Many American workers have spent the past two years working remotely. Now 50% of employers say they want them to come back into the office. Scientific American says, “Fear of losing their innovative edge pushes many leaders to reject hybrid and virtual work arrangements.” But, in fact, the research shows just the opposite.
What’s Wrong with In-Office Innovation?
Why are we stuck on the idea that innovation can only happen in an office setting? Nation World News says, “Scientists and academic researchers have long worked with (remote) colleagues in other places.” It’s a good point; innovation can occur anywhere as long as you have the right tools in place to communicate your ideas.
Scientific American says that the problem is in the work models themselves, stating, “hybrid and remote teams can gain an innovation advantage and outcompete in-person teams by adopting best practices for innovation such as virtual brainstorming.” However, they caution that synchronous brainstorming models traditionally used in office settings may not work as well on a video conference.
Synchronous brainstorming occurs in the old in-office models where four to eight people sit down in a room to innovate together. This model has all kinds of problems, though. For example, “production blocking” can occur when an idea comes up that isn’t on-topic, and the group shuts down the thought.
Synchronous brainstorming sessions are a huge issue for introverts who find these noisy free-for-alls difficult. These employees think better in a quiet setting and have trouble adapting to brainstorming models. In a virtual model, it’s easier for these employees to withdraw from a virtual chat.
There’s plenty of research that shows these group processes just don’t work. Scientific American says, “traditional brainstorming is substantially worse for producing innovative ideas.” These processes may be good for bonding a team together but that’s about it. As a result, Scientific American suggests, “The failure to adapt strategically to their new circumstances threatened their capacity for innovation and their ability to retain employees.”
What Do Employees Want? Remote vs. Hybrid vs. In-Office
There’s one big problem for employers that are stuck in the traditional office mode requirement: Employee retention. Multiple data points show us that employees are saying one thing clearly: They want the flexibility to work-from-home. There’s even data that says they’ll quit their jobs to get it.
The Harvard Business School found that 81% of U.S. employees don’t want to go back to the office at all or would prefer a hybrid work model. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 52% of employees would work from home permanently if given the option by their employer.
That leaves employers two choices: Adapt or lose employees. Scientific American suggests the following workflow changes to keep innovation flowing no matter where your employee work:
- Generate initial suggestions and ideas via an online collaboration tools through chat (Slack, Twist or Chanty), project management software (Invision, Asana or Github). This should be anonymous to facilitate candor.
- Use a co-working video conference tools such as Microsoft teams or Zoom to add to or revise the ideas.
- The facilitator cleans up the ideas and sends them out to the team.
- Each participant (anonymously) comments on the ideas.
- Another co-working video conference can further hone the ideas, cleaning up and categorizing.
These steps adapt remote work to innovation in a way that establishes “the superiority of digital brainstorming over in-person brainstorming,” according to Scientific American. Even better, it allows your employees the job flexibility they want and need to remain engaged.
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