Inspiring Innovation in times of disruption

The new normal of remote work has forced all of us to adapt. During today’s pandemic, no one is able to accomplish as much as they usually do. Many employees are working outside the office for the first time, and are having to adjust how they access company resources remotely.

ARTICLE | 4m read
May 30, 2020

Even employees who work remotely most of the time are unable to control their environment the way they used to. Schools and daycares are closed, so many workers have to balance childcare with daily work responsibilities and goals. Many of your customers are also struggling, which can impact how regularly they communicate and transact with you. At the same time, our shared experience of working remotely presents a powerful opportunity for us to unite. As leaders in our organizations, we need to emphasize that working from home doesn’t mean working alone—and that we can still innovate to accomplish meaningful work together. In this post, we’ll explore how leaders and managers can find new ways to engage, collaborate, and inspire innovation with their dispersed workforce.


Frank Lloyd Wright

Find and focus on essential work together

Right now, our shared experience of work is defined by limitations. In addition to feeling less productive than normal, many employees working at home feel isolated and disconnected from their colleagues. This makes it important for managers to empathize and encourage employees to think beyond old ways of working and collaborating. Times of crisis are not when you should try to do more, but as Essentialism author Greg McKeown writes : "Do less but better.” By focusing on opportunities to do better rather than more, you can inspire your employees to ask what their most essential work is and figure out ways to improve it.

For example, with fewer hours available for meetings, explore how to make check-ins and brainstorming sessions as targeted and time-efficient as possible. And rather than maintaining your already-scheduled email marketing campaigns, give customer-facing employees time to write specific notes addressing the needs of specific customers. These small but innovative steps can do a great deal to encourage connection across and outside your organization—and help employees focus on essential work.


Jean-Luc Godard

Draw inspiration from how other industries are innovating

Pivoting, adapting, and innovating are all part of the new normal of remote work. While the scale, scope and pace of all of this change has been challenging and exhausting, we can find inspiration in the ways some industries and organizations have adapted to our shared experience. When we can draw ideas from other organizations, we can then adopt the innovative strategies that best fit how we work. Here are examples from the restaurant, financial services, and education industries:

1. Restaurants

With restaurants either closed or seeing reduced foot traffic, restaurateurs have pivoted to better reach their customers where they are. This has included strategies like expanded delivery options, curbside pickup, and even creating custom options to accommodate customer needs.

2. Financial services

As small businesses and families have seen rapid change in their finances, financial institutions and planners are responding quickly to help. These responses include providing application advice to businesses seeking Paycheck Protection Program loans to avoid layoffs and creating online tools to help households manage their spending.

3. Education

With schools and daycares closed, educators (and parents) for all ages are rising to the occasion with new forms of online and remote learning. From designing new curricula for students stuck at home to scheduling one-on-one video sessions, teachers everywhere are finding new ways to connect and engage the classroom.


John Cleese

Encourage breaks, boundaries and digital wellness

Now more than ever, employees need time to think, reflect, explore their passions and manage life outside of daily work responsibilities. This has proven to be especially challenging under the work-from-home mandates as employees feel pressure to be always-on and always available. In fact, one study found that US homebound workers are working three more hours per day than they had before the stay-at-home mandates began. Leaders need to be mindful that this type of overworking can stifle innovation and increase burnout. Organizations can combat these risks as well as improve productivity by up to 20 percent by encouraging employees to prioritize work-life boundaries and practice digital wellness

Encourage more connection in your employees

As a leader in your organization, you have the ability to set employee expectations and nurture the kind of connection that inspires innovation. By focusing on our shared essential work, drawing lessons from other industries, and embracing a sense of play, we can make the best of this challenging time together.