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Will Covid-19 kill UK workplace innovation?

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By Professor Lawrence Bellamy, Academic Dean, Faculty of Business, Law and Tourism

Working practices have shifted substantially since Covid-19, with more people working from home for all or some of the time. We’ve seen a fundamental change of business model for some organisations, with a shift to online interaction and distribution, a dispersed workforce, and a rise in technology as a facilitator for all this.

Whilst this has resulted in a really strong surge in business innovation, problems could exist ahead. If you’re a research-driven organisation, then innovation management is an essential component of your success. The ability to be creative and take concepts through a systematic development and evaluation process to a point where they come to market or are applied is a normal part of your working approach.

"Perhaps Friday should be the new hybrid office day, with coffee, croissants and soft furnishings and no meetings other than with a focus on creating the future?"

For other organisations where product innovation and continuous improvement is not high on the management initiative agenda, innovation is through necessity or serendipity as a byproduct of other things going on. Ideas are more likely to be generated by people in daily problem solving, by the import of practice by new workers to the organisation, through reflective moments such as team meetings or by chance meetings at the water cooler.

With people being in the office for less of the time informal interactions, on the way to or from meetings, in the canteen or having a vape outside are reduced and the Teams/Zoom driven meeting environment does not provide for that time around these events.

Integrating new employees into the organisation through a strong ‘onboarding’ process can be similarly business-like, but again may have less opportunity for relationship building to establish the informal network and break down the communication barriers which can lead to creativity.

These types of challenges could be storing up future problems for organisations who have made a digital shift and are in fact dealing with a relatively limited understanding of how to manage effectively under these circumstances due to the timescale of the digital pivot.

Managing past this barrier must be conducted with commitment and (appropriate) structure. Making time to put people together in a manner which allows them to connect at a professional-personal level, creates interaction opportunities which are in an environment which is not crowding out ideas (tacit knowledge exchange) and allowing time for thought and exploration are perhaps far more important now than they ever were.

Perhaps Friday should be the new hybrid office day, with coffee, croissants and soft furnishings and no meetings other than with a focus on creating the future? Or perhaps our avatars can attend the virtual space instead?

Learn more about Professor Lawrence Bellamy and the Faculty of Business, Law and Tourism.

Published: 10 December 2021