I’m having many conversations with ideators, innovation teams, chief data officers, chief innovation officers, and product design teams about how to secure high engagement levels while everyone works from home, leaving corporate innovation labs and centers orphaned. In my honest opinion, this is a real challenge!

Innovation workers require connecting with teammates to collaborate on creative ideas, to both give and get immediate feedback, to feel team spirit, and to celebrate joint achievements. This is hard to do with coworkers in home offices, connected by a laptop only.

Nevertheless, there are tools that can help you approach pre-pandemic engagement levels:

  • Lead by example, and turn your camera on during meetings. While speaking with your team members and during regular stand-ups, backlog meetings, or review meetings, make sure people can see your reactions and feel personally connected. Ask everybody to turn on their camera, too! Complementing the auditory with a visual experience brings back a bit of the feeling of meeting people physically.
  • Simulate your physical innovation lab. To enable teammates, top managers, budget holders, and other stakeholders to experience your innovation progress beyond the classic progress reports on slides, you can set up a virtual reality lab. Leverage 360-degree cameras in home offices that provide insight into what the team is working on and what it feels like. Stakeholders who dispose of virtual reality gear will get the full experience, while people using their computers still get a decent feel for what’s going on. Maybe you want to offer a virtual trip through the innovation lab every Friday morning for anyone who’s interested. Participants could enter the virtual lab through a website, select the teams and members they’re most interested in, and start a conversation that would include the images of the 360-degree camera and a vocal conversation.
  • Demonstrate that the ideation funnel is still working by letting the crowd vote on ideas. Every company employee should get access to your innovation platform to comment and vote on ideas. Ideas voted as “hot” would make it into the next step of getting budget allocated, and everyone interested is invited to watch the work in progress. Graphical dashboards allow easy tracking of work in progress and make transparent that the innovation management initiative is working at full speed.
  • Encourage your teammates to exchange daily on their progress. Alternatively, coworkers could have a virtual cup of tea or coffee, sharing anything that might be on their minds. One Forrester client organized a 24/7 Microsoft Teams team that serves as a virtual coffee corner where people can freely join whenever they’re taking a break. Others will get a push notification once someone has joined the virtual coffer corner.
  • Offer feedback and verbal rewards — they’re more important than ever. Reinforcing the team’s identity and mission are positive employee experience moves that can raise morale. To learn more, read this Forrester report.