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To stimulate and refine ideas for innovation, organizations have traditionally relied on the energy of face-to-face, copresent teams collaborating both formally and informally in meetings, cubicles, and corridors, and at watercoolers. The dynamic energy created by copresence is considered critical for embedding innovation into an organization’s workplace culture. But after the pandemic-driven mass exodus from the office and the transition to remote work, leaders need to understand how they can embed innovation in remote teams.
Early in the pandemic, of necessity, organizations emphasized business continuity and scaled up their existing capabilities to manage teams remotely. The seemingly insurmountable challenge — delivering results without copresent office-based teams — was met with surprising success. Productivity increased in many organizations; for example, Oracle improved productivity by 20% to close its monthly books within 24 hours for the first time.
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The prospect of a full return to the copresence of the traditional office is hardly imminent. Remote work is here to stay, and evidence of its benefits for productivity is undoubtedly good news. But top-line growth for long-term organizational success demands more than productivity; for continued innovation, it’s essential that opportunities for connection be embedded across the organization’s remote teams.
To understand how leaders can respond to this challenge, we interviewed senior executives at more than 20 global organizations across multiple industries, from born-digital firms to more traditional businesses. We uncovered two complementary principles of leading remote teams for innovation — connecting for collaboration and connecting for contradiction — both of which are essential to creating opportunities for innovation.
Connecting for Collaboration
To innovate, leaders need to be exposed to new ideas from every level of the organization and shepherd the most promising ones to success. Previously, copresence in the office or routine trips to remote offices enabled employees to form myriad personal relationships and to participate in spontaneous micro-engagements that supported each step of the innovation journey. Remote work, with its attendant physical distance and virtual communication, requires leaders to pursue innovation by purposely connecting themselves with individuals on a one-on-one basis — within their own remote teams; with the front line; and upward, to champion ideas and build support.
Connecting one-to-one. Innovating requires team members to collaborate, engage, and come forward with new ideas.