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Structuring Remote and Hybrid Work to Drive Innovation

Structuring Remote and Hybrid Work to Drive Innovation

With the restrictions of the pandemic mostly behind us, businesses that were forced to adopt remote work are now free to decide whether to continue with remote work or return to in-person work. Recent Foundry research on the “future of work” reveals that, even with the newly regained freedom to restore pre-pandemic work conditions, remote work is here to stay: 68% of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) intend to retain either hybrid or fully remote work options into the future1.

The decision to offer remote or hybrid work on an ongoing basis is certain to please employees, and many employers have found that offering remote or hybrid options has become central to staying competitive in a tough employment market. And this is for good reason: Remote employees reported higher levels of satisfaction on all eight dimensions of “employee experience” in a recent survey, from work-life balance to productivity2. But in spite of these bright points, many leaders still have their reservations when it comes to remote work.

Does Remote or Hybrid Work Degrade Innovation?

Offering remote or hybrid work means happier employees and better retention—what’s not to love about that? If you ask executive-level leaders, however, many will tell you that the trend toward remote work jeopardizes innovation—and hence their firm’s bottom line. In fact, 51% of C-level executives expressed concern about the adverse effects of remote work on innovation3. A similar proportion of SMB leaders expressed concern that remote work dynamics fail to stimulate the type of interactive processes that foster collaboration4.

Leaders’ concerns about impoverished interaction and dampened innovation are intertwined. For decades, physical proximity has been viewed as an essential factor in facilitating innovation, mainly because employees are more inclined to converse with one another if they are physically closer to each other. But, are impromptu chats truly the main driver of innovation? An examination of the research suggests a more complex dynamic.

Facilitators of Innovation for Remote and Hybrid Workers

To more directly answer the question posed above, the fact is that in-person interaction is not required for innovation, and in fact, virtual teams may be even more innovative than in-person teams. However, the switch from office-based to virtual work does undeniably change team communication patterns, and there is a risk of silo effects or even individual isolation with remote work, which could certainly dampen innovation.

The important lesson to take from the research is that leaders have to be more intentional in prompting innovation with remote or hybrid teams. The following practices are recommended:

  • Diversity: Whether in-office or remote, diversity is still an important factor in promoting innovation. One study found that businesses that were more diverse outperformed their less-diverse competition by 36%, an outcome that researchers attributed to higher levels of innovation in diverse firms5. Because remote work options allow employers to hire from a broader geographic region, companies may be able to boost their diversity by offering remote work.

  • Moderated hybrid meetings: Teams that innovate well are those that make sure all voices are heard. Hybrid meetings, where some team members are in-office and some participate via video conferencing, run the risk of excluding virtual members. To counter this risk, designating a moderator is recommended. Having an employee monitor the remote chat ensures that attempts to contribute by remote members are not overlooked by the in-person team members.

  • Regular videoconference meetings: Innovation thrives within an environment of trust, and regular contact with team members is important to build this trust. Remote and hybrid work lends itself well to asynchronous work, which helps some employees maintain work-life balance. But maintaining a certain degree of real-time communication is important for building the group relationships that give rise to innovation.

  • Asynchronous brainstorming: For many leaders, the notion of “team innovation” is synonymous with the group brainstorming process, which derives its synergies from in-person interaction. Because virtual meetings have a different “flow” and interactive dynamic, many fear that replacing in-person meetings with virtual meetings will stifle the brainstorming process. The surprising news is that asynchronous brainstorming using virtual communication tools actually outperforms in-person brainstorming in terms of numbers of ideas generated6.

    Asynchronous brainstorming begins by providing team members the topics to think about on their own. Each team member then submits their ideas anonymously (e.g., using applications like Forms). All ideas are then circulated among the whole team, with further rounds of iteration proceeding as desired. Finally, the team comes together in a video conference session to review the final set of ideas.
  • Planned spontaneity: Some employees feel that the loss of impromptu “water cooler moments” with remote work reduces their innovative output. To accommodate employees who thrive on spontaneous interactions, some businesses leverage the breakout session functionality of video conferencing platforms to create brief meetings for randomly-grouped employees. Although the meeting itself is planned, employees never know who will be in their breakout session, adding an element of serendipity to their encounters.

  • Virtual whiteboards: Collaboration platforms like Teams allow you to create chat channels that are dedicated to specific topics or types of conversation. To create a venue for innovation among remote or hybrid workers, some firms designate specific chat channels as “virtual whiteboards,” where employees are free to randomly suggest new ideas for solutions, contribute ideas for solving problems, or evaluate others’ contributions. One firm, Rite-Solutions, created a virtual whiteboard and allocated $10,000 in virtual currency that employees were encouraged to “invest” in ideas that had been suggested. At the end of its first year, the virtual whiteboard yielded ideas that accounted for 50% of the company’s new business growth7.

NexusTek offers the full spectrum of solutions your business needs to create a vibrant and innovative remote/hybrid team—from cloud infrastructure to Microsoft Modern Workplace applications, to managed services and cyber security to keep your systems running smoothly and securely.

Would you like to discuss IT solutions to facilitate innovation for your remote or hybrid team?


  1.  Foundry. (2022). Future of work study.
  2. Molla, R. (2022, February 1). Remote work isn’t the problem. Work is. Vox.
  3. Northeastern University. (2021). Employers’ post-COVID business strategy and the race for talent: A view from the C-suite.
  4. Foundry. (2022). Future of work study.
  5. McKinsey. (2022, June 6). How virtual work is accelerating innovation.
  6. Tsipursky, G. (2021, October 14). Remote work can be better for innovation than in-person meetings. Scientific American.
  7. Sullivan, J., & Cox, M. (2020, June 1). Increasing innovation among your remote workers. DJS.