Video conferencing hampers creativity

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Paris (AFP) – Remote sharing via video conferencing, which has become essential since the telecommuting explosion, hampers the production of collaborative ideas, according to a study of 1,500 people around the world published Wednesday.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, technologies like Zoom, Teams or Skype enabled millions of employees to hold remote meetings with sound and vision.

This virtual collaboration could well continue, as recent surveys show that in the United States, for example, 20% of working days will take place at home after the end of the pandemic, underlines the study published in the journal Nature.

Your authors, marketing experts from the American universities of Columbia and Stanford, wanted to know how this renunciation of face-to-face interactions affects innovation, i.e. the ability to generate new ideas in exchange – the “brainstorming”.

They conducted initial laboratory tests with 602 volunteer participants (students) who were randomly paired. The couples either faced each other in the same room or were separated in two distant rooms and spoke to each other via video call. Each team had 5 minutes to find creative uses for products – a frisbee and bubble wrap. Then he had to choose his most creative idea.

The experience was replicated in companies with 1,490 engineers in Finland, Hungary, Portugal, India and Israel: during dedicated workshops at their premises, the groups were invited to propose innovative products for their telecom specialized companies.

Result: Face-to-face interactions generated about 15% more ideas than virtual interactions and 13% more creative ideas.

However, good news for Zoom, Skype and Teams: When teams had to choose their best idea, virtual exchanges proved just as fruitful as in-person exchanges, sometimes even a little more.

The logos of the Discord, Teams and Zoom applications, May 27, 2020, in Paris Martin OFFICE AFP/Archives

Researchers concluded that only creativity was inhibited by video calling, while other skills appeared unaffected.

Too much focus on the screen

But why ? Previous research has made a neurological connection between vision and focus, showing that paradoxically, “people are more creative when they’re less focused,” says Melanie Brucks, a professor of marketing at Columbia Business School and co-author of the book. study, in a video presentation of his work.

A man participates in a telework video conference in Vertou, May 14, 2020
A man participates in a telework video conference in Vertou, May 14, 2020 Loic VENANCE AFP/Archive

To test this, she equipped her “guinea pigs” with an eye-tracking device. And was able to prove that the virtual partners spent almost twice as much time looking at each other as their direct colleagues.

Video calls drew attention to a limited space—the screen—thereby limiting the cognitive process of creation. While standing face-to-face, people shared a whole environment “more conducive to the branching of thoughts that give rise to new ideas,” the authors develop.

Who suggest not doing away with virtual collaboration – which has its advantages – but reserving it for specific tasks and preferring being in the office for brainstorming.

And not to be as distracted as this group of engineers from Poland, whose company organized the workshops in a hotel for a seminar. Apparently, the participants were “more concerned about the coffee and biscuits served at the hotel bar” than the experimental protocol, from which they were ultimately excluded.

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