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How To Manage And Lead A Remote Team With Innovation

Cornerstone Editors

When the world came to a screeching halt back in March because of COVID-19, Cornerstone Studios had to close its physical doors. But for a team that typically creates learning content using video equipment, studio space and actors, remote work seemed untenable. Head of Cornerstone Studios, Summer Salomonsen took a different approach to managing a remote team, viewing this unprecedented situation as an opportunity to innovate and adapt to the new world of work.

"It really came down to this mindset shift. Was I willing to see disruption as an opportunity for a catalyst?" Salomonsen said in her webinar, "From Closed Studios to Better Content: Driving Innovation from Constraint," featured in the 2020 Learning Content Summit, a free, virtual event held November 2, that brought together learning content experts to tackle relevant, timely strategies to help companies navigate this new world of work.

As it turns out, Salomonsen was willing, and this mindset shift ended up paying off in spades. Not only did Cornerstone Studios successfully transition to remote production, but they also learned a few things along the way.

While there are no set guidelines for adapting to this new normal, understanding how Salomonsen led Cornerstone Studios through this tumultuous transition provides a blueprint for how to successfully drive innovation from constraint at any company during a time of deep uncertainty.

The Path to Innovation: Top Takeaways from Summer’s HR Summit Webinar

Without a physical studio, Cornerstone Studios needed to rapidly reassess both their production methods as well as their work culture to move forward. But a concrete gameplan felt unrealistic amid so much uncertainty. Instead, the path forward involved increased flexibility and constant collaboration among the entire Studios team, grounded in three core goals.

1. Find new strategies for team productivity

"When your productivity is centered around a functioning studio that employs a lot of different people for a lot of very specific reasons, things can start to feel impossible," said Salomonsen of determining Cornerstone Studios' roadmap. She had to ask herself a daunting question: Now what?

But instead of making the snap decision to immediately produce brand new content, or reinvent the wheel entirely, Salomonsen took a beat and ultimately recognized there was an opportunity to revamp and rework existing content to meet the moment.

Resurrecting old content, looking at it through the lens of the current climate, and updating it accordingly reinvigorated the Studios team. The world of work was undergoing dramatic changes in March—but this new normal also benefited from revamped learning content. "The resounding undercurrent of this was: Am I willing to reexamine the old process? And how can I find increased employee productivity there?" said Salomonsen.

2. Demonstrate value to the business by fostering creativity

What was once considered valuable—a full-service production studio—was dropped from the equation. There was no longer a need for it, and the Studios team needed to evolve past it and find value elsewhere. Sometimes, this meant producing a program from Salomonsen’s living room or packaging up equipment into a branded production kit. Adapting to these changes involved a great deal of resilience and scrappiness from every team member, so Salomonsen made sure to give them the space to practice creativity. She quotes General George S. Patton: "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."

3. Create and maintain relationships for a remote workforce

Back in March, Salomonsen felt that maintaining connection among the existing team was important, and even more so as they remotely onboarded new team members.

"While I recognize the enormous resource-taker and expensive nature of all-hands meetings, I also realize in those early days, we needed to see each other," said Salomonsen.

A weekly all-hands studio sync still remains on everyone’s calendar to this day—eight months later, video chat required.

Driving Innovation from Constraint

For Salomonsen, the past several months were filled with impossible decisions and overwhelming uncertainty about the future of Cornerstone Studios. But this experience confirmed something that Salomonsen had always believed: Constraint is the true driving force behind innovation. This seismic shift away from normal ultimately propelled Cornerstone Studios—and Salomonsen herself—onto the path toward innovation, and the team is better for it.

You can find more information about the 2020 Content Summit here. If you missed it but are still interested in watching, you can access the full archive, including Salomonsen’s full talk, by registering for the event here.

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