Remote work is here to stay. And despite two years of practice, many companies worry about what working remotely means for creativity, innovation, and culture—so to put those fears to rest, let’s look at how remote work opens the door to diverse perspectives, and gives businesses the flexibility to face larger changes.
Owning Remote Work Is Part of Innovation
Institutional inertia is one of the key challenges for any enterprise focused on staying innovative. The COVID-19 pandemic destroyed much of it in one stroke. Remote work challenged unquestioned assumptions and deep beliefs about productivity and collaboration. Many organizations are still flying the plane as they build it.
Companies are struggling with the logistical challenges of hybrid work. Once those are settled, the broader issues of retaining workers, reducing costs for office space, and changing management and working styles to suit new approaches and policies will come to the foreground.
What this means for each company depends heavily on their individual cultures, needs, and employees. Even the staidest organization will face these challenges, and developing innovation through remote work can help overcome them.
Sometimes, the Office Doesn’t Help
In-person interaction is seen as key to innovation, but the physical spaces employees collaborate in may be holding them back. It could be the structure of the office, like the widely loathed open plan. It could be the location of your office, or it could be as simple as a commute draining emotional energy and creativity, which forces team members to come in late or leave early.
The first step in acknowledging the power of remote work is to see that the physical environment and getting to and from it has an effect. Ask for clear, honest feedback about commuting, your physical space, and what remote work policies would help mitigate those issues while dealing with them in the long term.
Remote Work Helps You Keep Culture and Institutional Knowledge
Before remote work, if an elderly family member got sick or a spouse got a job they couldn’t pass up, employees had to find another position. Remote work has changed this equation and made it possible to keep agents and people with deep institutional knowledge.
Videoconferencing and other tools allow the kind of interaction needed to brainstorm and conceive of new approaches. Remote working tools permit access to resources that would typically be locked away in an office.
It also ensures continuity of creativity. If the person who conceived an idea is still around to answer questions, it helps make that idea better.
Remote Work Helps Retain Crucial Perspectives
When everyone has to be in the same place at the same time and follow the same dress code, it creates a box that not everyone fits into. The pandemic and remote work smashed those boxes, and they’re better left in pieces.
BIPOC workers, people living with disabilities, and women all benefit greatly from remote work. This is for an enormous range of reasons, though primarily because they’ve found it easier to be heard, easier to be present and contribute, and easier to be part of a workplace when they’re not being forced into it.
For innovation, this is crucial as the best innovation is driven by diverse perspectives. Remote work not only ensures that everyone on your team has the emotional tools they need for innovation; it helps them stay on your team.
Remote Work Puts Your Team In the Field
Common in any innovation process is an idea that works wonderfully in the lab, yet struggles in the field. With remote work, you have team members already in the field.
Take a retail organization: before remote work, it was unlikely these companies could get feedback from workers across their footprint on their operations. Now, remote workers can go to the stores, shop like any other customer, and compare notes about regional differences.
Being away from the office also allows a contrast between workplace attitudes and field ones. It’s no secret the further employees get from the home office, the more likely they are to act according to conditions in the field. Being away from the office helps fit this mindset into your innovation strategy.
Adapting To Remote Work Is the Beginning—Not the End
It’s common to treat the pandemic as a bump in the road for the workplace, but the opposite is true. The rising quit rate, for example, is a trend that predated the pandemic and is only gaining steam. Downtown office districts were facing problems before the pandemic hit, and those problems have only intensified since then.
On a social level, the pandemic has served as a vast scientific experiment. Data about carbon emissions, traffic, energy use, logistics, and much more has been collected and analyzed. As that work percolates into the real world, it’s going to inspire policies that make remote work more appealing to everyone.
This has led to some post-pandemic shocks. Office buildings are going into foreclosure, leaving tenants scrambling. Cities that launched pilot programs to increase walking and biking during the pandemic are expanding these programs and changing commuting options.
Remote work gives you the innovative capacity and redundancy to respond to these changes as they happen. It ensures there’s always a place to work and collaborate. It can take away the struggles of a long commute and help keep teams in contact.
Remote work isn’t the end of post-pandemic innovation. It’s the start as new changes unfold, markets shift, and workers reassess their priorities. An innovation platform can help your team collaborate, communicate, and share insight on these waves.