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Friday, April 28, 2023

How Does Remote Work Affect Innovation?

Had not seen the innovating teams and remote work aspect being examined. 

How Does Remote Work Affect Innovation?

by James Heskettin  in HBSwk.edu

Many companies are still trying to figure out how to manage teams that have limited in-person contact. Remote work will likely lead to new ideas, but what kind? asks James Heskett.

When former Google CEO Eric Schmidt tells how the company’s ad algorithm—the heart of its financial success—was revamped, here’s what he says:

One Friday afternoon in May 2002, (company co-founder) Larry Page was playing around on the Google site, typing in search terms and seeing what sort of results and ads he’d get back. He wasn’t happy with what he saw…. Some of the ads were completely unrelated to the search….

In a normal company, the CEO, seeing a bad product, would call the person in charge of the product. There would be a meeting or two or three…. Instead, he printed out the pages containing the results he didn’t like, highlighted the offending ads, posted them on a bulletin board on the wall of the kitchen by the pool table, and wrote THESE ADS SUCK in big letters across the top. Then he went home….

At 5:05 a.m. the following Monday…. Jeff Dean sent out an email. He and four colleagues…. had seen Larry’s note on the wall…. (Dean’s email) included a detailed analysis of why the problem was occurring, described a solution, included a link to a prototype 9 implementation of the solution the five had coded over the weekend…. And the kicker? Jeff and team weren’t even on the ads team… It was the culture that attracted…. These five engineers…. To the company in the first place.

How would this story play out if Google had relied heavily on remote work at the time? Would Jeff Dean and his colleagues even have been in the office on Friday afternoon?

OK, so they could just as easily have seen a post from Larry Page online if they had still been working after 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. Working from their homes and seeing a post that simulated the bulletin board at the office, would five of them have organized themselves, again online? Would they have decided to give up their weekend to come up with a better idea? Would they have agreed to break the routine of Mondays working remotely to share their response in the relative privacy of the office (vs. online)?

Would the five even be sharing the same values and “way we do things around here”? Would the result have been the same?

We can at least hypothesize several notions based on early research regarding remote work. Many talented people love it. Some of the reasons they love it, such as the ability to gain more control over their lives, are not always in the best interests of their employers. Some couldn’t do what they’re doing without the opportunity.

Employers appear to be less enthusiastic about remote work. Many feel that they have to offer it in order to access talent that would not otherwise be approachable. Although employees claim that remote work improves their productivity, mainly by eliminating commute time, the evidence thus far suggests two things: We don’t yet know how to measure productivity changes from remote work and that, even when we learn, the impact may not be very significant.

Many employers are just learning how to manage remote work. Some are doing a terrible job of it, with little preparation and training for middle managers primarily responsible for the success of the process. Also, the impact of remote work on organization culture has yet to be determined.  ... '

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