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Innovation Management, Virtual Teams

Crowdsourcing Software: Driving Virtual Workplace Engagement

Published By Doug Williams

Researchers today anticipate a dramatic increase in employees working from home starting in the next two years — a trend that willikely accelerate given recent global events. With the shift towards remote work comes the need for organizations to engage their employees in different ways. A variety of tools, such as video conferencing, communications, and crowdsourcing software, exist to address some of these needs. 

Tools such as email, text, Yammer, and Slack satisfy one-to-one and one-to-several asynchronous communications. Video conferencing, through platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Webex, and Google Hangouts, have enabled the human connection in meetings. When it comes to innovation, organizations should turn to purpose-built crowdsourcing software. This helps provide business value through their innovation initiatives. It also creates new levels of engagement with broader and more diverse set of participants. 

Those responsible for driving innovation within a department or business unit, or across the entire organization, often rely upon in-person sessions to identify and validate key business problems and generate and prioritize ideas to solve those problems. You’re probably familiar with the concept – you know, the room with all the colorful sticky notes papering the wall? Those inperson sessions won’t likely be happening again any time soon, but companies cannot let current circumstances slow down their drive for innovation.

Innovation teams looking for a virtual equivalent of these sessions need look no further than crowdsourcing software. These tools will not only help maintain your innovation cycles, but also create new value in three important ways: 

Crowdsourcing software allows you to virtualize a process that previously had been done in person.

In-person ideation sessions are fun and engaging. But what happens when, for whatever reason, you are unable to meet in person? A standalone video conference is not an efficient solution, because there is no common place for the content to live (i.e., only one person would have access to the sticky notes). Simple digital collaboration platforms like Slack or Yammer are not quite sufficient, given the linear approach to sharing and collaborating on content.

A crowdsourcing challenge hosted on a purpose-built platform solves for these issues by virtualizing the in-person process. This provides a world of possibilities. Colleagues can:

  • submit ideas in a transparent fashion,
  • comment on and vote for or star-rate their colleagues’ ideas,
  • and collaboratively improve upon and prioritize the best ideas

The virtualization of the live event can be done in a myriad of ways. One option would be to replicate the live session in time/duration, along with facilitation over a video conference. Another option would be to extend the session over a period of days or weeks. With more time, people have the ability and time to think more deeply about the problem statement or challenge question. Ultimately, this produces a higher number of more deeply developed ideas for consideration.

One could also take a hybrid approach to a virtual ideation. You facilitate an idea jam session, say, for an hour. Then, follow it up by a more extended discussion for further ideation, collaboration, and prioritization.

Crowdsourcing software allows you to scale a process that previously had a capacity limitation. 

In-person ideation sessions are limited to the number of people who can fit in the room. Most of the time that means limiting to 20 or fewer – and for good reason. Too many people are hard to manage; everyone wants to talk. A human traffic jam evolves around the whiteboard. The “quieter” people in the room end up being less involved. But capping the number of participants places unnecessary constraints on the ideation and collaboration process – and thus the opportunity for innovation.

Some teams might combat this by running multiple sessions with a variety of groups on the same topic. And therein lies the problem: the method itself is not scalable. Each session must stand on its own, so the participant experience is robust and consistent. The sessions don’t get shorter or more efficient over time.

And then there are the sticky notes. Anyone who has ever run such a session knows that creating a database of those ideas takes time. But each subsequent session will produce another batch that will need to be sortedcompared to the existing database, themed, and eventually considered for next steps. 

When using crowdsourcing software, all those things are made easy. The crowd can be as small or as large as you like. The session is conducted at one designated time by using specific phases established during which clear activities and calls to action arcommunicatedEveryone has an equal voice, not just those with the most confidence.

The “digital sticky notes” (the ideas submitted) immediately become a searchable database that is transparent to all.This helps reduce the duplication of ideas and improve collaboration across all participants. You no longer have to sequester people in a room for half a day. Instead, people participate online during the nooks and crannies of the day, whenever it might be convenient for them.

Crowdsourcing software allows you to diversify a process that previously involved a homogeneous team.

That old saying that “a good idea can come from anywhere” is only true if you give people from diverse parts of the business the opportunity to share their ideasChances are high that the 20 people invited into an ideation session would already be very familiar with the problem statement. In fact, this group might not provide a diverse enough set of solutions. Crowdsourcing software provides you the ability to expand that group exponentially. With it, organizations can tap into the collective intelligence of a much larger and more diverse crowd. 

This approach has strong merit, because you never know what other knowledge or experience a person might have outside of the job they are doing today. Imagine: A human resources representative who is pursuing an MBA with a keen interest in cryptocurrency. An accountant whose fiancée manages a customer service team. An enterprise architect who is a drone hobbyist. In each case, an ideation session that focuses on a small team close to problem might miss out on new, novel ideas or “what if” statements from those with different backgrounds and areas of expertise

Final Thoughts

Virtual ideation and collaboration sessions involving diverse groups of people all using crowdsourcing software create massive benefits for organizations. This is true regardless of whether employees are working in an office setting or remotely. These products allow companies to engage employees on a key topic or business problem efficiently and at scale. Ultimately, the results drive the ever-elusive culture of innovation that many firms seek to nourish.

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Written by Doug Williams Innovation Architect

Doug Williams is an Innovation Consultant at Planview who provides strategic guidance and implementation services to innovation leaders at some of Planview Spigit’s most respected Fortune 500 customers. He designs programs to raise innovation competency throughout the company while delivering measurable business outcomes and increasing employee engagement. Prior to joining Spigit 4.5 years ago, Doug was an analyst at Forrester Research where he launched and led Forrester’s coverage of open innovation and co-creation, with a focus on how technology enables collaboration among diverse groups. He also served as Chief Research Officer at Innovation Excellence .