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Marko Kruljac for Bornfight

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Is remote work bad for innovation?

The world’s largest work from home experiment has entered its midgame. So far, it was all about adapting quickly and making the best of it. Individual productivity has increased, there is no more commuting, which saves both time and money, work hours are flexible, and there are other advantages as well.
After all, this is what agile taught us to do, embrace change and adapt quickly to it.
We have won the earlygame, but now I ask question: “What did we lose in the process and are we prepared for the midgame?”

There are many disadvantages to remote work, but I would like to focus on a big one, innovation, or creativity if you will.

I have observed that thoughts and ideas, along with chitchat and casual smalltalk travel very difficulty across a remote medium, in contrast to the office environment where this happens naturally all the time.
In a remote environment, you are usually not going to video-call your colleague just to tell him how you solved X or how Y happened and made you wonder about Z and so on. And texting just doesn’t cut it, we communicate so much non-verbally and explaining thoughts and ideas via text is just cumbersome and time-consuming.

However, it is from this collision of ideas that great innovation and progress is created. It is from these small, seemingly meaningless social interactions that creativity and innovation come from. It is from talking face-to-face to a colleague that you build a relationship and make a friend. Without these things, creativity and team’s cohesion is slowly being sapped away.

As a great counter-example, let's look at the legendary Bell Labs, which fostered 9 Nobel Prizes and 4 Turing Award winners. Bell Labs is home to the transistor, UNIX and C among many many other innovations.
When these people were asked what was so special about this building, the common answer was that it was an open environment packed with smart people who collaborated together and openly exchanged thoughts and ideas. (and had unlimited AT&T funding, which helps, but would not produce the innovations by itself).

I would really like to hear about your experiences, are you noticing the same things at your workplace? How are you addressing these issues? Let's discuss!


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