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The new normal: How to drive innovation while working remotely

The key to innovation, whether in an office or working remotely, is catalysts.

The new normal: How to drive innovation while working remotely
[Image source: Romolo Tavani / Adobe Stock]

For many, remote work began as a temporary solution to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s increasingly becoming the new normal. An overwhelming 96% of people want to continue working remotely, either full-time or in a hybrid arrangement, according to a FlexJobs survey.

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Remote work has clear advantages, but it comes with challenges as well. With everyone in different locations, how do you work effectively as a team to drive innovation?

The key to innovation, whether in an office or working remotely, is Catalysts. A Catalyst is a person who takes in lots of information, sees infinite possibilities, and can’t stop themselves from taking action. You might be a Catalyst yourself, or you may lead one or more Catalysts.

In either case, you need to understand how to build a team and environment that helps catalysts do what they do best: create change in a changing world.

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IT ALL STARTS WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE

No Catalyst works in a vacuum. In order to help them thrive, you need to be thoughtful about how you build your team, especially in a remote environment where team unity doesn’t occur as naturally. Here are some tips for creating catalytic remote teams.

Empower your Catalysts. Chances are, you already have Catalysts in your organization. They collect data subconsciously; see lots of possibilities and have a clear vision for the future; feel an inherent drive for action; and have an experimentation mindset.

Identify individuals like this and empower them by giving them the autonomy and space to act.

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• Focus on identifying personality traits instead of carving out specific job descriptions. Team building, especially in a remote world, starts with mindset. Without a physical location to unite your team, you need them to mind-meld. Think about how people work (personality traits), as opposed to what they’re working on (specific job descriptions).

• Look for people with growth mindsets who are comfortable with some ambiguity. A remote environment requires flexibility and self-direction. Plus, Catalysts move very quickly, and they often pivot and jump from idea to idea. So you need a team that is comfortable with change and uncertainty.

Innovation doesn’t spontaneously spring into being; it comes from people—so get your team right to best support Catalysts.

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COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE

In a remote environment, it’s all too easy for communication to suffer. Additionally, Catalysts are so focused on action that they sometimes forget to slow down and communicate their vision. The following strategies can help you communicate better with Catalysts—and ensure they’re communicating as well so no one is left behind.

• Hold standup meetings. Especially if you’re working with new people or starting a new project, hold regular standup meetings to share the direction you’re headed and any new strategic initiatives and challenges. Just 15 minutes a day can ensure everyone is aligned.

• Create a shared working space. So much of innovation stems from collaboration. You need to get people into the same room and talking. You can do this virtually by scheduling a block of time daily or weekly for the team to join an open Zoom call. This will create a sense of working together in the same room.

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• Prioritize celebration. Many remote leaders fall into the trap of only communicating when there’s a problem or they need something. That can be demotivating for the team. Acknowledge the successes.

• Talk about burnout. Burnout is real, and it’s especially common among Catalysts because of how quickly they move. Talking about it helps an organization deal with it and still thrive. This is especially important when working remotely, because you may not be able to see the signs the same way you would in an office.

When in doubt, overcommunicate. Sometimes it may feel like you’re a broken record, but it’s never wasted.

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YOU CAN’T HAVE INNOVATION WITHOUT TRUST

Innovation can be scary. It involves change, uncertainty, and usually some failure. For an innovative team to function, they need trust. Non-Catalysts need to trust in Catalysts’ vision for the future, and Catalysts need to trust non-Catalysts to execute the vision.

Arguably in any environment, but particularly a remote one, this trust must be consciously built. Here are some ways to increase trust in your catalytic team.

• Organize fun, informal gatherings. In an office setting, coworkers naturally socialize and build the interpersonal bonds needed for trust. With virtual happy hours, icebreakers, or other rituals of fun and connection, your team can create similar bonds remotely.

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• Create employee resource groups. Build a space for people to come together to discuss hard issues as well as celebrate cultures and differences. It’s a great way to build community.

• Translate physically rooted elements of your culture to the digital space. Culture creates a sense of belonging, which is integral to trust, so you need to grow your culture virtually. For example, if you previously provided free lunches in the office, you could send out restaurant gift cards or some other piece of swag. Such acts make people feel appreciated and united, even if they’re not in an office.

With these strategies, you can cultivate the high-trust environment Catalysts need, even if your team members have never met each other in person.

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EMBRACE INNOVATION

Remote work is an innovation in itself, and like any innovation, it requires some adjustments. You have to be thoughtful in how you build your team, intentional in your communication, and conscious about creating trust. In return, you’ll have happier, more productive, more engaged employees, which is a perfect recipe for innovation.

So embrace remote work, set your Catalysts up for success, and get innovating.


Shannon Lucas, Co-CEO, Catalyst Constellations.

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