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Is Idea Generation a Reason to Spend Some Time in the Office?  Yes and No

Is Idea Generation a Reason to Spend Some Time in the Office? Yes and No

July 22, 2021
One expert says collaboration in person is key, while another says online collaboration is a better way to expand the pool of ideas.

Most companies are still deep in discussions about where employees will work. While some want employees showing up at a physical location daily, most seem to be endorsing a hybrid model where employees spend some days at the office and others at home.

One reason given for working face-to-face is that ideas flow from face-to-face interaction. In an article on Carnegie Mellon University’s website, Sunkee Lee, an assistant professor of organizational theory and strategy at the Tepper School of Business, offers a twist on this idea. 

He said that his research has shown that physically bringing together people who don't typically interact with one another can spark new ideas. 

In the article, he said:

"That is why for organizations whose goal is to innovate, bringing back employees to the office can be important. But if limited office space precludes an employer from bringing back workers at a full scale, the employer should consider who needs to come back first. Bringing back people who know each other well could improve productivity, but these people are likely to work effectively as a team even online. Bringing back people who are not familiar with each other could seem counterintuitive, but spontaneous interactions between them could lead to new collaborations and the creation of new ideas. Of course, no relationships stay new, so periodically changing the batch of people who physically come to the office could be useful.

But that’s not the last word on the subject. Darren Menabney, who leads global employee engagement at Ricoh, said in an article for Fast Company: “We don’t have to be less creative when working remotely, or even when working from home—we can be more creative. By leveraging what’s unique about remote work—work from home in particular—we can boost our creativity, both individually and collectively.

 Menabney offers ways to be more creative when working remotely:

Let Everyone Contribute Ideas

He suggested that as opposed to a brainstorming session in which usually a few people dominate the discussion, companies should use brainwriting, which can be done by having each team member individually creates their ideas, during or before the brainstorming session, without discussion. Then he suggests sharing the ideas on an online collaborative whiteboard. This technique is a better way to include ideas from introverts as well as those for whom English is not their first language.

Creativity is Boosted by Greater Team Diversity

Not being limited to the brainpower and creativity of just the people in the room. “We can bring in a more diverse range of collaborators from other parts of our organization—in the same city or a different country—or outside the organization. More diverse teams lead to more creativity, so remote work lets us tap into a new pool of expertise and creativity, which we couldn’t access when collaborating in-person,” he points out. 

Access to Better Facilitators

In-person limits facilitators to either colleagues or a local facilitator. With remote work, we can bring in expert facilitators from across our organization or recruit from a bigger pool of external facilitators. “Looking outside your own team for a facilitator is always a good idea. Facilitators shouldn’t have skin in the game or a vested interest in an ideation session’s output,” he says. 

 Let Working from Home Inspire You

Being able to take a walk, exercise or do other physical activities that boost creativity is much easier at home than in an office setting. “Quiet time to recharge is also easier when working from home. Suddenly sitting down for a 20-minute mindfulness session is much easier to pull off at home than in the middle of an open-concept office,” Menabney says.

About the Author

Adrienne Selko | Senior Editor

Email [email protected]


Adrienne Selko is also the senior editor at Material Handling and Logistics and is a former editor of IndustryWeek. 




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