19 Oct 2021
The Future of Work is Hybrid - Digital Innovation

The Future of Work is Hybrid - Digital Innovation

By: Gijs van Wulfen

Considering the widespread enthusiasm, working from home or from anywhere is here to stay. This means that digital innovation is also here to stay and will accomplish spectacular growth over the coming years. 

Soon we will move from 2D platforms for collaboration to 3D tools with AR/VR. At least that is our prediction. In fact, VR is predicted to grow from $829 million in 2018 to well over $4 billion in 2023.  For now, both offline and online innovation have their merits. And whether we innovate online or in-person, we must compensate for the disadvantages of the option chosen. 

We will merge both ways of innovating into one: hybrid innovation.

 

There is still a lot of potential for digital innovation to increase

The digital innovation process, from idea to market itself, is still full of pitfalls and inefficiencies.

Stage-Gate founder, Robert Cooper, shows that for every seven new product ideas, about four enter development, one-and-a-half are launched, and only one succeeds[1]

A study by Stevens and Burley gives even more disastrous ratios. Their study shows it takes three thousand raw ideas to come up with one successful product[2]. This means that enormous amounts of enthusiasm, energy, time, and financial resources are spent in the innovation process without direct returns. 

Innovation, of course, is a learning process full of experimenting and trial and error, where you can't always expect to get things right the first time. You learn an awful lot from all the iterations in a new concept, which pays off in other projects or your daily business. 

But would you accept wasting more than 85% of your time and money on innovation? There is an enormous potential for improvement.

 

Digital innovation processes can deliver excellent results

Digital innovation with collaboration whiteboards like Miro or Mural work; the practice has been proven. 

Of course, a lot of the innovations ideated last year have not been developed and launched yet. But taking into account the reviews of the users of online innovation processes, you can conclude that they work pretty well. Our practice is the FORTH innovation expedition we implemented completely online with Philip Morris in supporting them to ideate new smoke-free products.

Luca Rossi, their vice-president of product research and consumable development, states that:

“the magic of the FORTH method online is that it lays out a structured roadmap, implementing 25 online workshops via Microsoft Teams and Miro with templates and tools with a very clear timeline that kept both the discipline and inspiration high.”

He was not only very satisfied with the process itself but also with the results, stating 'besides delivering six disruptive new business cases with new-to-the-world technology applications, FORTH created a "from-idea-to-market" perspective among our R&D people, working together across departments in a completely new way.' 

The project was rated 8.4 on a scale of 10 by all the participants. When facilitating FORTH offline, we get evaluations with the same score between 8 and 9 on a 10-point scale. 

Other FORTH facilitators applying the methodology get the same results. So, after taking our offline innovation method online in 2020, we can conclude it works. 

 

Online and digital innovation is here to stay

Is working from home or being able to work from anywhere here to stay? The answer is a clear, YES. 

As you can see in the chart below, in polls among professionals on LinkedIn[3] : 

  • An overwhelming 70% of more than 8,000 people answered ‘yes’
  • Seventy-seven percent feel more productive at home than in the office
  • 74% said they feel more entrepreneurial than before

The Covid-19 crisis and consequent lockdowns have changed the way we work. Working remotely in teams will be a common good, as will be innovating 100% online.

Hybrid Work - Online Innovation

 

Results from Polls on LinkedIn 2020.

 

Four benefits of digital innovation 

Online innovation gives us new insights into the way we can improve our organisations. And while practising it, we discovered four benefits of online innovation over offline innovation processes.

 

  1. Information is always accessible -- The online collaboration boards, like Miro or Mural, with all the insights, customer frictions, ideas, concepts, test results, and new business cases are always accessible for the whole team. It's convenient when you want to add something, check it, or change it.
  2. It provides individual flexibility -- Now that collaboration boards are online, people can work on them asynchronously instead of performing all activities in the workshop and the rest of the team, which gives you flexibility as a participant. 
  3. It's easy to apply -- When you work together with others from all over the country, continent, or even all over the globe, innovating entirely online is an easy way to create together while being in different time zones.
  4. It's easy to share -- All the insights, customer frictions, ideas, concepts, test results, and new business cases are digital, which means it's very easy to share with someone else. As you saw in the phase of testing concepts with customers, this is quite handy using, for example, Google Docs, or when you want to share the process or the results with others within the organisation.

These online benefits make innovation easier and the innovation process more efficient.

 

New AR/VR tools will help create magical moments online

Although online workshops have the above advantages, their Achilles’ heel is the participants' low engagement, making it hard to share emotions and get into a 'group flow' with a high energy wave of excitement in your team. 

We are very glad that many new tools for virtual collaboration platforms are emerging, which are powered by augmented reality and/or virtual reality. 

Through these virtual collaboration platforms designed as actual rooms, our lifelike avatar talks, moves, and interacts, mirroring in-person collaborative sessions. It looks very promising as it might increase our engagement and help us experience magical moments online together. 

The AR/VR tool Spatial brings people together for hangouts, team planning, and brainstorms in 3D based on AR/VR technology headsets like Quest, Nreal, HoloLens, and Magic Leap.

Spatial enables you to sit next to others from across the world. It feels like science fiction because your lifelike 3D avatar interacts like an in-person collaborative session. Your monitor and your hands are your mouse, expressing and sharing ideas with whiteboarding, notes, and photos. 

Spatial officially supports 30 participants in VR, with an additional 20 joining from the browser spectator mode. 

At the end of 2020, they introduced their Augmented Reality app for iOS and Android, which runs on almost any current generation of mobile devices. You hold up your phone, and you are an active part of any virtual meeting and see lifelike avatars of co-workers right in your living room.

 

Other innovative virtual collaboration platforms

MeetinVR is another app with great avatars and a great user interface inside and outside VR. Besides that, it has interactive elements that increase engagement in meetings.

This app makes it easy to pick up a pen and produce a writing surface of your own chosen size and colour, starting to brainstorm while holding it in your hand. Then you take the post-it or paper and quickly snap it to a wall.

Apps like these increase engagement, tackling the Achilles' heel of online workshops.

VISPA also launched a tool for remote collaboration in 3D virtual collaboration platforms. The participants can move freely through a 3D environment and interact with all workshop elements they encounter, answer questions, generate ideas, vote the best one, and give feedback. 

The advantage of VISPA is that it creates interaction between people, providing you with a real workshop feeling. After the real-time workshop, you can go back to the room, show it to other colleagues or stakeholders and elaborate on the original workshop outcomes.

Sparked by the Covid-19 crisis, a lot of virtual collaboration platforms became available. Next to the three mentioned, we found a long list of others: 

 

 

We are pretty confident that further evolution of these AR/VR tools will help us create ‘group flow’ with a high energy wave of excitement in our online workshops in the near future. 

 

The future of offline and digital innovation projects is a hybrid approach 

What will the future of digital innovation projects look like? Will we all go back to in-person workshops with the original 3M post-its because we miss personal contact with our team members and the excitement of group flow? Or will we keep innovating online from home or from anywhere behind our laptop or iPad without traveling?

Our vision is that we combine the best of both 'the online and offline world', which leads to hybrid innovation projects. 

Working remotely in digital innovation teams will be the common good. So, innovating 100% online will be the starting point, as the benefits of innovating online are quite clear: it's easy, efficient, and flexible. 

At this point, however, the lack of personal connection, missing the joint emotional experience of emotions, and the low likelihood of getting into a group flow using online tools makes us choose offline workshops for reasons of effectiveness.

In the next chart, by choosing which activities and workshops to do online or offline, we will match them with the benefits of each way of innovating. 

Do we choose efficiency of online working or do we need offline workshops' effectiveness? Let’s take a look: 



As you can see in this chart, we choose to gather information, share information, test concepts, and improve them online for sake of efficiency. 

To align people on the innovation team and to decide which concepts to develop we prefer the effectiveness of offline workshops. These two activities can be done, or should be done, both offline and online. 

 

How do we go about this?

First of all, there's a very important activity of discovering customer insights. Because great digital innovation is a new solution for relevant customer friction, this activity is crucial for every innovation project's success. 

Discovering customer insights always focuses on finding out WHY people prefer what they prefer and do what they do. When you have clients all over the world, it's efficient to work online. When you have millions of customers like in consumer goods or services it's also efficient to do it online.

But I have experienced myself many times that you get better insights offline while visiting customers live. Making real contact with them leads, most of the time, to a more open attitude, deeper conversations and, as a consequence, better customer insights. 

When you work in mass markets, consider doing both: visiting a small selection of customers live and interviewing a large selection of customers online. 

 

The process of generating ideas

Next, we have the ideaiton of new ideas. We have great experience in facilitating ideation for more than 250 innovation projects offline. And our structured way of ideation leads to great results with often more than a thousand ideas in a workshop. 

In those ideation sessions, you can feel moments of great energy in the room when people share their ideas and build upon others' ideas. Interestingly enough, we also get more than a thousand ideas in our online brainstorms, as you can see in this chart.

Ideas chart - Online Innovation

 

So, getting quality and quantity is possible both online and offline.

You can see, feel, and hear the team's enthusiasm, energy, and the WoW emotions driving the offline ideation process. The big difference with working online is that you can't experience this with the present collaboration whiteboards and video conferencing tools while ideating online. 

Ideating with an innovation team of twenty or more people is an experience offline, often in a special venue in the middle of nowhere. It's a 'moment of togetherness' where people connect, share emotions, and celebrate together, which greatly impacts their relations, not only during the innovation project but also beyond that. 

An experience like it is not feasible yet online; we prefer to organise the ideating activity as a 'live' event.

 

How do you use digital innovation tools to generate ideas online?

Online ideation on collaboration whiteboards like Mural or Miro has five valuable extra benefits we experienced in our digital innovation projects: 

 

  1. Introverts Thrive - As you ideate online in silence, the ideation process empowers more introverted and reflective personalities. 
  2. Easy Documentation - All ideas are easy to read as they are typed instead of being handwritten on post-its. 
  3. Speed - The voting features of tools like Miro are much quicker than the alternative to mark the post-its you prefer with dots and counting all the dots by hand. 
  4. Digital Storage - Since all ideas are digitally stored on the online whiteboard, you can easily access them later for review. 
  5. Shareability - Sharing ideas with others within the organisation is very easy.  

 

For reasons of togetherness, group flow, and sharing positive emotions, we prefer ideation in a live event. But because online tools empower more reflective and introverted people and have excellent voting features, we suggest ideating in a 'live' set-up using online collaboration boards. 

Digital innovation really works, we have experienced and see it time and time again. 

Hybrid innovation projects mixing online and offline events combine the best of both worlds and are effective and efficient. New VR/AR tools will enable us to interact better and experience more emotions online to increase our innovation effectiveness. 

Want to learn even more about online innovation? Take a read of Online Innovation, a book which holds tools, tips, and methods to push you towards success. 

Whenever online, offline, or hybrid; we wish you luck on your journey into innovation. 

Endnotes:

[1] Robert G. Cooper, Winning at New Products, Basic Books, New York, 2011, p. 18.

[2] Stevens, G.A. and Burley, J.,'3000 Raw Ideas = 1 Commercial Success!', (May/June 1997) research Technology Management, Vol. 40, #3, pp. 17-27.

[3] Ryan Holmes, December 2020, https://medium.com/the-helm/i-asked-1-7-million-people-about-remote-work-heres-what-they-said-6e1235c1e005

 

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