The necessary shift to remote work has enacted a wave of optimism for corporate innovation.
A few weeks ago, tech leader IBM conducted a survey on how American employees are adapting to remote work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fifty-four percent of respondents want to keep remote work as their primary mode of work, and 70% would like it to at least be an option going forward.
These responses make sense. Employees have greater control over their physical and technological environment at home than they do at they office, and, as a result, report higher levels of productivity than in-office workers. On top of that, employers that encourage telework in some way or another report higher levels of employee retention, engagement, and overall satisfaction.
What does this all mean for employers, especially those with a renewed focus on their innovation program?
That is, of course, up to your organization and your innovation maturity, but in short: If you can make large-scale remote work happen in a short time, you can make innovation happen at a physical distance.
Let’s examine a few pros and cons of telecommuting and its effects on innovation for a better understanding.
Con: Quick decision making can’t effectively take place over teleconferences
Despite the the proliferation of workplace tech—from the onset with the Internet as a whole to now more versatile tools—connectivity and availability issues can slow down the decision making process.
Similarly, despite one of the pros to remote work that plays into employees’ overall well-being is a greater work-life balance, that might mean that employees are handling personal matters throughout “normal” working hours.
To these ends, simply setting some concrete time aside at least a day ahead can ensure all relevant employees are poised at their preferred mode of tech. That time should include some a few minutes’ worth for bumper in case of momentary hiccups.
Pro: Innovation happens with trust
One of the biggest pushbacks employers have historically had with remote work is the lack of oversight and potential lost productivity.
As mentioned above, productivity grows when engagement grows, and employee engagement has a direct correlation with overall job satisfaction.
Employers should ensure employees that they’re trusted to do the work wherever they’re working—and whenever they’re working.
When leaders focus on outcomes and trust their employees, remote work can boost innovation. We don’t have any formal policies on telecommuting because the practice is embedded in our core beliefs and exercised through agreements based on what helps both the business and employees. Many teams build in accountability by planning remote work periods in advance.“Does Remote Work Hinder Innovation?” Diane Gherson and Kirsty Russell, SHRM
Con: Not everyone has the same access to technology
In order for your organization to make innovative strides, however, there has to be a willingness to invest—resources, monetary or otherwise, and time—in order to reach your goals. That includes investing in technology whether that’s hardware or software, to ensure your employees can do their jobs effectively now and into the future.
Pro: Adapting new tech internally will set a precedent for adapting other tech
When your org invests in the tech necessary for remote work, you and your employees may start paying attention to other technological advancements that could bolster your innovative potential.
In health care, for example, systems are paying attention to how their competitors are leveraging pieces of innovative tech that they’re not. Law firms too are paying attention to outside industries to discover how they can be more agile.
Innovation isn’t a single act. It’s a cumulative effort from managers and especially your employees.
Enforcing long-term remote work policies might not entirely feasible, and perhaps having a combination of in-office workdays with remote workdays might be the strongest route.
But teleworking is having its moment, and your org’s innovative potential lies in how you leverage it for success.