By: Whitney Sales, General Partner & Olivia O’Sullivan, Director of Corporate Innovation

This article originally appeared in CIO Review Magazine

Seven months ago, you would have been hard pressed to find an enterprise willing to seriously consider remote work as their labor model. Fast forward to today and some of the country’s largest enterprises have not only temporarily implemented work-from-home policies, but are considering embracing it for the long term. The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the way we work. As more of our corporate partners navigate this shift to remote work, we wanted to understand how they’re feeling about it all. 

We asked 15,000 CIOs, CTOs, and CISOs across our Early Adopter’s Council and Pulse Q&A community what the most challenging part of the transition to remote work has been for them. 

To our surprise, the number one perceived challenge (30% of respondents) is communication and collaboration. 

After speaking with participants, we learned that the challenges around communication and collaboration have less to do with productivity and more to do with hindered creativity and innovation, specifically from the loss of these three areas: 

1. Water Cooler Talk

Whether it’s for a quick break from solitary work, or a brief trip between meetings, ‘water cooler’ talk is a staple of office life. While some might see it as “wasting” time, studies have shown that great things happen outside of structured meetings. The effects of ‘water cooler’ talk have been so positive for companies like Google and Apple that they have designed their offices to encourage cross functional run-ins and ‘water cooler’ talk. 

2. Nonverbal Communication

Text and video-based communication can often lead to a slowdown in the pace of collaboration across teams, especially in the early stages of projects. That’s because this type of communication is missing nonverbal cues like body language, in turn requiring overcommunication on the simplest of ideas. Then add in  “translation time” – the time it takes for teams to fully understand the ideas being communicated without nonverbal cues – which can lead to breakdowns in communication and delays.

3. Immediate Feedback

All of these issues feed into this last one: immediate feedback. Oftentimes, when working remote, it can be hard to get immediate feedback on ideas and next steps. You either have to wait for an email or Slack message, or book time to jump on a call, rather than just walk over to someone’s desk to see their reactions in real time. 

The Opportunity for Innovation Leaders

All of these challenges provide opportunities for Innovation leaders to help their organizations thrive in this new work environment. As long time investors in SaaS technology we know of many technologies already solving for the challenges of remote work. Identifying and implementing these technologies can set organizations up to thrive long into the future. Here are four opportunity areas to consider:

Synchronous Communication

Synchronous, real time communication is necessary for effective collaboration, and there are a plethora of tools solving for this. The obvious ones like Zoom, Phone Calls, and Slack are great tools to keep communication lines open. There are also newer tools to consider like Fireflies.ai, Flock and Touchbase. Fireflies.ai, which you might have seen recently on the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine, automates note taking for online meetings. Flock is an all-in-one collaboration tool, combining chat, video calls, and powerful search and productivity tools. Touchbase is a quick and easy way to hold impromptu group video discussions with zero forward planning.

Asynchronous Communication

While synchronous communication is extremely important in a remote setting, asynchronous communication provides employees with control over when and how they respond to their teammates. This can allow them to focus on other work without the pressure to answer messages in real time. Twist is a great tool for asynchronous communication – providing a distraction-free space where teams can balance focused work with collaborative conversations.

Team Collaboration

While technologies like Zoom, Slack, and Google Hangouts offer great ways to communicate, they don’t offer the most optimized way to collaborate. This is where tools like Mavenlink and Range come in. Mavenlink is a project and resource management software aiming to streamline the planning and delivery lifecycle for business. Range is a daily standup tool where teammates can share their daily updates, mood and progress on KPIs. 

Project Organization

One of the toughest things for managers to do in a remote setting is effectively manage multiple projects and teams. This is where software like Workfront  – an online work management software, providing one central platform for enterprises to share ideas, create content, and manage complex processes. 

Learning from Startups

Many of the tools we’ve recommended are startups. There’s a reason for this. Startups tend to be well acquainted with the remote work model and have been solving for challenges presented by remote work for a long time. 

Which is why startups may prove to be the very thing enterprises need to stave off decreases in communication and collaboration. By adopting a startup lens, incorporating new technologies, and/or partnering with startups, enterprises can foster creativity and innovation in the upcoming remote years.


If you want more innovative ideas and technology recommendations for how to foster communication and collaboration remotely at your company, reach out to [email protected]