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by Allie Cooper, Freelance tech writer

It’s hard enough to stay innovative under a traditional office setting, let alone when everyone’s working remotely. Although the current health crisis has undoubtedly put a wrench in business operations and employee morale, you can still champion innovation and keep your team creatively challenged while they work from home.

To this end, here are 4 tips to keep in mind when fostering innovation within a remote team.

4 tips remote innovation

1) Dial back on meetings

It can be tempting to hold more meetings as a way to keep everyone on the same page while working remotely, but this could work against you. Research reported by CNBC notes that the best time to schedule a meeting is on a Tuesday at about 2:30 PM, as this is early enough in the week to ensure that people are productive, and late enough in the afternoon to ensure everyone’s awake. Maxing out meetings at 45 minutes encourages participants to use their time wisely and lets them get back to work as soon as possible. Innovation doesn’t come from sitting in front of a screen every minute of the day – you need to encourage employees to move around and have ample time to themselves, too.

2) Communicate with customers…

The most successful companies are those that keep an ear to the ground and listen closely to what consumers actually need. Engagement has never been more important, for CPG and other industries, as the pandemic changes consumers’ behavior.  Increasingly, managers are taught to build digital communication plans that ultimately establish customer-focused engagement and ethics strategies. The rise of digital platforms for customer engagement has given consumers a greater voice now more than ever, and communication strategies must integrate such tools in order to gain timely, updated insights. This is why companies like Nike and PepsiCo have made customer connection a key part of marketing strategy. People’s spending habits are changing thanks to the rise in e-commerce sales and the need to stay at home, so paying close attention can help you and your team identify what problems to tackle next.

 

3) … And leverage those insights with an external innovation partner

Consumer insights are only as valuable as how they’re used. That’s where an open innovation strategy comes in handy. James Staten, VP Principal Analyst at Forrester Research and former GM of Microsoft Azure, has emphasized the importance of engaging consumers along with an external innovation partner to validate promising consumer insights and help drive R&D projects that act on those insights.

A competitive advantage that lasts post-pandemic will be conferred to those companies who he said redesigns business and innovation strategy by A) Engaging their customers, B) Engaging external innovation resources and C) Learning from them what technologies are the most fitting solutions, and how to integrate them. This partnership must be dynamic and long-term.

“The most innovative companies we see are engaging their ecosystem and third parties like… Xinova,” to confirm their own analysis while gaining valuable additional insights into their consumers, said Staten. “This allows companies to come up with a broader set of ideas and create opportunities to expand their market position and market presence, while using their partners’  expertise in emerging technologies to help verify and validate what technologies could best be applied to create this new value for the customers.”

4) Encourage innovative thinking

Last but not least, encourage innovative thinking as much as possible. Organizational science researcher Perry Geue found that prosocial actions and a positive work climate are the defining features of any successful business. If you’re working within a large operation, instruct managers to encourage innovative thinking in their own teams. Austin Kozman, R&D Sr. Director – External Innovation at PepsiCo, said he spots and encourages innovative thinking by challenging employees to find process hacks that make their own jobs more efficient. As Bill Gates has been famously quoted:

“I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” — Bill Gates

Remember to celebrate innovations both big and small, from interesting pitches to organizational edits made on the company spreadsheet. Aside from showing employees that their work doesn’t go unnoticed, constant encouragement builds up a culture where people are free to experiment and make mistakes. If you’re serious about championing innovation at work, it’s important to realize that making mistakes is actually a sign of progress.

Innovation isn’t something that comes overnight – it’s a muscle that you cultivate over time. The shift to remote work challenges employees to find creative ways to stay productive, and these tips help them rise to the occasion and build organizational innovation muscles that last well beyond the pandemic.

*****

Allie Cooper is a communications analyst interested in how tech can help people create meaningful work. When she’s not hunkering down writing code, she’s probably trying to paint or taking care of her (many) houseplants.

 

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