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Why remote innovation is a key part of your leadership toolkit

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Innovation has become an integral part of the leadership toolkit; due to current global challenges this has rapidly accelerated to a new skillset which focuses on enabling remote innovation. Møller Institute Associate Adam Billing examines the value you can create, and discovers that rather than it being a ‘make do’ approach, remote innovation in fact creates new opportunities.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic began, businesses were facing vast levels of unprecedented change. With technological disruption accelerating shifts in consumer expectations, many organisations were struggling to keep up with constantly evolving demands.

And now that we’re living through this health crisis – and preparing for the world beyond it – innovation will be the key to staying competitive in a continually changing market.

Based on our experience navigating this crisis ourselves, and helping businesses around the world use virtual design thinking to creatively solve the challenges they have faced, here are four reasons remote innovation is a key part of the leadership toolkit.

1. Virtual working is here to stay

Before the pandemic, organisations were already becoming more networked, with colleagues and partners based around the world, connected through technology.

All signs indicate that the residual impact of Covid-19 is going to be a much more blended mix of in-person and virtual interaction. Virtual working is proving to be a viable and, in many cases, preferable way of conducting business, so lots of organisations will never entirely return to their old ways.

It’s vital that, no matter where people are, leaders have the knowledge and skills they need to empower teams to innovate. Not only can the process prove quicker, it can also lead to better results.

In our experience running remote projects and workshops, we have found that outcomes benefit from a blend of synchronous and asynchronous work. Enabling people to work in groups and individually gives everyone time to reflect, and it also makes sure all members of the team have an equal voice, regardless of creative style.

We have also observed in many cases that teams have greater focus when they work in shorter chunks of time (not five-day marathons) and that ideas and prototypes generated with digital tools are more convincing sooner – making sharing, iterating and getting buy-in easier.

2. Your teams will spot opportunities and threats faster

Innovation skills aren’t just something teams apply to innovation projects; they influence all their decisions and behaviours. When teams know how to interact with customers and colleagues with empathy, brainstorm new ideas effectively, and quickly prototype and test their best suggestions, innovation becomes a natural part of their day-to-day working process.

When remote, teams can engage with customers quickly and easily – whether through a call, virtual focus group, or survey. This makes everybody more attuned to changing customer needs, and able to spot opportunities – and threats – before they arise.

3. It’s time to think differently about who can be involved in the innovation process

The world is waking up to how remote working can fuel an entirely different approach to making innovation happen in organisations.

For example, when you’re working remotely, you don’t need a specific innovation team. You can bring any colleague from across the organisation – and any stakeholder from outside of the organisation – into a remote innovation project as and when you wish. You don’t have to limit ideation to people with ‘innovation’ in their job description. You can get fast feedback from your customers by sharing prototypes you have developed with them online.

When leaders realise how easily they can engage their whole organisation – and their customers – in innovation, it becomes a much more inclusive and powerful process than ever before.

4. It’s up to you to empower teams to shift from delivering to innovating

Business as usual ‘remote working’ and ‘remote innovation’ aren’t the same thing – they follow very different rules. When you ask someone to stop delivering and start imagining and experimenting, you’re asking them to work differently, and to produce outcomes that will have different metrics from their operational work.

It’s a leader’s role to empower people to throw themselves into innovation work, secure in the knowledge that its purpose and values are truly understood by those in charge.

Because when leaders don’t do this, teams don’t feel confident to put their innovation skills to work and generate the kind of ideas that could really take your business forward. Half-hearted engagement from leadership leads to half-hearted innovation projects, which are a waste of everybody’s time.

Sprintbase is a virtual design thinking platform, used by businesses around the world to find creative solutions to big problems virtually, and build innovation capabilities. To find out more, visit sprintbase.io.

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