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Fostering collaboration and creativity in hybrid and remote teams

By Jack Campbell | |6 minute read

Disney’s recent mandate for employees to return to the office at least four days a week has sparked a debate on the effectiveness of remote work in fostering innovation. CEO Bob Iger argues that being physically present with colleagues is essential for creative collaboration and idea sharing, similar to the perspective shared by Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Research suggests that remote work can weaken the cross-functional and inter-team connections that facilitate the exchange of new ideas and drive innovation. Studies from MIT and Microsoft both indicate that remote work can hinder innovation due to decreased communication between employees outside of their own teams.

However, other research presents a different view. McKinsey found that during the pandemic, there was a record number of new patents filed and a significant increase in global venture capital, suggesting that companies that adapted well to remote work were still able to innovate. Deloitte also emphasises the potential of remote work to boost innovation for hybrid and remote teams.


From my experience working with 21 organisations transitioning to hybrid and remote work, I believe that innovation is achievable in this context but requires a different approach. Companies must adopt best practices that address the weakening of cross-functional connections and lack of natural spontaneous interactions. Unfortunately, companies like Disney and Apple have adopted a traditionalist perspective on how to innovate, which may ultimately hinder innovation.

To foster innovation in hybrid and remote teams, one effective strategy is utilising collaboration software like Slack or Microsoft Teams. By creating specific channels within these software tools, teams can facilitate creativity, spontaneity, and collaboration in a virtual setting, and incentivise employees to use these channels.

It’s important to recognise and value the contributions of both optimists and pessimists in the idea generation process. In the past, I have found that as an optimist I tend to overestimate the value of my own ideas and fail to take the constructive criticism provided by pessimists into consideration. Through research and personal experience, I have learned the importance of valuing the perspectives of those who serve as devil’s advocate.

In order to address the potential negative impact of remote work on cross-functional connections and integration of new staff, a hybrid and remote mentoring program can be implemented. This was the approach taken by a late-stage SaaS company, and it resulted in a significant boost in innovation.

The program included several mentors, including one from the mentee’s own team to provide guidance on group dynamics, on-the-job learning, and professional growth. Additionally, two mentors were included from other teams, one from the same business unit and one from a different business unit. These mentors were responsible for helping the new employee integrate into the company culture, facilitating inter-team collaboration, and strengthening cross-functional connections to foster innovation.

After 6 months, the SaaS company reported that the mentor-mentee relationships had resulted in new ideas and fresh perspectives on existing work, while the mentors from other teams had led to productive conversations and collaboration. This approach can be replicated by companies such as Disney and Apple who have implemented a return-to-office mandate but are lacking in innovative ideas.

It’s important to note that some tasks may be better done in person, such as sensitive personnel conversations, intense collaborative discussions, key decision-making and strategic conversations, and team-building events. However, the more tasks that can be done remotely, the better, as it allows companies to tap into the talent of creative individuals from around the globe and minimise the time wasted on rush-hour commutes. Instead of sticking to outdated methods, companies should adopt best practices for hybrid and remote work to truly foster innovation.

Dr Gleb Tsipursky is the CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts and helps leaders use hybrid work to improve retention and productivity while cutting costs.




Hybrid working

In a hybrid work environment, individuals are allowed to work from a different location occasionally but are still required to come into the office at least once a week. With the phrase "hybrid workplace," which denotes an office that may accommodate interactions between in-person and remote workers, "hybrid work" can also refer to a physical location.

Remote working

Professionals can use remote work as a working method to do business away from a regular office setting. It is predicated on the idea that work need not be carried out in a certain location to be successful.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.