New ideas are indispensable for any ambitious business, and many of these come from staff at the front line.
Investing in R&D is vital for many sectors, but it must run alongside encouraging staff to speak out and collaborate in an organic way. All companies need to tangibly listen to their workers and respond to staff feedback – whether it’s spontaneous or orchestrated.
Steve Jobs famously said: “Ideas don’t happen in the boardroom, they happen in corridors.” Can online intranet software replicate that organic flow of naturally occurring collaboration and spontaneous exchange of information?
Modern digital workplaces rely on the ability of staff to be highly mobile – often operating across large geographic swathes – or home-based and working remotely. Can the technology your staff rely on still stimulate innovation and problem-solving? Or is the isolation of remote working – and reliance on devices – a threat to outside-the-box thinking?
Diverse and distributed teams can mean greater innovation
No matter where – or how – your staff contribute to your business operations, they are still your secret weapon for formulating improvements and new concepts.
In fact, having staff who work away from the traditional office environment can be a real boost for innovation. Instead of being huddled together at HQ, staff are more likely to be moving amongst your target audience and picking up inspiration from being out in the field.
The digital age has also given businesses more opportunity to recruit from a wider talent pool, including those with family commitments or health issues who may not otherwise have been able to work within the constraints of the 9 to 5. This means greater diversity in skillsets and perspectives.
Consider too the decline of physical meetings. Many applaud that development, after spending far too many unproductive hours listening to colleagues pontificate and persist through complex agendas.
Working digitally could avoid this drain on time, passion, and creativity. Talking virtually can involve far more focused discussions, anywhere in the world, with no need for small talk. The minute you have an idea, you can jot it down and share it instantly with your team, without getting out diaries and trying to orchestrate face-time.
Is it harder to collect innovation?
On the other hand, remote working and telecommuting can make it harder to capture some of your team’s ideas and observations. Not least if any members of your workforce feel out of the loop or your fragmented teams rarely meet each other. This can make them less inclined to share their musings.
Truly open and inclusive collaboration requires trust. Every member of your team needs to feel comfortable that their contribution is welcomed by colleagues and line managers, at any time.
A lot of that comes down to giving remote workers a sense of belonging, and building a strong culture of involvement and recognition; no matter how dispersed your workforce is. Even the most far-flung team members should feel nurtured, which will make them want to contribute as much as possible to the overall vision of your business.
All team members should feel connected, wherever they work
Creating innovation cultures in digital workplaces
Professional intimacy, relationship development, and a free exchange of ideas can be reproduced in digital workplaces. Much of this relies on the twin pillars of high-functioning intranet software and regular physical gatherings.
Both virtual and real connections should encourage your staff to find and communicate original thoughts and insights. They should also offer clear recognition and rewards for willingness to innovate, even when the suggestions don’t result in actions.
This should also run alongside transparency. Decision makers need to show teams that their views and remarks are welcomed and will always receive a positive response. Don’t forget to recognise your staff if their idea results in a tangible change too – however small.
Recognise staff whose ideas result in real business change
Learning and awareness to grow innovation
Some companies dedicate time each week to personal development and expanding business understanding. This can take the form of e-learning, training, and software-based business exercises, to expand awareness and create ‘idea hot beds’.
Sharing and discussing what your team have learnt on your corporate social network will further nurture innovation.
One of the glorious things about digital working is that it creates an end-to-end flow of information and ideas. Far from bombarding staff with information overload, make insights and updates widely available to support experimentation, facilitate speedier decision making, and create a more fertile learning environment.