Is Working Remotely Impeding Digital Innovation?
Each month during the pandemic, Advanced Practices Council (APC) members converged via Zoom to share their experiences of leading in a remote working environment. In addition to the admission of personal weight gain (“the covid-19”), a consistent message was that their non-IT colleagues were open to working remotely despite previous resistance to doing so. Somehow APC members’ CEOs and peers in the C-suite were able to conduct their business and people throughout their organizations were able to meet with peers, partners, and customers via Zoom almost seamlessly. There was an overall feeling of succeeding and making progress despite pandemic limitations. So much so that as time passed and APC members heard positive feedback from staff about saving time and money while reconnecting in meaningful ways with family, most anticipated having at least some staff continue to work remotely post-pandemic in some form of hybrid environment.
Research I conducted for APC members on leading in a remote working environment supported their hybrid plans. Conducted in the fall of 2020, the research reported that the majority of IT executives, managers, and staff experienced benefits from remote work including increased productivity. I also identified some key challenges related to working remotely (e.g., having to work harder to ensure satisfactory communication among colleagues, spending more time searching for knowledge needed for work, experiencing a diminished sense of community, concern that remote workers will lose out to office colleagues).
However, it wasn’t until late April 2021, on an APC Zoom call, that another very concerning challenge was raised. The subject of the call was digital innovation, the highest priority topic among APC members on our most recent poll. While discussing conditions and actions needed to support digital innovation across the enterprise, one APC member noted that audio and video calls were very effective in solving specific issues, but weren’t being used for brainstorming opportunities to productize services, servitize products, and change business models enabled by current and emerging technology tools and practices. Such brainstorming sessions seem to need in-person contact. Is such contact necessary for digital innovation or do we need to change our mindset? Current technology options for remote communication make brainstorming possible. Will future options make it more possible?
In the meantime, the necessity of finding ways to identify future digital innovation opportunities is certain as industries are being reconfigured and some are disappearing due to technology and its accompanying capabilities.