Innovation can flourish even when we work remotely

May 13 2020

Since as early as the 1980s futurists were making predictions about a remote working revolution; believing that by now most of us would be free to work from home, or that tiki bar in Tahiti, whichever took our fancy. Yet the reality in 2019, according to the ONS, was that only 30% of UK employees ever worked from home and just 5.1% mainly did so. Even in the sector most likely to have homeworking employees, information and communication, only 14% were mainly working from home and just over half (53%) having ever worked from home. Hardly revolutionary!

2020 has of course seen a dramatic, almost overnight, shift in the way we go about almost every area of our daily lives, not just work, and businesses have been forced into allowing employees to work remotely. They now do so in the most extreme way – isolated from their communities, many juggling childcare and home-schooling, whilst under a shadow of worry and fear.

Do we want to return to BAU?

Some employers will undoubtedly be keen to get back to ‘business as usual’. Some employees will be looking forward to that first day back with their colleagues; the excitement for which may quickly wear off after the first day parked on the motorway.

In our recent whitepaper, A New Ecosystem of Work, Talent Intuition predicts that COVID-19 will be a catalyst for permanent change on many fronts, but not least, remote working. The revolution is here to stay – and the benefits are unquestioned – increased productivity, access to wider pools of talent and savings on real estate being just some of them.

Will we risk losing innovation and spontaneous collaboration?

However, one regular argument against, and which indeed came up in our recent virtual breakfast panel, is the risk of a loss of innovation. That employees will miss out on the chance to spontaneously collaborate. When Melissa Meyers banned homeworking at Yahoo in 2013 the memo claimed that some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings”. But let us be completely honest – how many of your great innovations have genuinely come from a chat around the water cooler?

In the office environment we generally socialise with those whom we have established friendships – statistically those most like us – therefore if those casual discussions are even work related at all, they may well be ideas without much diversity of thought. Little good comes out of an echo chamber. What’s more, just because everyone is together, it does not mean that everyone is being heard.

Technology has shown itself capable of bridging much of the gap – colleagues can successfully collaborate over video meetings and chat applications. When we return to some normality, a remote culture does not need to mean that we never have literal face time with colleagues. Only that you would maximise time together with focused working groups.

Blue sky thinking needs blue sky!

Many companies have reported an increase in entrepreneurship from their employees during this extraordinary time. One might argue that in times of crisis we are forced to be creative in ways we might otherwise not be. But isn’t it just as likely that better work life balance and a less hectic lifestyle is leaving us space for those big ideas? We are definitely seeing that play out for ourselves here at Talent Intuition.

Since Archimedes allegorically shouted Eureka in his bath, many of our greatest ideas have come away from our desks, and in our moments of mindfulness wherever they may come: the gym, walking the dog, in the shower almost as if to truly achieve “blue sky thinking” one needs to see a bit of blue sky.

The new ecosystem of work is here to stay, rather than something to be feared it should be embraced, and its many benefits along with it. To read more about how we believe talent strategy will be reshaped by COVID-19, download a free copy of our white paper, A New Ecosystem of Work, here.