Future of Tech

Why the future of innovation hinges on technology for team collaboration

Photo of Paul Sephton
May 31, 2019
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4 minutes

At a keynote speech this month in London, global advertising agency Iris Worldwide shared their outlook on innovation; particularly how it differs from everything else an organization does and how it calls for human-to-human collaboration as a key ingredient. The message was clear: innovation requires collaboration. Read on to find out how remote work is affecting office spaces, why there is a gap in perceptions of global connectedness and how technology will be crucial to fixing it.

Ben Essen, their Chief Strategy Officer, described innovation as neither a product nor the creation of a new technology solution. “Rather, it’s a process and distinct methodology that you turn to when you have a problem and you genuinely have no idea what the solution to that problem is.” What he went on to say is what really caught my attention. “At that point, when you have a certain problem, you need a different type of approach to solve it. There are multiple stakeholders you need to bring together, working in a collaborative way, trying things, failing, prototyping, working with consumers and then getting to a solution.”

It’s high time that we realize innovation processes are the kind in which it is essential to bring people together and it puts a spotlight on collaboration for almost every big innovation in the future. It also comes at a time where the landscape of collaboration and human interaction, both socially and in the business context, are in a state of flux. On the one hand, there’s the rapid increase of remote work and on the other, there’s the changing global nature of work places and business organizations in reaction to this and other forces.

Innovation processes are the kind in which it is essential to bring people together for almost every big outcome of innovation in the future

Looking at remote work, Forbes reported earlier this year, “as of 2018, remote work, telecommuting and workplace flexibility have officially become a global industry.” Matthew Hollingsworth, Director of Operations at We Work Remotely, has also said that remote work may even become the new norm. Productivity improvements aside, remote work has also proven to offer a lot of benefits and cost reductions to companies.

Designing the hybrid offices that we return to

Startups like Basecamp and Harvest are well known for hiring a lot of remote workers. But with this shift, company considerations are changing. Anitra St Hilaire, Director of Operations at Harvest, has spoken about the resulting benefits as companies realize the need for more diverse workforces and hire globally for diversity. However, a lot of her focus as a result has been on feedback, communication and inclusion with remote workers, and the need for a lot of open communication channels. “One of the things we’re doing now when we onboard someone, is seeing if people need specific tools to get the work they need to do done, such as a special computer, or if you need a set of headphones.”

“One of the things we’re doing now when we onboard someone, is seeing if people need specific tools to get the work they need to do done, such as a special computer, or if you need a set of headphones.”

Conversely, companies are adopting their own tech solutions and implementing strategies in their offices to make them flexible and more adaptive. Tying the two together, Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, told the New York Times that remote work and telecommuting is the only way companies will know “how to build workplaces and design work practices and decide what technology is needed for support.”

Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work Report brings to light a lot of the new challenges that come with remote working. With collaboration ranking in the top three challenges, it’s becoming clear that technology will be key for collaboration (and therefore innovation) in the working environment of tomorrow. But, there’s a gap between where most managers think we are compared to actual figures.

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Much like the paradoxes we have seen in our latest research, DHL’s 2018 Global Connectedness Index revealed a similar one in their research. While globalization reached an all-time high in 2017, we are at a point where we are interestingly both more globalized than ever before, but less globalized than most people think. Despite the fact that capital, information, people flows and shares of trade all increased noticeably for the first time since 2007, the study compared manager expectations with global depth measures to reveal that managers greatly overestimate our levels of globalization. The conclusion from this is that “companies and countries have far larger opportunities to benefit from global connectedness and more tools to manage its challenges than many decision-makers recognize.”

What we see is that while work is becoming far more remote and offices are adapting in turn, most managers think that there is a greater level of connectedness than there actually is. This corresponds with Buffer’s research where a lack of connectedness is reported as the greatest challenge remote workers are facing. While open offices might be here to stay, investing in the technology to enable remote work is top of mind for businesses and HR today. Not only will it be essential for the success of future innovation and team collaboration in business, it will also save businesses millions to intelligently configure their office spaces for collaboration and enhance connectivity with remote teams. Whether your teams are global or local, remote or centralized, and whatever form their collaboration takes place in, team collaboration is still a top requirement to keep businesses and teams united and purposeful, both now and in the future.

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