By Charndré Emma Kippie
When Covid-19 struck businesses two years ago, we witnessed the great shift to work-from-home (WFH) approaches. More recently, with the acceleration of technological interventions, we’ve seen an increased reliance on all things virtually, upgrading society to ‘work-from-anywhere’ (WFA). Despite positive outcomes in terms of health and safety measures and reducing real estate costs, these rapid transitions have raised much concern, as many feel these drastic, speedy developments are impacting the rate at which work gets done and the quality of goods and services.
A study published in the MIT Sloan Management Review indicates that remote and virtual work has the “potential to improve group creativity and ideation”. Here, a creativity boost and more room for collaboration is seen to make up for the decrease of in-person communication. Coincidingly, a research team led by Ben Laker (who is a professor at the University of Reading), has highlighted that within some progressive companies, the rate of innovation has in fact been accelerated, and this has led to enhanced outcomes for both customers and employees.
Ben Laker and his team also pointed out that of the pioneering companies they studied, a common thread emerged: adopting a philosophy of “employee and customer becoming one”.
With these observations in mind, how then do businesses work towards making sure they get the optimum level of creativity and innovation out of remote and virtual work approaches?
Here are a few suggestions:
Allow virtual meetings to boost contributions
It is commonly assumed that large teams bring more minds together to innovate. This is why in-person brainstorms and meetings are seen as highly engaging and productive, allowing for cross-talk conversation. However, remote work and virtual meetings put a better communication process in place, as it is more efficient when only one person talks at a time, whether it be via a Zoom one-on-one, or a large conference call. In the virtual setting, team members are actually forced to focus on individual input. This makes engagement a lot easier for participants who are usually less vocal to be heard and valuable ideas to come across.
Stick to a schedule
Having a virtual schedule that mimics the usual one colleagues would have if they were working in an office makes managing remote work less daunting. Thus, administering clear systems for engagement is vital. Here, regular team updates should be shared via discussion boards and even team Whatsapp groups, and face-to-face Teams or Zoom meetings will prove to be an essential life-line. and decisions are made using synchronous audio calls, not video meetings. In addition, time should be set aside for casual conversation that is not work-related to maintain a good relationship with your team members. e-Lunches or a check-in phone call could do wonders for boosting team spirit.
Encourage employees to foster strong customer relationships
Despite what many business owners may think, your employees should be able to provide quality customer experience from just about anywhere. Research has found that pioneering companies are able to combine the experience of the employee and customer. The truth is that having trust in your employees to maintain and grow significant customer relationships, and giving them this level of responsibility, enhances the likelihood for innovation and creative thinking to organically occur. Employees appreciate when their contributions are acknowledged, and this further motivates them and increases productivity.
Save ideas for a rainy day
Before the Covid-19 era, most in-person brainstorming sessions weren’t recorded. This becomes problematic when trying to recall previously scrapped ideas. Now, as a result of virtual work, these ideas can be saved for later. Virtual-collaboration, such as electronic whiteboards and chat windows can be screenshot or screen recorded. These records document brainstorm sessions and serve as ‘back ups’ – no idea, big or small, gets left behind. This nifty discovery makes it so easy to revisit overlooked ideas that may actually prove to be useful in the future.