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Can your innovation team work from home and still produce results?

Posted 4 years ago

A move towards more flexible and remote work is seen by many as part of the silver lining in the COVID cloud. But what if your day to day work requires collaboration, ideation and brainstorming? Is it possible to have a productive innovation team, working remotely?

Fortunately, even before the pandemic, digitalisation was changing the very nature of the innovative process. Digital tools for collaboration, design and project management, combined with unprecedented access to customer data made innovation considerably more efficient. Cloud-based idea-management programs such as Brightidea enabled ideation to be captured from wherever people felt most inspired – in the office, on the couch, or even at the beach.

However, working remotely for an extended period differs from an occasional day working from home. There are some important factors for innovation team leaders to consider when managing from afar.

Check in every day

It’s not just managers who feel anxious about a lack of supervision. Employees may struggle with reduced access to managerial support. In some cases, employees may feel that remote innovation managers are out of touch with their projects and provide inadequate assistance. To prevent this, introduce structured daily check-ins (either individually or as a team) to provide a regular forum for information sharing and consultation. Encourage two-way feedback to understand each person’s level of comfort with working autonomously and adjust the frequency of communication accordingly.

Email is not enough

A hazard of remote working is the added time and effort needed to locate information from co-workers. It’s no longer possible to lean over and ask a colleague where a file is located or seek their input. Rather than bother colleagues with an email or phone call, employees may waste valuable time looking for the answer alone. Add dozens of these occurrences to each day, and frustration builds as productivity plummets.

Facilitate swift, efficient communication by introducing an individual messaging platform (like Slack or Microsoft Teams) to be used for simpler, less formal conversations, as well as time-sensitive communication. Keep information easily accessible online and maintain consistent file naming conventions. Establish protocols so your team know how best to reach each other, depending on the urgency of their enquiry.

Project management tools are now essential

Managing remote project work is harder than in-person. While you might be able to operate without a project management tool when your team is in the office, the same approach will not work remotely. Online tools like Trello, Monday or Asana help teams maintain productivity by holding members accountable and enabling managers to organize a project into smaller individual tasks. They also have the added benefit of being able to give instant updates on the progress of specific projects to other stakeholders as required.

Make time and space for collaboration

Traditional thought is that brainstorming and group ideation are better in a face-to-face environment. But these activities can work online, if structured correctly. Using video conferencing and incorporating collaboration tools such as Miro, participants can contribute through a variety of mediums (chat, notes, images, conversation) with the added benefit of being able to keep a record of the outputs from each collaboration. However, it is more important than ever to follow best practice for ideation facilitation. Follow a process, do the pre-work, make time for ice-breakers and employ a variety of ideation techniques. Some will work better than others in an online format.

Innovation can work remotely – it just takes some structure. If you would like some assistance reviewing your current innovation system and optimising for a remote team, contact us today.