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Innovation 2021 – Is Remote Work Killing Corporate Innovation?

This is how to keep the innovation flowing in today’s remote work environment

The concept of remote work isn’t new by any means, but with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies had to quickly embrace the concept as the new normal. Almost one year on, and many corporations have made remote working the rule rather than the exception. With one caveat – innovation. Is it possible to innovate without interpersonal interaction or is remote work killing corporate innovation?

The UBI Global community is widely familiar with remote work environments including coworking spaces, WFH concepts, and catalyzing innovation among globally diverse staff, mentors, and partners. This article contains valuable insights gleaned directly from the UBI Global community of business incubators and accelerators on how corporations can keep the innovation flowing in today’s remote working environment.


Interpersonal interactions provide one key ingredient to innovation strategy – focus. Gathering key people from around the world in one room makes it easy to close laptops, turn phones screen down and engage in uninterrupted innovation sessions for at least 30-minute stretches. Not so in the remote working world, where 10 minutes of focus is the most you can hope for by the time the late joiners figure out how to turn on their cameras, or someone else gets an email notification and only appears to be engaged while they answer. 

To rekindle that in-person focus, the business incubators and accelerators in our community recommend the following:

     – Send an agenda and material to pre-read before the session.

     – Book 60-minute sessions only (maximum).

     – Target no more than 10 people at a time, breaking out into virtual ‘rooms’ as necessary.

     – Request complete focus during the session by shutting off email notifications, stowing devices, etc.

     – Make sure everyone participates with their video on, no exceptions.

This approach of making sure that everyone is on board for short bursts of innovation creates that flow missing from interpersonal communication.


While there are many benefits to remote work such as a vastly widened talent base, some interpersonal benefits are lost. In particular, creating social relationships and a trusting environment that, like focus, is essential for innovation. The Allen curve, discovered by MIT professor Thomas J. Allen in the late 1970s, graphically represents the exponential drop in the frequency of communication between engineers as the distance between them increases.

As with many challenges faced today, technology is helping innovation teams overcome the lack of interpersonal communication for innovation. Through communication technology from Hubspot, our community of business incubators and accelerators, as well as their startups, can ensure regular, scheduled, consistent communication with their customer base. Similarly, business incubators and accelerators in our community find that transitioning to an asynchronous communication structure is more conducive to a remote working environment. 

What is asynchronous communication? It is based on the principle that not all work happens at the same time. It allows for innovation hubs to communicate, collaborate, and innovate across countries. Asynchronous communication includes all forms that do not occur in real-time, and responses can be intermittent. Some examples of asynchronous communication are:

     – Email

     – Team Communication Technology (i.e. Slack)

     – Project Management Tools (i.e. Todoist)

     – In-App communication (i.e. comments in GoogleDocs, etc.)

Innovation team members are able to respond to communications via these platforms when they’re available. Collaborators don’t need to be online at the same time or even physically together. When asynchronous communication is the foundation of the innovation process, it enables effective communication across the globe and creates a culture of focused collaboration.

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Innovation teams that are highly dispersed around the globe can result in a lost sense of purpose, which is typically driven through strong, interpersonal relationships and direct observation of the impact of your efforts on others, stakeholders, or the ecosystem. While creating a sense of purpose is a challenge in a virtual environment, business incubators and accelerators have excelled at this for quite some time.

A prime example of the programs in our community creating a sense of purpose is the high percentage of alumni mentors and partners within their individual ecosystems. The reason for this is two-fold; one, it can be a requirement of enrollment in the incubator or accelerator, and two, alumni founders understand the value of having a mentor that has had the same experience of founding a startup and want to give back to the program and ecosystem that nurtured them.

What is reactive disruption? Learn about the effect of COVID-19 on the global innovation ecosystem in this article.

Building focus, trust, and purpose through effective, consistent communication isn’t the only talent rampant in the UBI Global community of business incubators and accelerators. The programs also happen to be nurturing some of the most successful startups in the world. 

Impactful Collaboration –> This way!

Collaboration with our community is by far the most effective way to ensure success for your corporate innovation team. 

Click below to schedule a call with UBI Global Innovation Manager Lucas Molin

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