Do Virtual Teams Foster Creativity and Innovation?

Google Office

Google Office

I attended a CoreNet Global New England Chapter event in Boston that featured Google’s Facility Director, Adam Lutz, from their New York office. The presentation, meeting the needs of diverse work styles, highlighted Google’s New York office approach to office design by emphasizing collaborative team planning.  What resonated with me is challenging ideals of what office space is, which is not only manifesting in the redesign of traditional offices, but also is at the heart of remote work, virtual teams, and co-working. Lutz shared some interesting observations about inspiring creativity. That if you give employees the tools to create an optimal office design in a dense space, the results are a fertile environment in which creativity thrives and is much less likely to be found in a home or remote office.

When I think of how density can beget creativity and innovation in a shared space if set up to do so, it’s interesting to contrast with whether a geographically dispersed team can be as creative and innovative together virtually, and wonder if enough data has been collected about distributed teams to analyze these outcomes.  The Journal of E-Working conducted research on the conditions of innovation within virtual teams in 2008.  The Institute for Innovation and Information Productivity tackled this back in 2007. Jill Nemiro, a Professor at Cal State Poly Tech, wrote about this in her book, Creativity in Virtual Teams.

Conversations about virtual teams have primarily focused on establishing them and conditions of success: communication-based work processes, leveraging the right collaborative tools, building a community, establishing goals and accountability, training, how to manage remote employees and how to thaw mid-manager resistance. But when we look closely at creativity and innovation, what tools do we have to measure whether virtual teams can be as creative and innovative as Google office counterparts? Even with tools like Second LifeMindJet and online white boards that can more closely replicate what happens in an office team meeting, it will be interesting to see what findings reveal downstream on whether creativity and innovation can equally thrive, and how it does, in the virtual team model.  Maybe the question is more about how to stimulate creativity and innovation, regardless of office space. A friend just recently highlighted an article in the Wall Street Journal, How To Be Creative, which busts traditional myths about creativity and innovation, indicating it be found anywhere, given right brain stimulation.

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