Is it myth or reality that remote work is going to halt innovation and collaboration in our workplaces?
We've heard lots of insurers express concern about the possibility, especially because they depend on collaboration to help their organizations build deeper and wider relationships with their agents and brokers to develop more business. Deciding whether the concern is a myth or a reality is tricky, because it's really up to the company and their organization.
Certainly, remote work can make innovation and collaboration more challenging. It removes easy access to that organic, unstructured “white space” where conversations naturally happen: grabbing a cup of coffee, passing in the hallway or chatting and building ideas after a meeting.
Remote work also makes innovation and collaboration even more important. Numerous studies have shown that companies that focused on innovation, both during and after a crisis, financially outperform the companies that do not, both during the crisis and far into the future.
So, it really is important that we do what we can to make sure the concern about remote work stays a myth.
A silver lining is that the decades-long investments in digital transformation (which, frankly, have happened largely outside of the insurance space) have enabled us to remain connected rather than isolated. We have been able to use tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Slack and online collaboration platforms like Miro to work together while we are apart. The added benefit is that we can tap into the best resources for the topic, project or relationship, regardless of location.
That said, it's not enough just to have the tools available. We also need to create an environment that encourages innovation. The fastest way to derail innovation efforts is to have a fear- or shame-based culture in which teams and employees are too afraid of making mistakes to offer new ideas. A courageous and specifically inclusive approach to ideation and doing business is really crucial – one where risk-taking (including the inevitable failures along the way to success) is rewarded. That's how we get the best ideas and bring them into action.
Finally, we must make up for the gap in organic connection through a tried-and-true method of driving innovation – creating Networked Improvement Communities.
This approach is widespread outside the insurance space, but it's something we should deploy here for our benefit and that of our organizations, staff and customers. The objective is to create a community within your organization that is specifically dedicated to solving an identified problem. It can be outside the usual structures, teams and siloes. That community works independently on that problem but collaborates in sharing and building on one another’s solutions and ideas, driving innovation and creating deeper relationships across your organization. A great example is the global innovation effort in the scientific, medical and pharma community to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, which has resulted in the fastest vaccine to market by leaps and bounds.
Call to Action:
Here are three elements each company can use to ensure that remote work is NOT the end of innovation and collaboration in your organization:
One: Assess your culture and eliminate any roadblocks to innovation. Reward risk-taking and curiosity. Make sure that you've got an inclusive environment where people are encouraged to challenge the status quo, try new ideas and speak up (even at the risk of failure) to make sure that the best solutions for the situation are sourced and selected.
Two: Continue to use the many digital tools available for connection to make sure that we don't stay isolated, even in a remote work environment.
Three: Get explicit about creating Networked Improvement Communities to connect your organization’s employees and leaders across siloes to solve a specific problem. They can work independently but collaboratively to amplify solutions. That will create ripple effects, deepening those relationships beyond that specific project and allowing new ideas to form. (This step might be the most important in insurance.)
If we take these steps, we can ensure that innovation and collaboration continue in workplaces in 2021. Those are the workplaces we all want to join.