Today's workplaces are responding to never before seen challenges and scenarios, all while adjusting to a virtual work-from-home environment. It's clear that solving these new challenges will require individuals and teams to think differently than they have in the past, which begs the question..How can leaders and teams establish a culture of virtual innovation?
The Leadership Development Group, a global talent development consultancy, has been working in a 100% virtual environment since the firm’s founding in 2008, using video conferencing and other mediums to connect a cadre of over 400 organizational development practitioners, academicians, coaches, and consultants located around the world. Reflecting on our experiences building a virtual environment ripe with creativity and innovation, one lesson is abundantly clear:
If you want more than the traditional meeting outputs to come out of your virtual interactions it’s important to intentionally build the space for those kinds of conversations to take place.
Whether working virtually or in person, leaders can spur creativity and innovation. It all comes down to the ability of the leader to create a sense of togetherness, regardless of where, while also encouraging people to be open and vulnerable. In order to do so, we offer these suggestions:
- Be intentional about building community: For the virtual office to provide the benefits of an in-person office you have to treat it like one. Work with your colleagues to create an environment where 1:1 video calls are the equivalent of knocking on an office door, create norms around grabbing an informal virtual lunch together, or sharing a virtual glass of wine after work.
- Create the Conditions for ‘Open Space’ Conversations: In-person office environments can lend themselves to by-chance watercooler encounters that serve as the spark for new and innovative ideas, these same conditions can be created in a virtual environment through intentional design. Consider hosting optional free-form meetings with discussion amongst colleagues on top of mind topics or create virtual ‘office hours’ where team members are welcome to pop in and out to discuss work projects or other related interests.
- Foster a Sense of Psychological Safety: Most barriers to team effectiveness and innovation can be overcome, but first someone has to feel comfortable enough to surface them. When leaders create a culture of psychological safety; whereby team members feel safe to take risks around their team members, we see a meaningful uptick in innovation and collaboration in both virtual and in-person environments. To foster this, leaders can encourage all team members to participate and express their worries and concerns as well as address intergroup conflicts and resolve them through open discussion.
- Bring in an Outside Voice: When meeting structures become repetitive or fail to adapt to new conditions and challenges, teams can become stuck in a rut. An outside eye can more easily spot team behaviors and norms that may be standing in the way of your next big breakthrough. Using a coach to facilitate virtual team meetings and provide in the moment feedback to reinforce positive behaviors is a strategy for success.
When designed correctly, the virtual workplace can allow for flow of ideas across perspectives and cultures not accessible in the traditional workplace due to the bounds of geography. Today's successful virtual teams are poised to become models of cultural practices that organizations can draw inspiration from as the future of workplaces unfolds. Regardless of whether your future team is located in the traditional workplace, a hybrid, or entirely virtual, learning about virtual best practices can strengthen the way you work in the here and now, and applying these principles can help team communication stay open, collaborative efforts stay effective, and innovation continue to flow.