Why social interaction is essential to drive innovation

Greater social interaction does have its advantages in an office setting

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Although the pandemic introduced the idea of remote operation for many businesses, the general consensus is that most companies would prefer to adopt it for an extended period of time. Since social isolation became a norm to keep a check on the spread of the virus, professionals adapted the work-from-home lifestyle, which may now continue for many.

However, a research study featured by the World Economic Forum suggests that getting employees back to working from office might be the best thing for them. The report, ‘On-site, remote or hybrid: Employee sentiment on the workplace”, sampled 9,000 US-based employees and discovered that people working on-site hold significant advantages over their peers, who work in a remote setting.

“If one wants to brainstorm, or build off on one’s team members’ ideas, one is looking for specific windows of creativity where one’s ideation is enhanced by the energies of people that one works with”

Preemita Singh, CHRO, Hero FinCorp

It further suggests that most of these advantages are a direct result of greater social interaction that one has an opportunity to partake in, while working in an office setting. About 70 per cent of the people sampled in the survey said that they feel a stronger communication is in place when they work in an office environment. Since deliberations on ideas form the key to driving innovation within a company, a constant channel of communication ensures a healthy back and forth of ideas.

“While ‘meeting technology’ has changed, it is definitely not a substitute for human interaction”

Abhijit Bhaduri, HR leader & author, Dreamers & Unicorns

Preemita Singh, CHRO, Hero FinCorp, feels that constant communication is essential in certain roles, where innovation and ideation is the key output, and physical interaction is an indispensable asset. “If one wants to brainstorm, or build off on one’s team members’ ideas, one is looking for specific windows of creativity where one’s ideation is enhanced by the energies of people that one works with,” she says. “We have learned to use digitalised workflows in unimaginable ways, but I do hope that some of the things where there is a clear advantage in having face-to-face interactions would be reinstated, as the industry would benefit from it,” she added.

Abhijit Bhaduri, HR leader & author, Dreamers & Unicorns, believes that innovation has been affected by limited interaction between employees.

He points out that innovation is driven forth when people coming from diverse backgrounds work together to develop a particular project or resolve an issue. Today, a lot of innovation happens when groups work on different parts of a task and come together and brainstorm. So, innovation has definitely been affected. “Most problems in specific sectors are too complicated for a single person to work on. Some of the issues require people from different walks of life to work together,” says Bhaduri. Of course, communication can happen via e-mails too, “but I don’t think they would really establish a proper working relationship,” he adds.

“One can be as accessible in a virtual environment, but it would always require additional effort for a person to strike up a random conversation”

Mahipal Nair, CHRO, South Asia, NielsenIQ

Bhaduri draws attention to another important issue with relationship development through online interaction. He says that chances of interacting with peers in a more in-depth and informal occupational discussion are lessened. “Online interaction, by definition, is generally restricted to the discussion or resolution of a particular issue. Hence, a more holistic and informal discussion, seldom takes place between people who are working together. While ‘meeting technology’ has changed, it is definitely not a substitute for human interaction,” he asserts.

Mahipal Nair, CHRO, South Asia, NielsenIQ, believes that physical interaction is indispensable when it comes to ideation for HR professionals. They require it to devise better ways to ensure optimum employee-employer relationships. “In a physical setting, striking up a conversation with a fellow worker is way easier than it is online. One can be as accessible in a virtual environment, but it would always require additional effort for a person to strike up a random conversation,” he points out.

Informal conversations, as Nair rightly states, are essential to gauge what is happening in the company, and hence, are great inputs to building a healthier workplace.

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