Innovation in the Remote Work Environment: May You Flourish in These Challenging Times

We live in challenging times, yet we have the opportunity and the means to flourish, and should do so.

In 1966, Senator Robert F. Kennedy faced the challenges of his era and recalled an ancient curse, which says “May he live in interesting times.” Senator Kennedy observed “Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. And everyone here will ultimately be judged - will ultimately judge himself – on the effort he has contributed to building a new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.” Senator Kennedy saw opportunity in adversity.

Although we face different challenges than those faced by Senator Kennedy, we can draw from the Senator inspiration to flourish in our own interesting and uncertain times. We too live in the most creative of any time in history, and our management and shareholders will judge us on how well we continue to contribute to the business.

Working remotely presents challenges to engineering teams, but also opportunities, so we propose not a curse, but a blessing: May you all flourish in these challenging times.

We can flourish by staying connected with our teams on both a personal level and a professional level. A number of applications (e.g., Skype; GoToMeeting; Zoom) allow people to connect, socialize, and work collaboratively.

Of particular interest to engineering teams are whiteboard applications that allow distributed teams to work as they would when gathered around a physical whiteboard in the office. As collaboration tools, whiteboard applications allow teams to brainstorm solutions, draw concepts, and reinforce a sense of community with co-workers, just as with conventional whiteboards, but over the Internet from a variety of platforms.

Although we cannot endorse any specific whiteboard offering, we note that Microsoft’s aptly-named Whiteboard is widely available, and according to Microsoft allows a team to collaborate on a “virtual canvas” from around the globe using Microsoft and iOS platforms. Microsoft reports that Whiteboard is available through your Microsoft account, and is also provided to organizational Office 365 tenants (but may need to be enabled by your IT administrator). If you prefer a browser-based whiteboard, there are several available, such as the (also aptly-named) Witeboard, and WhiteboardFox. Bear in mind that each of the foregoing applications stores your work in the cloud, and subject to the providers’ respective privacy policies, so exercise your discretion about what you put there.

Working remotely may also provide an opportunity for teams to capture previously unrecognized inventions. For example, it may allow team members to reflect on recent work and identify innovations that should be recognized and potentially protected. To paraphrase Senator Kennedy, your team and its members may be judged on the extent to which its ideas have contributed – and continue in these times to contribute - to the business. Your team may have more inventions that you recognize, and each unrecognized invention is a missed opportunity.

Fortunately, capturing unrecognized inventions is easy and efficient, even in a remote working environment. An invention is simply a solution to a problem, so why not ask your team members – individually and/or collectively - to make a list of problems they have overcome, and briefly describe the solution for each? Inventions are the input to any patent program, so identifying your inventions gives you more choices for strengthening your patent portfolio and making efficient use of your patent budget. Identifying inventions also provides an objective metric of sustained team productivity, even while working remotely.

Even better, why not gather your team around a digital whiteboard to discuss those problems and solutions, or even to brainstorm around the challenges faced by – and to be solved by – your present projects?

Such a session promises to maintain and strengthen the bond among your engineering community, and might just uncover valuable corporate assets in the process.

May you all flourish in these interesting times!

Maximizing the protection and value of intellectual property assets is often the cornerstone of a business's success and even survival. In this blog, Nutter's Intellectual Property attorneys provide news updates and practical tips in patent portfolio development, IP litigation, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and licensing.

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