Alvaro Villar
General Manager
WeWork Mexico and Central America
/
Expert Contributor

Collaboration, Flexibility: Innovation Boosters in the Workplace

By Alvaro Villar | Wed, 11/11/2020 - 09:01

Days pass by and the effects of the pandemic become more evident. We are moving into a new era that has made us question many things and learn many more. 

I am sure that, at least in the work field, the most important lesson has been to understand the role that workplaces play in our daily lives. We have underestimated our spaces and moreover, we have realized that the office is not only the physical environment where we meet to work. It has become more of an open field that enables us to exchange ideas, create meaningful relationships, make friends, concentrate, and disconnect when needed. It is the space that allows us to establish clear boundaries between our private lives and work, and it's the space that empowers us to create the future we are looking for, among many other things.

Therefore, even though I agree that remote work has opened up great opportunities for us that we did not know about, I am even more convinced of how vital organizational collaborative spaces are in the current moment and beyond.

The Boston Consulting Group was recently commissioned by Microsoft to conduct a study on the consequences and expectations of new work schemes in the post-pandemic era. The key discovery? We all want a more innovative and flexible way of working. But while maintaining productivity has not been a problem, it seems that the absence of face-to-face interactions and the impact of remote work on organizational culture has been hampering innovation within businesses. That is the main takeaway.

One of the big questions of today's leaders is how to drive innovation in their organizations. Many fear a decline in innovation processes due to the isolation that the pandemic has created. 

The English writer and historian Thomas Carlyle once said, "the spark of thought generated in the lonely mind awakens its resemblance in another mind.” The most valuable thing to understand is that business innovation is not an individual process, but rather an ecosystem where each of its components plays a crucial role in making the system work. From this point of view, it is easy to understand that each company can and must create the ecosystem’s conditions to develop and generate innovative processes that trigger its sustained growth.

WeWork, as a global platform of collaborative spaces, also conducted a study in Canada, the US, Mexico, and the UK to understand the impact of working from home on collaboration. Office workers from various companies and levels were asked about their experience working from the office and from home before and after COVID-19. We found that the ability to generate ideas decreased significantly (15 percent), as did the ability to have spontaneous value interactions (25 percent).

This shows that working on an all-remote model negatively impacts creativity and collaboration and, therefore,  companies’ and individuals’ ability to innovate.

DRIVING INNOVATION THROUGH COLLABORATIVE SPACES

Another major challenge in the wake of the pandemic is that companies can and must create the best conditions and provide the right spaces for people to develop professionally in a safe and optimal environment for collaboration. Workspaces must promote Interaction, connection, and well-being. 

To drive innovation, it is not enough to provide a physical space: space must have a purpose. All companies have rituals, small actions that connect people to other members, the place, and the moment. These rituals help create a shared identity among people that, in turn, build trust among members, encourages the exchange of ideas, and creates an environment conducive to innovation. 

What is certain is that the collaborative space offers an open field to generate those fortuitous encounters, capable of generating the most incredible ideas while drinking a cup of coffee.  Let's think for a minute: What do we really value in a workspace? Is it the space itself, or is it the people, the interactions, the electric spontaneous meetings, the midmorning coffees or team lunches, the brainstorming or even the feedback sessions? 

At WeWork, we have always believed in collaborative and flexible spaces as catalysts for innovation. Still, today we are convinced, more than ever,  that this is the way to a sustainable future.

Photo by:   Alvaro Villar