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Innovation Management, Virtual Teams

Crowdsourcing Ideas with a Virtual Workforce

As the saying goes, “good ideas can come from anywhere” — perhaps now more than ever.

Published By Alex Elkins

yellow light bulb for crowdsourcing ideas post

In a traditional office environment, crowdsourcing ideas can take a variety of forms. While suggestion boxes and whiteboards are the most tangible ways of gathering input, water cooler chats and drive-by desk conversations also present frequent, albeit informal, opportunities for brainstorming or vetting ideas. 

But as the world responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with an abrupt shift to remote work, tangible and in-person ways of crowdsourcing employees were no longer an option — and for some organizations, they may never be again. 

  • According to a recent Gallup poll, more than 60 percent of Americans say they’re working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic — and three out of five prefer to stay there after public health restrictions are lifted. 
  • In June, more than 26% of Fortune 500 CEOs said that at least 90% of their workforce will never return to their usual workplace. 

Faced with those statistics, you may be searching for ways to motivate, engage, and connect with your remote employeesIn this post, you’ll discover how a few of our customers are doing just thatwhile solving real customer problems and even pivoting on their company strategy. 

Why Crowdsourcing for Remote Employees

The rise in remote work — and the desire to continue working from home — deliver a one-two punch to organizations accustomed to in-person meetings and paper-based ways of crowdsourcing ideas.  

Even if you already had electronic ways of crowdsourcing employees’ ideas in place prior to the pandemic, it’s important to find a purpose-built tool that facilitates the same type of interactions as an in-person brainstorming session — i.e., capturing, evaluating, prioritizing, and collaborating on ideas — so you can retain the human element as much as possible.

And here’s why that matters: While working remotely looks different, feels different, and is different than working from a traditional officeyour employees still have the same invaluable knowledge, regardless of where they log on to their computers.

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Yes, they are blending childcare and homeschooling with working hours (if they’re moms, then disproportionately soand yes, they are often setting up their “office” in a makeshift spot, like the kitchen table or spare bedroom. 

But hear this: Your employees are still the closest to the problems in your organization — and they are the most capable of coming up with powerful insights that can help shape your company strategy. 

Consider these examples:

  • The customer care representative who handles customer complaints now has even more insight into the process for escalating issues, due to the volume of calls he receives due to shipping delays. 
  • The software engineer who crafts the user experience for your company’s mobile app now has even more insight into which parts of the journey are causing friction, potentially causing current or prospective customers to switch to your competitor. 
  • The account executive or renewal specialist who talks with customers every day now has even more insight into what’s keeping her accounts up at night, from first-hand information on how your top customers are pivoting to meet demands or survive in a chaotic market to emerging trends in their industry. 

At Planview, we’ve been hearing, coaching, and applauding how our customers are crowdsourcing ideas to shape their strategy, not just in response to COVID-19 challenges, but long before the current crisisWe’re proud to share a few of their stories in this post. 

Employee Empowerment at Premera Blue Cross

The innovation team at Premera, a Blue Cross Blue Shield healthcare provider in Seattle, Wash., was tasked with creating solutions to address the needs of the twenty-first century healthcare consumer. To guide their strategy forward, the team decided the best ideas would come from the people who interact with their customers the most – Premera’s employees.  

With about 28 percent of the organization working remotely, traditional methods for crowdsourcing ideas, such as the employee suggestion box, limited their reach in diversity and inclusion. They decided to leverage Planview Spigit to focus on driving true culture change.

For their first challenge, Premera asked their employees: “As we make healthcare work better, how might we provide positive surprises to our customers and delight them?”

The question engaged a phenomenal 73 percent of the organization, amassing more than 400 ideas and nearly 11,000 votes. “Spigit has helped us unleash innovation across our enterprise. It has given us an interactive platform for crowdsourcing and nurturing ideators, not just ideas, said Patti Brooke, Director of Innovation at Premera.

Read: Premera Blue Cross Transforms their Business by Nurturing a Culture of Innovation

Scaling Globally with Aristocrat

Aristocrat, a leading provider of gaming and casino solutions, has tripled the size of its workforce over the past five years. They created their “thinkBIGGER” initiative to challenge their employees to come up with ideas around solving customer problems and the future of the gaming industry.

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With their 7,000 employees spread across the globe, they needed a way to scale their innovation program to not only provide each employee with a voice, but also to ensure transparency in the process. Using Planview Spigit, they have created an interactive hub for crowdsourcing ideas, one that would enable them to collect, prioritize, and vet ideas at scale.

Within three months of launching, Aristocrat has been able to reach its global workforce and capture thousands of ideas, some of which have already turned into prototypes for testing.

“Real innovation can come from anywhere, usually from people who aren’t afraid to challenge the norm but may not have felt like their voice mattered. We’ve changed that,” Roberto CoppolaVP of Corporate Innovation at Aristocrat.

Read: Aristocrat Changes the Game by Giving Every Employee the Opportunity to Solve Problems

Customer Engagement with Ryan Companies

Two of the four pillars of Ryan Companies’ Insights and Innovation team is ensuring every employee is engaged and increasing the customer experience by becoming trusted partners. It was important to them that not all ideas came from executivesno matter their location or role in the company. What was more exciting was how they paired the execution of these two pillars for crowdsourcing ideas — engagement and diversity — by leveraging Spigit. 

First, they asked each client about the problems they faced. Then, they used each client’s answers to craft internal challenge questions for their client’s employees that were based on the high-priority needs.  

The winning ideas from each challenge were presented to each client in a Shark-tank style challenge format. With clients and employees distributed across the country, Spigit provided a platform for all parties to collaborate in an efficient manner 

“It was a huge hit with everyone involved and went a long way in not only driving our own culture of engagement and innovation but inspiring our clients to do the same. They think of us as a partner that is committed to solving their problems, and as a customer-driven company, nothing makes us happier,” Mike Prefling, former VP of Insights and Innovation at Ryan Companies.

Read: Ryan Companies Builds a Culture of Innovation by Supporting Employee and Customer Engagement 

Uniting Remote Employees with Crowdsourcing

Whether your company’s transition to remote work is temporary or permanent, employees are craving ways to come together right now. Fun, virtual teambuilding events might be the answer. But we’ve seen that employees rally when they feel they’re part of something big.

Everybody wants to be able to look back at their career and say they played a role in a product or company that made substantial change. 

Looking for more information on running crowdsourcing programs that matter? Download the 2019 State of Crowdsourced Innovation Report to learn powerful insights and trends, see how your innovation program compares to others, and take away best practices to help you on your innovation journey.

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Alex Elkins Written by Alex Elkins

Alex Elkins is a Product Marketing Manager and Scrum Master at Planview, where focuses on our Team Products - Spigit, LeanKit, and Projectplace. He joined Planview from Spigit, where he advanced his innovation acumen and built valued client relationships in the innovation space. Alex enjoys sharing strategies with our customers around continuous improvement and employee engagement to help enable a stronger team environment. He is a graduate of Emory University and Auburn University with degrees in Economics and Civil Engineering, respectively.