Can video conferencing tools get in the way of creativity? A study explains
New research indicates that virtual communication tools can inhibit the generation of creative ideas.
The study, published in the journal Nature, examines how the shift away from in-person interactions affects innovation, “which relies on the collaborative generation of ideas as the foundation for business and scientific progress.”
To examine this idea, two researchers from Columbia Business School and Stanford School of Business conducted a laboratory study and a field study in five countries (in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia), which show that videoconferencing inhibits the production of creative ideas.
But while video conferencing may inhibit idea generation, the researchers found there was no evidence to suggest these tools are any less effective than in-person meetings when it comes to selecting which ideas to pursue. .
How the study was conducted
The study used a lab and a field experiment to find out how virtual interactions affect idea generation.
The authors note that the physical difference in video communication is not psychologically redundant. This is because in-person teams operate in a fully shared physical space. Specifically, their data suggests that the physical difference in shared space forces workers communicating via tools such as Zoom to narrow their visual field by focusing on their screen, thereby filtering out peripheral visual stimuli that are not visible or relevant. .
In the first stimuli in the lab experiment, 300 participants were enrolled in pairs and asked to come up with creative uses for a Frisbee. Half of the teams were told they would be working in the same room and the other half were told they would be working in different rooms and communicating through video technology. The second stimulus in the lab experiment asked participants to suggest creative uses for bubble wrap.
Overall, the conclusion was that those working in the same room had more ideas than those communicating through video technology.
One reason video conferencing tools are inferior according to the study is eye contact. According to the study, when two individuals look at each other through a screen, neither partner is able to look into the other person’s eyes. The study suggests this could affect their coordination.
So what do these results mean?
The authors suggest that their findings indicate that in hybrid setups, it would make sense for workspaces to prioritize idea generation during in-person meetings. “However, it is important to caution that our results only document the cognitive cost of virtual interaction,” they say.
The study notes that when deciding to what extent companies should use virtual teams, “a more comprehensive analysis that takes into account other industry and context-specific costs that the company might face is needed. We leave this important question to future research.