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Innovation Still At Peak Despite Remote Working

Innovation Still At Peak Despite Remote Working
  • Remote working combines the best of both worlds: innovation and productivity
  • Video conferencing is the best platform to use to be creative with your employees
  • Managers must ensure employees are communicating correctly to get best out of them

Innovation is essential for sustained economic growth and prosperity. The successful exploitation of new ideas is crucial to a business being able to improve its efficiency, bring new and improved products and services to the market, and most importantly, improve its profitability.

Just take a look at Netflix, since its start in 1997, it has grown from a small start-up delivering mail order DVD’s to the world’s leading source of international film and TV streaming. In that time the company has broken down barriers, innovated the industry, and set the standard for others to follow.

Netflix disrupted Blockbuster with their innovation. One core part of their initial success was the fact that they piggybacked up-and-coming technologies, such as the adoption of DVDs, that were already disrupting existing markets (the good old-fashioned VCRs). Netflix created value in an innovative way that, at the time of launch, addressed a consumer group who was isolated from the core of the business industry.

With that in mind, experts Professor Bernd Irlenbusch and Marina Schroder from the University of Cologne say that it is important to be clear about the difference between invention and innovation. Invention is a new idea – for instance Blockbuster, but innovation is the commercial application and successful exploitation of the idea, which is what Netflix achieved.

Innovation relies heavily on people’s ability to bounce ideas off each other. With most businesses now operating with a workforce that is entirely remote and often miles away from each other, it leaves bosses with a new challenge: how to innovate whilst working from home?

Thankfully, research by Professors Irlenbusch and Schroder finds that remote working doesn’t need to affect innovation.

Their study found that video conferencing among team members can mitigate negative effects on innovation when employees work from home.

In fact, the researchers found that remote working can actually combine the best of both worlds. Firstly, an increase in productivity as most employees have less distractions, and secondly, a high level of usefulness as video conferencing allows employees to communicate as if they’re in the office.

“Previous research has shown that creative performance in significantly lower when there is no face-to-face communication, however, the national lockdowns have fostered the adoption of new technologies to conduct collaborative tasks when team members work from home,” says Professor Irlenbusch.

Their study compared face-to-face communication, video conferencing, and communicating over chat platforms such as Microsoft Teams, to see how remote working will affect creative performance. The results speak to the question of how organisations should design their communication during the COVID-19 pandemic – and possibly the future of work.

The findings revealed that communicating over ‘chat’ significantly reduced the usefulness of innovative ideas as well as the share of extremely innovative ideas often resulting in product breakthrough.

“Innovation is rarely an individual task, it often needs team collaboration, which can be effected greatly by the current circumstances of everyone working remotely,” says Professor Irlenbusch. “Organisations need to enable their employees to communicate with the right media to get the best out of them.”

Remote working has been met with mixed feelings, and some people do absolutely despise it. In an article in the New York Times, Roose argues that working from home is ‘overrated’ and that, “home-cooked lunches and no commuting while we deal with coronavirus can’t compensate for what’s lost in creativity.” But on the other hand, remote working has, in some cases, been considered very successful. According to a study from  Future Forum research the majority of workers never want to go back to the old way of working – in fact, they found that only 12 percent want to return to full-time office work, and 72 percent want a hybrid remote-office model moving forward.

And it seems that those in favour of remote working are in the majority. Spotify have announced remote-work options for all employees, while still maintaining their current salaries, and at Twitter, CEO Jack Dorsey sent an email to employees saying that workers who don’t have to work in an office to perform their job function can work remotely.

So, it looks like remote working is here to stay whether we like it or not, and the research has highlighted that it is more important than ever for managers to ensure the right communication methods are used between employees. If they don’t, then they could risk losing their creativity and innovation which can really affect that all important bottom line.

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