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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett

Are Hybrid Workers Less Innovative?

Water Cooler Chats and Innovation

Hybrid work decreases commuting time and costs, but reports are mixed as to whether people are more or less innovative and productive while working at home. In-person interactions with people at work who have different “intellectual viewpoints” have a unique influence on the course of scientific research, according to Ben Rand reporting in the Harvard Business School Week.* Cross-department exchanges also appear to be beneficial in other disciplines and in other organizations, not just in universities.

Hybrid workers would seem to be particularly innovative as they are more independent, more focused, and they have fewer meetings and other distractions. Additionally, they are not spending as many mind-numbing hours commuting each week. However, the isolation of hybrid workers can have negative effects on their ability to innovate.

In the office or lab, Interactions with people outside one’s department or discipline cause one to consider new ideas, new methodologies, and new questions to pose. “People in the same discipline…have a tendency to reproduce one another’s work…. “ Furthermore, they tend to cite the research of people they know and who are in “geographic as well as intellectual proximity,” found Eamon Duede at Harvard’s Digital Data Design Institute and Karim Lakhani, a Harvard Business School professor.

At its worst, hybrid work in academia—and potentially in “technology, pharmaceutical development, and other STEM industries” --can result in “the homogenization of the intellectual perspectives [we] interact with ….At its worst, [hybrid work] would [lead to] a kind of stagnation, where we fail to influence one another,” Duede observed. Duede himself felt as if he were in a sort of intellectual lockdown during the Pandemic.

Research Needed in Other Disciplines

Hybrid work is convenient for workers, but it also has limitations. A significant limitation is that remote workers don’t benefit as much from the cross-pollination in-person workers receive from formal and informal encounters with colleagues, including people from different departments or even companies who have different perspectives and ask different questions. Duede believes this phenomenon occurs in most organizations, not just scientific organizations. Schmoozing with colleagues at the water cooler may spark new ways of thinking and perhaps innovation!

Related Articles:

* Called Back to the Office? How You Benefit from Ideas You Didn't Know You Were Missing Harvard Business School, May 9, 2024

“Teeing off on Hump Day,” Mark Shannon, The Boston Globe 5/26/24, p. A1. Attendance at greater Boston area golf courses has spiked on Wednesday afternoons at 4 PM, increasing by 278 percent between 2019 and 2023, with hybrid workers responsible for the increase.


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Copyright ©6/24 Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.  


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