Innovation fatigue and how to avoid it in a hybrid working world

This is an article written by Dave Berardi, Partner at AKF Partners.

Telecommuting is no longer a novelty. As some continue to travel to the office, a hybrid approach to work is looking more and more like a sustainable reality. In fact, up to 84% of UK businesses plan to continue flexible working, even after pandemic restrictions are lifted. The future of work is a far cry from pre-pandemic norms.

This drastic revolution has inevitably affected team collaboration. Although hybrid working can provide several advantages, such as financial efficiency for the company and improved mental well-being for its employees, it does not negate the disadvantage of having your team distributed throughout the country. For technical teams in particular, the opportunities to collaborate and innovate while talking around the water cooler are lost.

Beyond the Buzzword

The term “innovation” is often used by companies looking to accelerate product development and drive growth. In fact, 93% of executives agree that innovation is key to generating revenue and enabling business growth. But what does innovation actually entail? What are the processes needed to drive real innovation that delivers real results?

Innovation is about leveraging technology to generate new products and ideas, as well as to help solve problems. If carried out successfully, innovation can give organizations a new competitive advantage, thereby increasing profit margins. As important as innovation seems, leaders often fail to consider the conditions necessary to foster true innovation. The battle to create the next latest and greatest product is a constant one in the tech world, with teams constantly striving to improve and innovate. Unfortunately, however, innovation thrives in an environment of trial and error, iteration through discovery and collaboration, and cannot be programmed or planned. Organizing an online “innovation meeting” could therefore limit innovation and creativity. Innovation should be seen as a process.

And then fatigue sets in

When teams lack the right conditions to innovate, innovation fatigue inevitably sets in, and remote work only exacerbates the lack of collaborative innovation opportunities. Teams need casual conversation to inspire innovation, a luxury that has been lost for the scheduled Zoom meeting. Fatigue from endless video calls stifles creativity – almost like a second thought.

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

Forward and upward

As we continue to navigate what we hope will be the end of the pandemic, where hybrid working has become the norm, it has become even more difficult for leaders to demand that teams work continuously from the office. The UK government is even considering making the remote working option a legal requirement for new hires. Collective collaboration within the confines 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 organizations, where employees are encouraged to grow and experiment. Trial-and-error treatment must be supported, as innovation arises from a continuous process of testing and ideation to find solutions. Some may think this culture has simply migrated to the remote learning environment, but leaders should not become complacent. Creating this growth culture will only serve to benefit the organization.

Simply put, frequent phone calls between employees should be encouraged and teams should be encouraged to incorporate more brainstorming into their schedules. Many have already tested a no-meeting Friday approach, giving employees time to test their ideas in isolation before approaching the wider team, as well as hosting dedicated team days (which can also be virtual) . If these initiatives are all to be used to encourage innovation, it is essential that a reward system is in place to encourage employees to take an active interest in them. However, any approaches taken by leaders should be reviewed regularly, as the potential for product stagnation is always imminent.

While the new world of work may not necessarily invite innovation with open arms, there are steps leaders can take to prevent innovation fatigue from setting in. As the world of work continues to evolve, so must its workforce and work processes.

Dave Berardi is a veteran Fortune 500 entrepreneur and technology leader with over 20 years of experience in technology. In his role as a partner at AKF Partners he has conducted several technical due diligence assignments for clients in different industries and has held several interim leadership positions including CTO, Chief Architect, COO and COO.

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