How To Drive Innovation In The Workplace
In this era of constant change, the ability to drive innovation in the workplace is the mark of a successful leader.
Workplace innovation is more than just a buzzword — it’s a key competitive advantage in the struggle to entice new clients, attract top talent, and ensure longevity.
And thanks to our Workplace Innovator podcast, we hear innovative ideas every week from leaders around the world. Here’s what some of our guests have shared on the topic.
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How to lead innovation in the workplace
1. Prioritize the hybrid workplace experience
The workplace experience is a combination of the objective, physical aspects of the workplace and the subjective, emotional elements of the workplace. It is the physical office, the general atmosphere that exists within that office, and how employees interact with their workplace. The workplace experience is also one of the highest priorities of an innovative workplace leader.
Today, that experience looks very different than it did just a few years ago.
We’re all rethinking the role of the office and considering what it means to have an innovative workplace design that supports hybrid work.
In a recent podcast, Mace Workplace Experience Director Maud Santamaria discussed five challenges leaders need to overcome in the hybrid environment to drive innovation in the workplace. That includes breaking down barriers to collaboration, transforming the role of the office, and creating a consistent culture from the office to home.
She pointed to data from the Office for National Statistics, which that found employees working from home permanently were 38% less likely to receive bonuses that those who worked in the office, which suggests leaders have a long way to go when it comes to creating a unified experience for everyone.
“Hybrid won’t just happen. It will have to be strategically planned. You will have to put some things in place and some processes around it,” she said. “All the teams need to come together to make sure the (virtual) experience can be very similar from an etiquette and proper tools perspective as the in-office experience.”
2. Rethink your company culture
The Great Resignation is real, and leaders who want to drive innovation in the workplace need to take it seriously as they consider how both remote and in-person employees experience and contribute to the company culture. New employees who have never met their management teams in person are more likely to quit, said Porschia Parker-Griffin, a career services and strategy consultant at Fly High Coaching, in a recent podcast. At the same time, managers are also more likely to fire people when they don’t have a strong connection to them.
“Because we’re in this period of change, culture is also now very fluid,” she said. “An organization that could have had a ‘great culture’ a few years ago, now that culture might not be as strong as it once was.”
Innovative leaders need to consider how they are transferring important elements of company culture to everyone, regardless of location. That starts with a strong onboarding process, good internal communication, and creating meaningful opportunities for interaction that happen both in person and in the office.
3. Embrace agility
An agile culture is one that abides by the five principles outlined by Gartner:
- People over processes: Giving employees the freedom to tackle tasks in the way that best supports their productivity.
- Dynamics over documents: Using documentation as a guidepost instead of gospel.
- Collaboration over cascading: Prioritizing sharing information and ideas at all levels of the organization.
- Adaptive over-prescription: Focusing less on why something can’t be achieved and more on discovering how to overcome obstacles
- Leadership over management: Forgoing micromanagement in favor of providing general direction and support.
Workplace innovators advocate for agility because it empowers employees to reach their full potential. By encouraging employees to be autonomous and helping cultivate their abilities to adapt, employers are showing the workforce they trust them to be creative and identify new solutions. As a result, employees become more invested in the organization and, in turn, stay with the company for longer.
Agility is also important when it comes to real estate strategy, as Inabelle Fang of Willis Towers Watson pointed out in a recent podcast.
That strategy needs to be flexible, keeping employees’ needs at the forefront, but also contextual as teams become increasingly global.
“It’s very easy to create a strategy from one angle and not considering the other cultural perspective. So what suits for the United States might be very different from what suits for China or what suits for Brazil,” she said. “So you really need to understand the cultural concept before you start creating the workplace strategy and be mindful of that.”
4. Don’t be afraid to fail
“Success is not final; failure is not fatal.” This quote, often attributed to Winston Churchill, is the mantra of every workplace innovator.
The best leaders know that innovation in the workplace requires a willingness to take intelligent risks and inspire the workforce to do the same. They realize that a fear of failure hinders workplace innovation and if they try to avoid failure at all costs, they’ll constantly be getting in their own way.
Workplace innovators also know that the faster they fail, the faster they can succeed and by experimenting and seeing what doesn’t work, they can gain a better understanding of the problem.
In addition, according to writer and consultant Adi Gaskell, leaders who hope to create innovation in the workplace know that “never believing you know everything or you’ve got everything figured out.”
Even Gaskell, a consultant for The Horizons Tracker, admits to experiencing “imposter syndrome” at times in a recent podcast.
“It’s generally the experiences that went wrong that are the most memorable,” he said. He added that innovative workplace leaders are “organic in the way they approach things” and use sensors to track the way people do things.
“They are actively exploring how people use the spaces, whether those interactions are effective, whether it’s leading to better outcomes — better productivity, better collaboration. You’ve got to take that experimental approach and see what works and what doesn’t.” -Adi Gaskell, The Horizons Tracker
Workplace innovators are constantly on the lookout for new and better ways to achieve their objectives. They are committed to continuous improvement because being innovative in the workplace means never settling.
Innovation in the workplace starts with you, but it’s a team effort
While it’s a leader’s job to inspire innovation in the workplace, bringing their vision to life requires collaboration at all levels. Whether you are the CEO, corporate real estate leader or facilities manager, you can initiate change. To achieve it, however, you’ll need to work closely with other department leaders.
Imagine you’ve been tasked with developing a new workplace strategy that will support your company’s projected growth over the next five years without substantially adding to your real estate costs.
Your employees have the option to work remotely and many do, but there’s no structure to their schedules. Some days, nearly every desk and meeting room is full, while on other days, the office is nearly empty. With plans to grow your workforce by 20%, you’ll need an innovative strategy to stay in your current office. You’ll need to work with leaders from the HR, FM and other departments to develop a plan that allows different teams to work remotely on rotating days. You’ll also need an effective communication strategy and the right technology to make it work—so you’ll need to enlist your marketing and IT leaders as well.
Innovation in the workplace always takes more time and patience when it happens by committee. But the end result is usually better for everyone.