In this article we discuss:
- Does working from home damage innovation?
- How management needs to adapt?
- Possible solution: The actor-oriented structure
- Additional tips to succeeding at home office and innovation
Does working from home damage innovation?
Home office is here to stay. Over 50% said in a survey that they would work from home twice a week after the pandemic (Nordbakke & Nilsen, 2021). An important question will be what consequences this will have for an organization’s innovation capabilities?
It is said that innovation is created through interaction. When the silos are broken down and interaction across departments and disciplines takes place. This was part of the philosophy behind the design of Pixar’s offices in 1986, where Steve Jobs wanted to get employees to communicate and interact as much as possible by strategically placing the restrooms around in the office space. His ideas that when people interact also create the opportunity for innovation have shaped the mindset of leaders since that time.
A natural step forward in this way of thinking is agile working methods. For several years, working agile and interdisciplinary has been proclaimed as the way to organize teams. Either in the form of Design Thinking, Design Sprint or other agile methods. Common to them all is that they emphasize that several heads think better than one, and that these heads should be as diverse as possible. The silos, on the other hand, have had a renaissance through increased use of home offices due to the ongoing pandemic. The barriers and the distance between workers feel longer than ever before, and some co-workers feel lonely in their new situation (Buffer, 2021). It feels like Interaction must have a purpose. Loose talk at the coffee machine has been replaced by efficient and targeted communication between colleagues.
“The barriers and the distance between workers feel longer than ever before, and some co-workers feel lonely in their new situation” (Buffer, 2021).
How management needs to adapt
In the future it will be important for managers to address the challenges related to remote working with loneliness, collaboration, and the ability to have a work-life balance as this is the future that employees are increasingly wanting. In the hybrid organization where digital surfaces are equated with, and in some cases surpasses, the physical ones, it becomes important for managers to understand their new role. Empowering management will be more relevant than ever by making it easier for employees to prioritize their work based at their own discretion. Home office does not provide the same opportunity for control and follow-up through hierarchy as before. It will therefore also be beneficial to change the organizational structure to something that Fjeldstad et al. (2012) referred to as actor-oriented structure.
The actor-oriented structure
An actor-oriented structure consists of three main elements:
(1) actors who have the abilities and values for self-organization,
(2) commons where the actors accumulate and share resources, and
(3) protocols, processes and infrastructures that enable collaboration with several actors.
These three elements both create and function within organizational contexts that consist of different combinations of openness, common values, norms, trust and altruism.
As the name actor-oriented implies, it is the actors, here the employees, who are the most important factor. It will be the managers’ job to design appropriate structures, procedures and protocols to assist them in their work, as well as to facilitate innovation even in spite of the new work day. It can be said that either you have competent actors who have the ability to set their own goals and assess the consequences of their potential actions seen in the light of the goals of the organization or you don’t have them. As previously mentioned, the management opportunity lies in their ability to facilitate and support the employees in their working day.
Through empowering management where you set goals and continually strengthen the actors, you will in the long run get more competent actors who are able to cope with the new workday without necessarily having to come at the cost of the organization’s innovation ability.
These actors must be further supported by what Fjeldstad et al. calls for commons and protocols, processes and infrastructures that enable collaboration with several actors. Commons refers to resources that are collectively owned and available to the actors. These resources can be a shared understanding of reality about threats and opportunities in the organization’s environment and the availability of resources to meet these threats and opportunities. Another example is shared knowledge resources where relevant information is gathered. Protocols, processes and infrastructure set clear frameworks and guidelines for the working day to the actors in the organization. Protocols can, for example, provide answers to the division of labor and the areas of responsibility in a project where different actors must cooperate. Processes will here define an expectation in how the project should transpire, while infrastructure deals with systems that connect the actors, whether it is physical meeting rooms or digital ones.
Benefits of implementing the actor-oriented structure
By making use of the three elements in the actor-oriented structure, it will be possible for large groups of collaborating actors to self-organize with minimal use of hierarchical mechanisms. Competent actors who to a large extent are capable of self-leadership with leaders who exercise empowering leadership will in their work be supported by “commons” and protocols, processes and infrastructures. By clearly communicating and supporting organizational goals, it will therefore be possible to counteract the silo effect that a home office can have.
Through efficient and legitimate use of digital tools to ensure effective communication and collaboration, home offices will not necessarily negatively affect the innovation capacity of organizations. This through empowering leadership, commons, protocols, processes and infrastructures that enable the actors to collaborate and organize their own work at their own discretion.
Additional tips to succeeding at home office and innovation!
Adopt the mindset that the organization consists of several business models. This opens up opportunities for spin-offs in that employees can innovate in areas they believe are worth investing in even if it does not correspond to the organization’s overall goals and focus areas. Through this way of thinking, it opens up for the competent actors to use their expertise in areas that they believe may be worth investing in.
To ensure that ideas are captured and put into a system, it will be wise to create your own innovation channels that employees have access to. An example here might be Adobe’s Kickbox. This is a box that contains various resources needed to work on generating, testing and prototyping an idea.
Buffer. (2021). The 2021 State of Remote Work. https://buffer.com/2021-state-of-remote-work
Fjeldstad, Ø. D., Snow, C. C., Miles, R. E., & Lettl, C. (2012). The architecture of collaboration. Strategic Management Journal, 33(6), 734–750. https://doi.org/10.1002/smj.1968
Nordbakke, S. T. D. & Nielsen, A. F. (2021). Korona, hjemmekontor og reisevaner(TØI rapport 1863/2021). Transportøkonomisk institutt. https://www.toi.no/getfile.php?mmfileid=71946
Hans Petter Farstad, INNOVATION CONSULTANT
Hans Petter seeks to bridge the gap between sustainable and profitable business models by combining an understanding of various technological innovations with business and administrative knowledge and an ethical mindset. Through his master’s degree in innovation and management from Western Norway University of Applied Sciences Hans Petter has gained extensive knowledge about innovation, business development, management strategy and corporate social responsibility.
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