During the last 12 months, we’ve talked to many inventive people across companies who are working hard to keep the motivation of their colleagues and teammates high while everybody has to work from home and nobody can hit the office or the innovation lab to collaborate on innovations. Here are some of the top tips we collected during these conversations for you to reuse and adapt to your innovation needs: 

  • Replicating the buzz of colleagues: Employees of Swedish advertising agency Familjen STHLM were missing the typical office noise so much that they embarked on a creative collaboration with audio branding agency Red Pipe Studios and created adaptable “sounds of colleagues” simulating an office worker’s working environment.
  • Turning physical events into virtual sessions: Companies like Deutsche Telekom and SAP organized lunch appointments so people wouldn’t have to have lunch alone. Participants would be assigned an unknown colleague to have joint, virtual lunches or midday breaks (called “mystery lunch” and “never lunch alone”). Other companies organized virtual wine tastingfor their employees and socially distant BBQ events where participants would share their BBQ-in-progress with their webcams. SAP introduced “Quarantini” evenings (i.e., imitating a bar where participants would enjoy their individual drinks in front of their laptops and chat with others). To get rid of excess weight afterward, employees organized virtual workouts and yoga sessions from their home offices. 
  • Leveraging internal podcasts: This has been broadly adopted for sharing personal health and fitness tips or just for having fun by telling funny family stories. Listening to podcasts of colleagues reinforces the feeling of belonging and drives empathy during difficult times. 
  • Focusing on personal, quality conversations: People managers reported very positive employee feedback when they dedicated time for 1:1 conversations with their direct reports on weekly basis or at an even higher frequencyUsing these conversations to listen to their employees’ concerns, achievements, and constraints and trying to find creative solutions for their challenges along with appreciating their work during difficult times reinforces the notion that nobody is being left alone or behind: Managers and employees “are sitting in the same boat.” Baiersdorf introduced “care buddies” by preselecting two employees randomly who then get the chance to exchange privately about burning issues or how they’re dealing with stressful situations. 
  • Making personal gifts: Regular and surprising gift boxes shipped to employees’ private addresses yields the highest return on effort. Great examples are health packages containing massage oil, a fascia roller, or mindfulness tips. DIY Christmas market packages, family fun weekend packages, “anti-video conference fatigue” packages, and other theme- and challenge-driven packages make for high appreciation, too.
  • Simulating a 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. 
  • Offering free time and monetary benefits: Juggling one’s home office, homeschooling, family, and household necessities can be relieved a bit by allowing employees to take off a half or full day to get back some oxygen and reenergize for work. One-time monetary benefits can also help relieve some of the challenges your employees might face during difficult times.