Remote Workers and Innovation

remote work setup

A few years ago the tech world was shocked by Yahoo!’s CEO move to end remote working. The initial response was shock. After all, how could a company, in an industry which for the last 20 years has been championing the idea of remote working and telecommuting, do a total about face? Even I, initially, was a bit shocked by the move.

But after reading the press releases and reports, I discovered that the reason behind the move was to inspire innovation. And after reading the belief system that is being employed, I too began to rethink my position. When I think back to the times I have worked with colleagues and came up with something new and innovative; I have to admit that it has tended to be with colleagues whom I interacted with in the office or have face to face contact with. I have had instances of having innovation occur with remote workers as well. But not the same spur of the moment idea generation has occurred.

Admittedly, I am ashamed to say, that when it does come to working with remote colleagues my main communications with them are around projects we are working on. There really is not thought just to socialize with them. While I may ask them how the weather is where they are or joke with them about working in their pajamas or something, it has been primarily superficial dealings. With the main aim of the conversation evolving around getting a status of how they are getting on with their piece of a project. Unless, the genesis for the conversation was focused on innovating or brainstorming on an idea. But then we are not talking about the spur of the moment type of innovation. These interactions have been preplanned.

On the other hand, when I see people in the office we do tend to talk about things outside of the office. And it is through that socialization that I become more familiar with them. And inevitably the conversation does tend to swing around to something related to work which in turn at times turns into an idea.

I have worked with remote colleagues and have been impressed with their ability to get things done and for having unique solutions to issues. In fact for certain projects I work on I have happily endured the mish mash of time zones and the inherent issues around having a dispersed workforce, only because I know that the people are the best performers for the project. And for those types of assignments, this works great. In fact, I would even venture to say that within the workforce there are a lot of people who perform best when they are able to work remotely. As most organizations have found it is possible to leverage technology to bring remotely positioned employees into innovative conversations. After all, we have telephones, Instant Messaging, video teleconferencing, SharePoint to name a few which enable us to share and collaborate on ideas just as effectively as in person interactions.

I am not saying that it is not possible to have innovation with remote workers. But it does require more work and effort to build the relationship up to inspire innovation. After all, it is quite easy to get into a conversation with someone you see at the coffee machine or who drops by the office just to say hi initially. Versus having to pick-up the phone or send an IM just to say “Hi, how are you doing?” or “what did you think of the new movie that came out last week?”

In the case of Yahoo! they are looking for innovation. A skillset that they really need to be able to inspire. And judging by some recent articles about the company they really need to innovate fast if they are to correct the course they are progressing on. Perhaps they have discovered that having a large remote workforce has slowed down their innovation efforts.

So, has Yahoo! caught on to something that the rest of us may have missed?

What do you think? I would love to read your perspective on this topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *