guidelines on how to make the best out of remote work tools,
  • Start new traditions and celebrate small achievements virtually.
  • Find ways to make employees feel they are a crucial part of the organization.
  • Ensure those office meetings and bonding activities keep happening digitally.

For example, when Kissflow started working from home to practice social distancing, work anniversaries were celebrated on our internal collaboration channels with a virtual congratulations card signed by teammates. We still host an all-hands meet weekly, but now everyone logs in from home.

Remote Work — A Combination Of Technology And Culture

Technology and culture go hand in hand to successfully transition to remote work. Each one grows with the other. As you start to establish your culture, you’ll find a tool that fits it. But the tool will also shape your culture.

The transition to remote work is not something that can be accomplished overnight; it will take multiple iterations to get it right. By focusing on both culture and digital tools, you can watch your remote team be even more innovative than ever before!

Note: The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views held by Inc42, its creators or employees. Inc42 is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by guest bloggers.