My firm, Centric Consulting, is in its 20th year of developing a thriving “office-optional” workforce, which has grown from just a handful of people to more than 1,000 employees in 13 cities in the U.S. and India. We’ve overcome many of the difficulties remote work presents, and have cultivated an innovative culture in the absence of face time.
The key? Remote innovation is something that can be planned for, managed and grown, much like every other aspect of remote work. Here’s how we keep innovation expanding, even when employees aren’t always working side-by-side:
Make Serendipitous Encounters Intentional
The right collaboration tools can create the same sort of opportune encounters that Apple and Pixar champion while also facilitating remote collaboration. Microsoft Teams and Slack, for example, provide an online space for people to talk about new ideas and track progress on innovation projects.
Start a Problems-to-Be-Solved Repository
Nothing triggers innovation like having a problem you’re itching to solve. That’s where a remote repository of problems comes in handy. The more people contribute to the repository, the better: Innovation requires a lot of ideas coming in from a variety of people.
Although you do want to collect as many ideas as possible, you also want to provide some guidelines to make sure those ideas align in some way to larger company goals or to real client or industry challenges. A repository can be a great tool for vetting which new ideas fit the bill.
A repository can also connect a firm’s natural innovators with employees who may not have an idea to offer but are strong problem-solvers and creative thinkers. Successful innovation efforts engage both types of people.
Institute A Virtual Innovation Lab
Too many organizations focus only on getting ideas, neglecting what comes next. If one of your employees has a concept they want to explore, do they know how to go about developing it?
Centric created its Virtual Innovation Lab to guide innovators as they explore their idea and see if it has legs. The lab acts as a collaboration portal and provides tools and resources for remote teams to work through the innovation lifecycle, helping them overcome major hurdles as they mature their concept and get it to the minimum viable product (MVP) stage.
Our virtual lab essentially provides a blueprint for rapid prototyping using agile development and human experience design principles, among other innovation frameworks. The goal is to help innovators quickly assess proof of concept and proof of value. This is important. If something works, that’s great, but is it feasible from an operational standpoint? Does it actually provide value to the end users or customers? Does it solve a real problem? If the answer is no to any of these questions, your innovator either needs to pivot or kill the project.
Be Deliberate About Forming Teams
While self-forming teams can work and come together easily when you’re in an office setting, in a virtual environment, team formation needs to be more deliberate. To do this, get to know your internal network and who has what skills, capabilities and passions. Use that knowledge to build teams that will mesh well and play off one another’s strengths. The goal is to virtually replicate the relationships and collaborative spirit that happen effortlessly in an office.