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  • Writer's pictureHilary O'Shea

Research shows Remote is better for innovation and brainstorming ideas than the Office.

There is a myth that we can only collaborate and innovate in the Office. It seems that Organisational Psychologists have now proven that we have been innovating incorrectly in the office all this time and that virtual environments are preferred.

A recent study in ‘The American Scientific’ publication, (one of America’s oldest scientific, tech, health journals with a reach of 10 million readers) has stated that Remote work may be better for Innovation than in person meetings. The study stated that..

“Extensive research shows that hybrid and remote teams can gain an innovation advantage and outcompete in-person teams by adopting best practices for innovation, such as virtual brainstorming. Virtual brainstorming creates the maximum number of novel ideas, gaining an innovation advantage.
Creativity and Innovation

This is really encouraging for Otonomee, a fully remote BPO…we know we are on the right track. It is also apt as the UN has named today, the 21st of April, “World Creativity and Innovation Day”, in order to highlight the key role Innovation plays in the worlds’ economic success.

More importantly, from a business perspective, the UN state that Innovation, Creativity and Mass Entrepreneurship can provide new momentum for economic growth and job creation. They advocate that it can expand opportunities for all…including women and youth. In a time of global challenges, pandemics, wars, displacement of millions of refugees globally…..the UN believes that Innovation is what will provide solutions to some of our worlds' most pressing problems, such as poverty eradication and elimination of hunger. Using Business as a force for good is top of our Corporate agenda at Otonomee and is one of our founding principles.

Being passionate about both organisational psychology and remote working, I was encouraged to research this “innovation advantage through remote working” further. In doing so, I explore exactly what Innovation really means. In my view, it’s a term frequently used, but do we really understand what it means to innovate?

Most business strategists will describe Business Innovation as introducing new processes, ideas, products, or services to affect positive change in the business or for customers. However, Howard Schultz Chairman and Chief Executive of Starbucks pushes this concept further and states that Innovation is at the heart of Entrepreneurship. He states...

“Innovation must be disruptive, you got to fracture and break the rules and disrupt”. - Howard Schultz Chairman and CEO of Starbucks

This firm link between Innovation and Entrepreneurship is thought provoking. Otonomee was founded, from an opportunity presented during the pandemic, to disrupt the 250 billion dollar BPO industry. We had seen firsthand that the existing BPO model was broken, and we wanted to fix this problem by offering a faster, flexible customer management service to our Partners and achievable work life integration and autonomy to our People, all by leveraging the remote working model.

Using Schultz’s yardstick, we innovated at that early point, seeing an opportunity in a global pandemic and pursuing it when very few were brave enough. Otonomee’s innovation has continued…..we have spent the last year and a half breaking down, dissecting every policy, procedure and pivoting them to support and build a remote international organisation. Some of these tasks were challenging, many we were able to augment with new technologies and some we are still figuring out. This journey will never be exhausted and the task may never be fully done.

So how exactly does Virtual Brainstorming outperform In Person brainstorming? The research states that traditional office Brainstorming has never been able to support true innovation and creativity because of certain key psychological premises.

Adam Grant, Organisational psychologist and Professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, states that most people are approaching the brainstorming process incorrectly. We are traditionally used to meeting in an office and being asked to brainstorm on demand. Grant states that , “The first ideas you think of are usually the most conventional, If you want to be creative, you need variety”.

According to Grant there are problems with just gathering colleagues in a room to think. First, some participants may be introverted and can end up being ignored. There is also a tendency to hold back from sharing the most outlandish ideas (which can also be the most innovative, however no one wants to look stupid!). Lastly, groups can experience “convergent thinking,” where everyone jumps on the bandwagon and agrees with an idea, stifling less popular suggestions.

So, what is the solution? Can we construct a remote working environment that outperforms the traditional office environment? The science suggests that we can. Grant says the best technique for sparking creative ideas is to instead have individuals write their thoughts on paper first, then share. There is some evidence that in a brainstorming exercise or a brain-writing exercise, your first 20 ideas are actually less creative than your next 15, and that if you want to max out on creativity you actually need 200 ideas on the table before you hit the highest point of novelty, Grant explains.

Successful entrepreneurs like Richard Branson have cited creativity as a key component for a prosperous business.

“Creativity is one of the cornerstones of the Virgin brand,” Branson has written on his company blog. “Our success has been defined by our ability to take a step back from problems, and re-imagine them to in turn see new, original solutions."

Two of our Core Company Values at Otonomee are “Be of Adventurous Spirit” and “Be Curious”. As the world gets more complex, we need to constantly ask questions and solution quickly for our Clients’ in response. Flexibility and adaptability are part of our mindsets. Leveraging Remote has enabled this and it is positive to know that our remote working environment will continue to facilitate future Innovation and Creativity.


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