Return to the Office Does Not Guarantee Greater Innovation

February 16, 2023

Since COVID-19 restrictions eased, many companies have required that their employees return to the office.  Some executives and leaders reason that innovation is increased through in-person collaboration.

Let’s start by challenging the idea that collaboration and innovation can best be achieved when people are back in the office.

That is not to say that in-person collaboration isn’t effective, it is!  As a remote team for over 20 years, continuing communication and collaboration using the incredible number of software tools available meant that Covid was just business as usual. In fact, the virus stimulated us to investigate and use new and enhanced software tools.  Yet, whenever we wanted to create a dynamic, out-of-the-box agenda for an executive offsite, develop a highly interactive training program, or even assess our progress and growth opportunities, we often met in person despite living thousands of miles apart   We did not need to be in the same working space 100% of the time, but we did need those opportunities for in-person innovation.

It looks like some organizations are using return to work for purposes of collaboration and innovation as either an excuse or a one size fits all solution.

There are so many more innovative ways to address this issue.  The solution is to ask team members to answer the following three questions:

  • “What must we do as a team to fully contribute to the organization’s success? “
  • “What kind of work schedule/environment most enhances my personal productivity?”
  • “What process or processes should we use to foster innovation?

It’s time for more innovative thinking on how to lead in the post-Covid work world.  All it requires is positive assumptions about people, adult-to-adult communication, and the collective intelligence of the people on your team.

Read more on our approach toward hybrid work in Harvard Business Review and HR Daily Advisor.