Innovation fatigue and how to avoid it in a world of hybrid work

As home working has increased, unfortunately so has innovation fatigue. Without 'watercooler conversations', or off-the-cuff brainstorms in the office, ideas can quickly dry up and teams are left wondering where to go next. Dave Berardi analyses the issue of innovation fatigue, discussing how it arises in tech teams, and giving his expert advice on how it can be solved.

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This is a contributed article by Dave Berardi, Partner at AKF Partners.

Remote working is no longer a novelty. Whilst some continue to journey into the office, a hybrid approach to work is looking evermore like a lasting reality. In fact, as many as 84% of UK businesses plan on flexible working continuing, even after restrictions from the pandemic have been lifted. The future of work is a far cry from pre-pandemic norms.

This drastic revolution has inevitably affected team collaboration. Whilst hybrid working can offer several advantages, such as financial efficiency for the business and improved mental wellbeing for its employees, it does not negate the disadvantage of having your team spread around the country. For tech teams especially, the opportunities to collaborate and innovate whilst chatting around the watercooler, are lost.

Looking past the buzzword

‘Innovation’ as a term is often thrown around by businesses who seek to accelerate product development and drive growth. In fact, 93% of leaders agree that innovation is vital to generate revenue and enable business growth. But what does innovation actually entail? What are the processes needed to drive true innovation that delivers concrete results?

Innovation involves leveraging technology to generate new products and ideas, as well as to aid in problem solving. If done successfully, innovation can grant organisations a new competitive edge, thereby increasing profit margins. As important as innovation seems to be, oftentimes leaders neglect to consider the conditions necessary to foster true innovation. The battle to create the next latest and greatest product is constant in the world of tech, with teams constantly looking to improve and innovate. Unfortunately, however, innovation thrives in in an environment of trial and error, iteration through discovery and collaboration, and cannot be scheduled for or planned. Organising an online ‘innovation meeting’, therefore, could limit innovation and creativity. Innovation needs to be seen as a process.

And then the fatigue sets in

When teams do not have the adequate conditions to innovate, innovation fatigue inevitably rears its ugly head, and remote working simply exacerbates the lack of opportunity for collaborative innovation. Teams require casual conversation to inspire innovation, a luxury that has been lost to the scheduled Zoom meeting. The fatigue brought on by endless video calls pushes creativity aside – almost as a second thought.

If an entire product engineering team is working remotely, it’s only a matter of time before innovation fatigue sets in. Although not a conscious decision, it’s recognisable as the feeling when communication becomes impaired, and ideas seem to have dried up. As it becomes more difficult to generate new product ideas, the business risks losing its competitive edge.

Onwards and upwards

As we continue to trudge through what we hope is the tail end of the pandemic, where hybrid working has become the norm, it has become even more difficult for leaders to mandate that teams work permanently from the office. The UK government is even considering making the option for remote working a legal requirement for new employees. Collective collaboration within the walls of an office seems to be becoming less and less of a reality.

However, all hope is not lost. The solution begins with culture. Leaders should strive to foster a culture that inspires innovation within their organisations, where employees are encouraged to grow and experiment. Trial and error processing should be supported, as innovation is born from an ongoing process of testing and ideation to find solutions. Some may feel that this culture has simply migrated to the remote learning environment, but leaders should not become complacent. Creating this culture of growth will only serve to benefit the organisation.

In simple terms, frequent phone calls between employees should be encouraged and teams should be advised to incorporate more brainstorming into their schedules. Many have already tested a meeting-free Friday approach, giving employees the time to test their ideas in isolation before approaching the wider team, as well as organising dedicated team away days (which can also be virtual). Whilst these initiatives should all serve to encourage innovation, it is essential that a reward scheme is put in place to incentivise employees to take an active interest. Any approaches taken by leaders must be regularly reviewed, however, as the potential for product stagnation is always looming.

Although the new world of work doesn’t necessarily invite innovation with open arms, there are steps leaders can take to avoid innovation fatigue setting in. As the world of work continues to evolve, so must its workforce and work processes.

 

 

Dave Berardi is an entrepreneur and veteran tech leader at small, medium and Fortune 500 companies with over 20 years of experience in technology. In his role as Partner at AKF Partners he has conducted several technical due diligence engagements for clients across different industries and has been in several interim leadership roles including CTO, Chief Architect, Director of Ops, Director of Product Management.