New York (dpa) – Video conferencing may be practical, especially in times of a pandemic, but it doesn’t seem to be conducive to creativity. According to a recent study, nearly all networked people come up with fewer creative ideas than those who sit together in a room.
Perhaps this is because the screen limits the field of view and thus also narrows the mental processes that aid creative thinking, one scientist wrote in the journal Nature.
In the context of the Corona pandemic, millions of employees have turned to their home offices and are forced to work almost together, writes Melanie Brooks of Columbia University and Joathan Leff of Stanford University. The unprecedented shift to full-time remote work has shown that business can also operate at scale in the virtual space.
For a long time, project collaboration was based on physical proximity because previously communication technologies such as telephone or email restricted the exchange of information. On the other hand, researchers show that in video conferences, nearly as much audio and visual information is available as in face-to-face meetings. This raises the question of whether new technology can also replace in-person collaboration when developing new ideas.
This is exactly what the scientists tested in a series of experiments. First, they asked teams of two out of a total of more than 600 test participants to develop creative new ideas for using a product, more precisely frisbee. Half of the pairs sat together in one room, the other half each partner sat alone in a room and the team communicated via video conferencing.
Less creative ideas in virtual meetings
It turns out that virtual spouses developed significantly less creative ideas. However, when it came to deciding which idea to pursue, they did no worse than the pairs who worked face-to-face.
In order to test whether narrowing of visual perception is actually responsible for curbing creativity, the researchers decorated test rooms with various objects, some of which were predictable, such as folders, and some that were unusual for office spaces, such as a skeleton poster. The researchers then followed the subjects’ gaze as they let their thoughts flow, and at the end of the experiment asked them what they saw in the room.
The result: Video partners looked directly at each other for longer and remembered fewer things in the room than couples interacting in person. The researchers continue to report that the more test subjects’ eyes wandered around the room and the more things they remembered, the more creative ideas they developed.
Decreased cognitive focus
They see the result as confirmation of the hypothesis that a narrow field of view and therefore a narrow cognitive focus prevents ideas from wandering and thus forming connections that ultimately lead to creative ideas.
The scientists then examined – and confirmed – their findings under more realistic conditions on nearly 1,500 company employees in five countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Finally, they examined whether other possible explanations for the observed differences in creativity could also be considered. For example, they ruled out that personal couples had developed more, but only very similar ideas. Through surveys, they determined that virtual couples feel just as connected and familiar as couples who work together in person – so the difference can’t be explained either. Finally, tests of (body) language and facial expressions revealed no evidence that video conferencing in and of itself decisively altered communication and interaction between participants.
Which is better for business?
Scientists have practical advice ready for employers as a conclusion for their study: If, as expected, with the end of the pandemic, many employees will work part of their time in the home office and part of their time in the office, work ideas involving development should be more creative, in terms of Perfection is done personally.
For companies, the question of whether live or virtual meetings are best is also a financial decision, write Emöke-Ágnes Horvát and Brian Uzzi in a commentary on the study. If virtual teams come up with fewer ideas, but at a lower cost, leaving face-to-face meetings can be a more productive decision for the company. Overall, the study provides an exciting starting point for further investigations into the impact of work techniques on human creativity.
© dpa-infocom, dpa: 220427-99-63053 / 7