OMEA Labs: interdisciplinary exchange to create something new

Unic regards interdisciplinary exchange of knowledge and experience as an important driver for challenging the existing solutions and developing new ideas. Apart from the vessels that entangle the entire company, there are individual initiatives in the teams to share knowledge so that something new can be created.

Roy Voggenberger has established OMEA Labs, an idea workshop, in his business unit Online-Marketing, Engineering and Analytics.

Roy, the topic of innovation is omnipresent in the media. How has the topic of innovation developed at your company in the past years?

My business unit is composed of 25 employees who work in the fields of Digital Analysis, Online Marketing and PHP Open Source Development. The market has changed considerably in the past years: not only do innovation cycles become more compact (new technologies, new tools), but also the topics themselves become deeper and more complex. It is a challenge for the employees to stay on the ball between the market, technologies and projects. The interdisciplinary exchange in OMEA Labs ensures that, apart from project work, we continuously deal with our areas of expertise and thereby further develop. The direct connection between the developed ideas and the indirect business relevance is crucial. We use it for establishing a balance between productive work and innovation.

When and how was the topic operationalised?

We initiated the OMEA Labs format as at 1 January 2015. The term “Labs” demonstrates the experimental nature of the vessel – the point is to try out, to experiment outside of projects and of day-to-day activities. The discipline of orienteering races serves us as a role model for the philosophy of the Labs:

  • A higher pace to succeed
  • Leave wide paths
  • Pause to get orientation
  • Take note of the surroundings on an ongoing basis
  • Adjust the direction as necessary
  • Observe the rules
  • Share the success

How have you embedded the topic of innovation in your work routine in terms of content and time?

Basically, we distinguish the following phases of idea development and implementation:

  • The first phase serves the purpose of brainstorming: employees provide creative new approaches and develop them further together. Feasibility is consciously ignored at this phase so as not to restrain creativity.
  • The second phase concerns a specific implementation of the idea. The result are improvements and quick wins related to existing topics but also suggestions for new topics.
  • In the third phase, new topics such as the launch of new product and software solutions are checked for feasibility and contribution to the strategy.

Basically, we make 20 man-days per year available to every employee for innovation-related activities:

Every third Wednesday in a month is reserved for the OMEA Labs Day. The day is blocked for employees and may not be postponed. We meet at the office. The aim is to use the shared time for interdisciplinary exchange. We ensure the transformation in the work routine by giving each employee a half day per month free for the purpose of working on topics defined on the OMEA Labs Day. Two additional joker days per year can be taken individually by employees to develop and implement ideas.

Are there rules for OMEA Labs?

Basically, the principle of self-organisation and self-responsibility applies. OMEA Labs is an open and transparent process. In return for the establishment of OMEA Labs we have rethought the existing exchange vessels, restructured and partly removed them. An important rule, apart from complying with the general internal guidelines, is sharing the results from OMEA Labs with all other Unic employees, so that innovations can be further developed also outside our team. Therefore, the results and discussion from the Labs Day are always presented briefly in our internal collaboration report soon afterwards. Other employees can throw light on the ideas with their pool of experiences, to invoke them and provide their inputs and ideas.

What are the major insights from the change process concerning the establishment of OMEA Labs?

The most important and major prerequisite is obviously the image of a person who focuses on self-responsibility, and readiness to give the vote of confidence. I assume that employees use their time wisely and know what helps us as part of the business unit strategy.

Innovations are created in the “free space.” In addition, results cannot be restrained through preconceived conditions and expectations. Of course, some employees are initially overstrained by this free space – they have to be accompanied at the beginning so that they are able to make their contribution.

The mental transition between the clearly structured project work and the creative innovation work is not always simple. By releasing ourselves from project activity for a whole day, we can achieve this balance.

An additional lesson learnt is that we are on a journey. The operational introduction of OMEA Labs is completed, but the process of deepening the existing, developing the new and abandoning the obsolete will keep us occupied.

With work zones towards an efficient and satisfying daily routine at Unic

The workplace is the homeland, a source of identity and inspiration, a room for interaction, but also a place to concentrate. In order to enable Unic employees to work in an efficient and effective manner, the company management introduced the strategic initiative Workplace2015+ in 2014. A concept of use was prepared and it will be implemented in the new office spaces of Unic Zürich in Altstetten as an example. The relocation will take place on 9-11 March 2016 – the preparations are at full tilt.