Advantages of Hybrid and Remote Teams

November 6, 2021

"I don't see how we can replace hallway conversations as a source of serendipitous innovation." Serendipitous interactions generate at least a third of our top innovation ideas, which then evolve into brainstorming sessions.

During the months of lockdowns, we've had nearly no such chance encounters. We'll lose our innovative competitive edge to competitors who do so and profit from serendipity if we don't return to the workplace full-time."

At his business's planning discussion on the post-vaccine return to office and the future of work, Saul, the Chief Product Officer of a 1,500-employee enterprise software company, told me that.

I was conducting the discussion as a consultant hired to assist the firm in determining its return to office and long-term employment arrangements. It was the sixth time I'd been asked to do anything like this. Over two-thirds of the executives in charge of the company's goods expressed some kind of worry, with Saul being the most outspoken.

So, what is the source of these challenges with innovation, and what can be done to address them? My experience assisting more than a dozen firms in making the transition to a post-vaccine office return gives valuable insights for any executives seeking a competitive edge in the future of work.

If they don't adhere to office-based innovation techniques, hybrid and even remote teams may acquire a significant innovation edge. Instead, hybrid and remote teams may outperform in-person teams in terms of creativity by implementing best practices for innovation in the return to the office and the future of work.

Returning to the office full-time jeopardizes an advantage in innovation

My reaction to Saul and the other leaders began with establishing a common goal: to maximize innovation in the most efficient and effective way possible. This overall purpose was agreed upon by all product leaders.

Then I looked at how these leaders attempted to innovate throughout the lockdowns. They all said they attempted to adapt their office-based methods to the new videoconferencing mode.

That is the crux of the issue. To adjust strategically to their new circumstances, none of them attempted to explore best practices in virtual innovation.

Instead, they attempted to force their office-based innovation processes on virtual labor. While reasonable in the early phases of the lockdowns, it may seem strange that they would continue to use the same office-based toolbox throughout the pandemic's many months. That is, in fact, what occurred.

As a result, as vaccinations were widely used, these executives advocated for a full-time in-office schedule, despite the apparent risks. After instance, even before the Delta variant's ascent, thorough polls of employee wishes for post-vaccine future work arrangements revealed that 25 to 35 percent favored entirely remote work.

As a result, 50-65 percent desired to return to work with a hybrid schedule that included one or two days on campus. Only 15 to 25% wanted to return to Monday through Friday 9-5 routines.

Those employee goals contrast sharply with the needs of product leaders, the vast majority of whom want to return to work full-time. According to pre-Delta surge polls, 40-55 percent expected to look for a new job if they did not receive their preferred working conditions.

Many have already quit as a result of their bosses' attempts to push them back to work. Of course, the Delta version will drive many more people to leave owing to concerns about outbreaks: new evidence suggests that decreasing vaccination immunity after 6 months reduces vaccine effectiveness against Delta to 39%.

It should go without saying that having a huge chunk of your personnel leave as part of the Great Resignation, which is pushed by coercive measures to bring them back to work, is not a good strategy to sustain an innovation edge. That's why, in the face of widespread employee pushback and resignations, Google reversed its aim to bring all workers back to campus and instead allowed many to work full-time remotely. For similar reasons, Amazon did the same.

Due to senior personnel departing, major damages to employee morale and engagement, and having to revise the foundations of their return to campus plans, these trillion-dollar corporations lost many billions via their self-defeating activities. If these top firms, with arguably the greatest leadership and rules, can muck up their return-to-office plans and jeopardize their innovation edge, it's no surprise that executives of smaller companies with fewer resources do the same.

Dangerous judgment errors in the future of work: what's stopping innovation best practices?

Because of severe judgment mistakes known as cognitive biases, many leaders fail to implement innovative best practices for the future of work. When analyzing possibilities, these mental blindspots, which frequently lead to wishful thinking, result in bad strategic and financial judgments.

They make leaders unable to resist following their instincts and personal preferences rather than depending on best practices when they return to work.

Many people wish they could go back in time to January 2020 and experience life before the epidemic. They succumb to the status quo bias, which is motivated by a desire to retain or restore what they perceive to be the proper situation and manner of doing things.

Their brains quiver at the prospect of embracing the pandemic's massive disruption to the existing quo, whether in terms of innovation or other areas of employment.

Unfortunately for them, the genie is out of the bottle now that so many individuals have successfully worked from home for so long. According to surveys, the great majority of people have adjusted successfully and intend to continue doing so for at least half of the work week after the outbreak.

The commotion occurred. Yet, in the opinion of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, many executives still see working from home as a "completely negative" circumstance.

The normality bias is another key cognitive bias that leads us to underestimate the likelihood and severity of disruptive occurrences. We severely underestimate big difficulties such as the Delta surge as a result of this risky judgment mistake.

Early in June, it was evident that the number of US Delta cases was beginning to climb. In May, there was also significant evidence that nations with high vaccination rates, such as the UK and Israel, were seeing an increase in cases.

It's not only about the Delta surge; it's about what Delta means for our future. New varieties develop on a regular basis, some of which seem to be much more hazardous than Delta.

Delta Plus, for example, is a newer variety that, when compared to Delta, has a mutation that allows the virus to escape our immune system more easily, reducing vaccination efficiency. It's already available in the United States and a number of other nations.

While executives would want to believe they are making data-driven choices, the evidence has clearly been neglected. They also can't claim they weren't notified about the increased COVID infection rate. Even though they are aware of the growing threat, they continue to advocate for a return to the conventional workplace layout.

Though the Delta variety may be a short-term problem, it is part of a long tail risk of additional waves caused by other variants. One of the main causes for CEOs being fired, according to research, is ignoring such harsh facts.

Another cognitive bias known as the ostrich effect is responsible for this denial. It is based on the legend of ostriches burying their heads in the sand when they are threatened.

Another flaw that creates chaos is the planning fallacy. It nudges leaders towards making optimistic but unrealistic objectives – for the workplace and elsewhere – and then refusing to change their minds despite fresh data showing them incorrect.

After all, retracting a choice implies that you were mistaken in the first place. Weak leaders are notorious for refusing to accept responsibility for their errors and ignoring the need to change course. Strong leaders, on the other hand, exhibit fortitude when fresh data indicates that a course correction is required.

To return to work effectively and prosper in the future of work, you'll need to utilize research-based best practices to overcome cognitive biases. It is a mostly hybrid strategy in which workers spend one to two days in the office while being able to work remotely as required.

If they are dependable and productive, a significant proportion of workers should be able to work full-time from home. By developing a culture, systems, and practices that promote remote work, that arrangement makes it easier for all employees to convert to full-time work from home if the need arises, like as during a variant spike.

This best-practice structure will provide a number of advantages, including improved creativity and collaboration, the retention of top people, and the development of a flexible business culture, systems, and procedures.

In-Person Idea Generation for a Competitive Advantage in Hybrid and Remote Teams Idea Generation through Coincidence
To address Saul's worries, I asked him what he did during the lockdowns to enable spontaneous interactions among the product team. He said he did everything he could think of: he encouraged team members to have such conversations; he organized team meetings in the hopes that members would have such conversations on the sidelines; and he even held regular videoconference happy hours with small breakout groups, aiming both to facilitate connection to company culture and to have members drop in and spark conversations about innovative ideas. Nothing seems to work!

At that moment, I commended him for going above and beyond what most leaders in his position attempted. However, I gently emphasized how all of his tactics essentially mirrored in-office procedures in a virtual setting. Trying to cram in-office culture into such a different setting resulted in an awkward fit, which isn't ideal for something as spontaneous and creative as accidental discovery.

Serendipitous idea generation in the virtual world

Instead of attempting to squeeze the square peg of in-office formats into the round hole of virtual collaboration, you should utilize a native virtual format to encourage serendipity in virtual environments. Aside from that, you'll need to tap into the underlying incentives that enable spontaneous innovation's inventiveness, spontaneity, and teamwork.

Idea generation serendipity comes through building a dedicated arena for it and motivating cooperation without pushing it in my work helping firms migrate to the future of work, whether for hybrid teams or full-time virtual teams. Setting up numerous venues dedicated to spontaneous discovery in whatever collaborative software the business was utilizing was a particularly effective technique.

Organizations that use Microsoft Teams, for example, would have each team create a channel for members to share innovative ideas relevant to the team's work; larger business units would create channels for ideas applicable to the entire business unit; and there would be a channel for ideas appropriate for the entire company. When someone has an idea, they should communicate it in the appropriate channel.

Everyone would be urged to pay heed to that channel's alerts. They would check out a new post if they saw one. If they felt it was interesting, they would react with more ideas that built on the original concept. Responses would snowball, and if there were enough excellent ideas, more formal idea nurturing and review would follow.

This strategy blends a native virtual format with people's inherent desires to participate, cooperate, and take credit. Even while it is part of their goal set, the first concept poster and future contributors aren't driven just by the desire to advance the team, business unit, and organization.

The first poster was inspired by the prospect of presenting a concept that may be acknowledged as sufficiently creative, practical, and valuable to execute with minor tweaks. Contributors, for their part, are driven by a natural desire to provide advise, particularly advice that is visible to and valuable to others in their team, business unit, or even the whole company.

This dynamic also works well with optimists and pessimists' contrasting personalities. You'll notice that the former are more likely to share early thoughts.

Their strength is imaginative and entrepreneurial thinking, but they have a fault in that they are risk-averse to the idea's possible flaws. Pessimists, on the other hand, will largely contribute to the development and improvement of the concept, pointing out possible weaknesses and assisting in their correction.

Keep in mind not to undervalue pessimists' efforts. It's all too usual to place too much emphasis on the first ideas and unnecessarily reward optimists — and I say this as someone who has 20 ideas before breakfast and believes they're all wonderful!

I've discovered the importance of letting pessimistic colleagues examine and enhance my ideas via a mix of personal unpleasant experience and study on optimism and pessimism. My customers have discovered that strongly respecting such devil's advocate opinions is also beneficial.

That is why you should recognize and reward not just the individuals who come up with novel ideas, but also the two or three people who contributed the most to enhancing and finishing the concept.

After I outlined these strategies for virtual serendipitous idea production, Saul responded, "I never thought of it that way." "While we're still forced to work entirely remotely, it's definitely worth experimenting with." If you're correct, I'll drop my objections to your idea of most employees being hybrid and a small percentage of them being completely remote."

He kept his promise, and over the following several weeks, until the third planning meeting, he performed some serious experimenting. His team was taken aback by how many new ideas they were able to generate utilizing this novel process. Their creative energy seemed to be yearning to be released, and this system g gave the means to do so.


If you want to obtain a competitive edge in the future of work, you must reject the temptation to use pre-pandemic innovation methods. Instead, research-based best practices for innovation in the return to work and future of work, such as serendipitous idea creation, should be used.

Your hybrid and remote teams will be able to acquire a genuine competitive edge in innovation as a result of this.

Thanks to Gleb Tsipursky at Business 2 Community whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.

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