In a meeting with a client recently, she told us that she had been trying to get the help of a senior engineer on a critical new product. She found that if she timed her morning coffee break just right, she could get 5-10 minutes with the senior engineer every couple of weeks. This is exactly why innovative companies like Uber, SurveyMonkey, and airbnb have opened offices with the freedom to work where you want.
Isolation will kill innovation and collaboration!
How important is physical environment to getting your team to collaborate and innovate? Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg, co-author of Innovation as Usual, says that the right physical environment can make a big difference in stimulating ideas and therefore innovation. Wedell-Wedellsborg’s key point is that innovative behavior is driven by both “who they are and where they are.”
The challenge for most organizations is that over 79% of the workforce is working on a virtual team. Our innovation partners may not even be in the same country let alone the same building or campus. How can we create innovative virtual environments for our virtual teams that mirror our physical environments? Here are some ways to create virtual environments that promote collaboration.
Create opportunities for spontaneous interchange.
Remember our how our client was meeting the engineer in the break room? Think about having everyone logged into Skype (or your app of choice) during work hours so you can virtually knock on their door to bounce an idea around. Try some things like a “virtual lunch room.” Encourage people to come by for lunch. Let people know you are there and keep your Webcam and speakers on. Make it easy for your virtual team to find opportunities for spontaneous idea sharing.
Create spaces that promote exchange of ideas.
This can be as simple as a virtual conference room that is always available or assigned to a specific virtual team. This can be that virtual “quiet place” for thinking we all crave when ideating or the raucous discussion hub for an innovative new idea! Leave a “virtual” whiteboard open in the room. Have people develop their ideas and leave them visible for more collaboration at a later date.
Start small and experiment.
Initially, keep your virtual tools simple and start small. You can’t determine in advance how people are going to innovate. Use the virtual platform you already have fully and well. Use meeting rooms, Webcams, chat apps, IM and others. There are a lot of feature rich and dynamic apps out there to create virtual collaboration spaces. Be aware that the one you think is fantastic might have no value to another virtual team member. Promote everything as an experiment and people might be willing to try something new.
Collaborate with your team on the virtual environment.
Don’t dictate - collaborate. Build team consensus on virtual collaboration tools to make sure they are put to use.
Encouraging innovation in your virtual teams goes beyond your team meetings and updates. Your team needs access to a virtual office that promotes spontaneous interactions, exposure to new ideas, and frequent access to team members. By developing a virtual environment that offers the creative “where you are” for your team, you’ll be fostering the innovative behavior you want.
Register for our Free Webinar on February 10, 2016 in partnership with MeetingOne or watch the recording later.
Bridge the Distance: Addressing Challenges of Virtual Teams
We’ve all heard that distance makes the heart grow fonder. We know that isn’t always true. Working virtually can make you lose connection not only to the deliverables you are responsible for, but to the people that make it happen.
Join evoke virtual and MeetingOne on February 10th to learn how to bridge the “virtual distance” when managing a global team!
Click here to take the Virtual Team Leader Survey. It will make you think about what is important.