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You can innovate remotely. Here’s proof

Remote work has forced us to reconsider the very definition of innovation—splintering it into a 10-step spectrum and forcing us to take meaningful steps forward.

You can innovate remotely. Here’s proof
[Photos: Nattakorn Maneerat/Getty Images; ben o’bro/Unsplash]

Companies have long viewed remote work as the enemy of innovation.

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Traditionalists have said remote work can’t replicate the creative synergy that takes place in person. They’ve also argued that, with less supervision, remote workers are less productive than in-person workers. In some cases, as in the healthcare industry, in-person dynamics seemed so necessary that remote arrangements were scarcely considered.

March 9, 2022, marked the two-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 lockdowns. Whether or not companies agreed with conventional remote-work wisdom, all had to innovate without seeing their coworkers face-to-face.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. In the past two years, a necessity to work remotely produced a slew of innovations.

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From an estimated $218 billion extra in e-commerce spending to skyrocketing interest in online-learning options, those who used the pandemic as an opportunity to challenge conventional wisdom won big.

Two years on, here’s why remote innovation works—and how the healthcare industry, in particular, has benefitted.

The two main advantages of remote innovation

1. Challenges cognitive biases—and produced many happier workers. “Cognitive biases” are entrenched ways of thinking that prevent us from seeing things in a new light—in other words, that keep us close-minded. A couple key pandemic examples: Normalcy bias, which tells us that the “normal” we’ve gotten used to is how things will always be; and functional fixedness, which makes people stick with the method that’s always worked rather than experimenting with something new. The pandemic forced people to reconsider notions of normal, and made previously effective methods unusable. Without the shackles of these cognitive biases, people were forced to come up with new viable work dynamics. Now, 91% of workers hope some amount of remote work persists.

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2. Welcomes more personality types. In-person dynamics work best if you’re outgoing, confident, extroverted. If you’re introverted, shy to introduce new ideas? Not so much. Given that there’s a roughly 50-50 split between introverts and extroverts, that means in-person dynamics only work well for half of the workforce. Remote working, which lets each employee tailor their own work processes, helps everyone thrive.

Remote innovations reshaping the healthcare industry

Until widespread vaccination, in-person medical visits were generally unsafe. As a result, 2020 alone saw a more than 6,200% increase in telehealth visits: from 840,000 in 2019 to more than 52.4 million a year later.

On a basic level, this established telehealth as a viable means of service in a pandemic world. But it also illuminated ways for healthcare providers to use telehealth in a post-pandemic world. Here are some of the most exciting examples:

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  • Pre-visit engagement and triage. Remote screening methods like questionnaires and call centers have reduced pressures on hospitals, kept patients engaged, and made pre-visit procedures more convenient. Some providers have even begun using “virtual waiting rooms,” which allow patients to wait for appointments in their cars or homes instead of actual waiting rooms. As much as we’ll all miss reading 2012 issues of Sports Illustrated, the virtual waiting room is a huge win.
  • Expert supervision. With enhanced video-communication technology, experts have been able to supervise complicated medical procedures that could not otherwise take place. Radiologists, ultrasound sonographers, intensive care units, and more have benefitted from remote supervision. In my opinion, one of the coolest: Tele-ICUs, which function like a kind of air traffic control, monitoring patients with data and telemetry that assists bedside care.
  • Virtual care stations. Possibly more important than who’s getting care is who’s not getting care . . . and why. Minorities and low-income families have struggled to get good care during the pandemic, showing healthcare innovators which communities need their attention most. Virtual care stations, set up in retail establishments, city buildings, libraries, and others, use cameras, lighting, and speakers to connect underserved communities with high-quality care. It’s a pod-based system that brings care to people instead of expecting people to already live close to care facilities.

Whether we know it or not, all of us hold onto ways of thinking about how the world is or should be. Black swan events are always waiting around the corner to force us to evolve our thinking. New paradigms around remote work have forced us to reconsider the very definition of innovation—splintering it into a 10-step spectrum and forcing us to take meaningful steps forward.


This article originally appeared in Minutes and is reprinted with permission.


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