Future of work trends: planned serendipity


In the previous post in his blog series about trends in internal communications and digital collaboration, our associate partner Rik described how to facilitate learning in a hybrid world. Now, he turns his attention to another key success factor for organisations: innovation.

Doing well, aren’t we?

The pandemic years were full of change: we switched to remote working instantly, adapted to ever-changing governmental regulations, and found solutions for supply-chain hiccups and staff shortages. We glow with pride in being such great innovators.

Our adaptations were admirable for sure, but they were all reactive. To move forward, we need proactive innovation. That often starts with serendipity: coincidentally and unexpectedly discovering something valuable.

Nature calls

By accident and to my surprise, I found a worthy analogy in Nature, comparing innovation to evolution. In nature, progress derives from random genetic variation. Over the past couple of years, we have seen this in furious action, of course. Just think of the ever more contagious mutations of the Coronavirus.

At work, these strokes of luck come about through accidental meetings, in the corridor or the canteen, but also at a conference or a client. Through staying on after a meeting for an informal chat, overhearing an interesting conversation, or having drinks together on a business trip.

Nowadays, these opportunities are fewer and farther between: we often don’t work full-time at the office anymore; most off-site meetings and events are online; and business travel almost seems a thing of the past. (Depending on your experiences – and your travel allowance – that is a shame or a blessing.)

Planning the unplannable

These changes mean you must actively structure ways of working to allow for and facilitate chance encounters. Connection and transparency are key.

Help colleagues set up communities of practice, for experts to share knowledge, and communities of interest, for anybody interested in a specific topic.

Encourage people to have coffees, lunches, or even online chats with colleagues outside their inner circle. There are various apps that pair people automatically, some based on an analysis of their networks and even the contents of their work.

Organise online JAMs, in which lots of people can give inputs - and feed off each other - in a time-boxed session on an internal social platform, such as Yammer or Workplace.

Set-up brainstorm sessions with clients, partners, and suppliers, or even invite them onto your own communication platform to join in your internal discussions. Anything to get people to pop their information bubbles!

Conclusion

There is a real risk that new ways of working brought on by going hybrid and digitisation will halt innovation by blocking serendipity. Organisations need to actively facilitate and stimulate chance encounters and cross-silo communication. You can’t leave serendipity to chance!

Next up in the blog series: building trust.

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