Remote work which took the tech world by storm in 2020s is here to stay in some form even when return to office increases. Hybrid work mode is not going anywhere which will challenge our communication and collaboration styles. During the initial chaotic transition to remote work it was common for people to miss work due to poor connectivity and power outages. If hybrid or remote work is the norm then the excuse of connectivity and power outage should be limited to widespread outages, care should be taken to have electricity and data connectivity backup as well as quality of the connection.
IT workers will fall into two broad categories – Coding and non coding roles. Coding roles require deep thinking time and unbroken chunk of time, high quality connectivity is generally not an issue until an online meeting happens. Non coding roles on the other hand require a stable, high speed connection to ensure that they can always be on calls and have enough power backup.
What happens if not able to have stable internet once in a while or while I have to travel and be flexible to work? There is a not so well known option which a lot of veterans in the industry used to do before 3G connections. Use the stable phone call to connect to meetings, many frontline conference call softwares like zoom provide dial up numbers for many countries and will often be included as a free call in the plan and even if dialling is expensive there is a provision to get zoom to call the participant on their phone.
If we are committing to work remote, depending on the profile of work if synchronous time is required with others, then ability to come on calls is non negotiable. So ensure there is enough power backup for the routers, laptops and mobile phones. Subscribe to backup data plans just in case primary fails and understand to use all the options under the sun.
A restaurant manager gets bored of restaurant work and decides to be a facilities manager for a company in a small town in Japan, leaving a well known business and the country to newer experiences. The Japanese company always hosts a banquet for its executives on every Friday. Tempura is one of the delicacies ordered in large numbers along with other Japanese delicacies. The majority of the food is prepared before in the kitchen and served on the table except tempura and a few other dishes which is prepared in a live counter and left to self serve.
The manager observes at the end of the banquet that there is a shrimp tempura left, instinctively thinks about the cost because of recent shrimp shortages and how much do they have to pay for high quality ones. So the manager orders lesser number of tempuras to be prepared for the next dinner. Surprisingly one tempura remains and the cycle continues until tempura is removed from the menu.
This goes on for a few months with the other live counter dishes until the live counter itself is removed because of non usage. The cost savings when seen from an individual’s point of view was big. The proud feeling of being able to prove one’s ability to bring in efficiency was giving a high. At the end of the quarter, the facilities manager gets a notice period from the boss to leave the position as a lot of executives have complained about missing the live counter and poor quality of banquet experience.
No one told the manager anything, but what was progressing as a great cost savings plan ended up costing the job. Why did it happen that way? In the group of people who dined, they have a common agreement that it is rude to take the last piece in a buffet, how hungry you are or how tasty it is, it does not matter. For an outsider it looks like wastage, but for the diners it was part of their communication.
Another angle to this is, feedback does not come directly in many cultures. It will often be hidden or wrapped in euphemisms. In this story, one of the diners would have expressed that they need more tempuras but never picked the one on the plate thereby confusing an outsider with mixed messages. Cross cultural work which is a given for knowledge workers nowadays is full of these problems. One book that is helping me is ‘The Culture Map’. I keep rereading a few chapters before getting exposed to a new culture so that I can be well prepared to understand the style of working. It is not foolproof, but it helps you to be better prepared.
I have observed organisations which had innovation labs and accelerators tend to not be successful in innovation compared to places where it is baked into the working style and leaders who set ambitious targets. The biggest reason for failure is having a small group of people concentrate on innovation and have delivery managers who concentrate on efficiency to oversee those programs. Despite being not so productive many organisations run this theatre in the hopes of making it big in some areas.
Everyone will understand that creativity cannot be planned and executed but that is how it is approved in many places. Here are a few important things to keep in mind if innovation has to take off from run of the mill work.
People have to be bored to find something else to work and land up on exciting things. Idle mind is a devil’s workshop but that workshop can be put to use for the right outcomes. If people are bored, it means that there was never much work to do which is completely against the efficiency focus of most managers, Mind has to wander to stumble on things that are not obvious. Emptiness is the source of creativity.
All roundersand diversity
The more diversity in the mix of people and experience, the better is the ability to connect various unrelated things into something material. Doctors in the rescue operations may come up with better UX for field devices than a great UX designer who specialises in web design. Quorum sensing and an open communication plan including finance will enable people to see a lot and do mix and match.
No labs approach
The approach of setting up a lab and assigning a person responsible is cool but it is also giving out the signal that ideas will come only from a few people not everyone else. The moment any person who has an idea has to go and explain to another person, get an approval and try it out – it dies. For a lot of people an idea will die if they try to prematurely put it into words and convince another person before letting it mature in their head or try out random experiments to grow it. There has to be an eco system to be able to try new things and measure without too many approval dances to do.
A company improving their innovation culture cannot see it immediately in their quarterly results. It is a slow burn solution which will take its sweet time to mature and give results just like growing a fruit orchard. We will get indications of it growing but bearing fruits is going to take time and energy. If you wanted it yesterday, better stick with efficiency gains and let someone else do it.
Listening to the people in the trench
Google’s Eric Schmidt had this approach of “Listen to lab coats not the suits”. The greatest point here is, it is coming from a person wearing a suit. His work on How google works throws some light on their approach to innovation. One person higher above taking decisions without consulting people from the trenches is definitely going to stick to tried and tested methods and will not innovate.
There is more to it, but I feel many of the companies running innovation labs have to take long path of changing the culture if any sustainable change has to take place in innovation.