Q&A: Why video calls can be bad for creativity

Video calls have grown in popularity during the COVID-19 epidemic because of the need for new ways to connect staff to office closures. But for all its conveniences, video conferencing apps also have their downsides – and it’s not just zoom-in fatigue after several back-to-back meetings.

A recent study published in the journal, “Virtual communication hinders the creation of creative ideas” Nature It has been observed that creativity takes a hit when people work collaboratively through video. This is obviously because video conferencing limits a person’s focus to the computer screen, effectively filtering out the rest of the physical space that people occupy. This narrowness of vision also serves to limit cognitive focus, stifling creative thinking that causes people’s eyes to wander when talking privately with others.

But don’t dump video apps yet (or cancel remote work). Melanie Brooks, an assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School, who wrote the report with Jonathan Levav, a professor of marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, warned against interpreting the results to avoid video conferencing. Instead, the study shows that tools like Zoom are more suitable for specific tasks, especially those that require more intended focus. And for that matter, research suggests that video calls may actually be better for selecting ideas than meeting them in person.

Below is a lightly edited transcript of a “computerworld” conversation with Brooks about the study.

What are the limitations of the study in terms of creativity and conceptualization when collaborating in practice? “We were initially attracted to this research question because we heard from directors and executives – before COVID – that they had problems with innovation with remote teams.

“I was a bit skeptical, because I’ve seen previous research into different types of communication technologies, and it seems that zoom and other video conferencing technologies have solved most of the problems; we can see people’s faces, we can hear what they are.” Again, it’s all synchronous. Unlike phones, where you can’t see people’s faces, or emails where it’s not synchronous, most of what we do in video mimics ‘personally’ very well.

“We keep hearing that people are having problems, though, so we decided to test it: is it true that when we’re in a zoom or video conferencing call, it’s harder to innovate than it is personally?”

“We saw two different phases of innovation; the concept-generation phase – coming up with new ideas – and then the concept-evaluation phase, where you decide which ideas are the most creative and are committed to creating and moving forward.

“What we’ve got is interesting. First of all, one of the most important effects is that the zoom is not ‘worse.’

“We find that it is uniquely bad for creating ideas. People who are actually communicating have created less ideas and created less creative ideas than those who have interacted personally. But when it comes to the next stage, evaluating ideas, we see that there is There is no significant difference between the two terms.In fact, if anything, the virtual groups are a little better at evaluating their ideas.

“It simply came to our notice then.

What were some of the reasons for the negative impact on the idea generation? “We were thinking about the way video conferencing is the same personally [communication] That we had to step back and think, ‘What are the main differences that still exist?’

The idea came from my own observations. When I was working on research with colleagues, either in person or on video, I realized that video calls are much more effective; It was much more ‘on-task’ – there was an agenda that we stuck with. When we interacted personally, there seemed to be a lot more non-security and opportunities to explore different ways. And so we thought, why? Why can this difference be how we communicate? And we understand that [one of] The main difference that still exists is the difference in physicality.

“When we interact personally, we have the whole room as our shared environment. And the only way I can truly get out of the shared environment is if I get up and leave. Otherwise, wherever I look, no matter what. Yes, I’m still in this shared environment with another person.

“But when you’re communicating in video, you only have the screen as your shared environment. And when people obscure their backgrounds, you literally have their faces. The only thing you have to share with that person. We thought how. This can eventually force people to shrink their visual focus to the screen.

“There is research that shows that visual attention and cognitive arousal are very closely linked. The more you focus, the more likely you are to focus cognitively. ‘Focused.’ And it turns out it’s bad for creativity. You don’t want to focus, you want to be broad and you want to be investigative, you want to go those different ways and those who are non-sequestered. “

How important was the negative impact on creativity between the two modes? “We’ve seen the number of creative ideas generated, and we’ve found that the average number of creative ideas switched to a virtual meeting in a lab study has dropped by about 20%.

Do the results weigh on calls for some quarterly employees to return to the office, whether fulltime or hybrid? “It’s a really interesting question, and it’s also interesting because it has changed through the epidemic. We started working on this project in 2016. Then, of course, the question was, ‘We’re all in person, but is there any work we can do in the long run?’ And when I would talk to managers and people in the industry, and they would always ask me this question.

“Then, after Kovid, the question was, ‘Well, when can we personally justify the work? When can we say it’s important to get people back in the office?’ And I think, in both cases, the answer is that it’s not all or nothing. I think the future of the job is hybrid. Will it be? ‘ Or ‘Should we be distant?’ But what kind of work do we prioritize for each of these?

“So if you’re having a quarterly meeting where everyone is there, then you should focus on being creative. Instead of summarizing what you’ve done, … there’s also the opportunity to come up with new ideas.

“But there are a lot of things that are probably better when you do them remotely. We don’t see any difference in social connections. If anything, we think virtual groups are a little better at selecting ideas. It’s not a conclusion. It’s really more important than that. “

For completely remote groups, or where meeting in person is not possible or practical, does the study indicate what can be done to improve the creation of minimal concepts in a virtual setting?

“We haven’t been able to collect any more data since the covid was infected and that was the plan for further research. So I’m saying this without any empirical evidence – I want to put a caution here that I’m guessing – but based on the results we’ve got, I think Closing the video can help create the idea, as you will no longer be attached to that screen and you will be able to move around your environment consciously.

“I tested it anecdotally with my students. Last year, I taught an innovation class entirely virtually, and when they generate ideas in groups, I told them, try to stop the video. They said it felt too free, they Suddenly it felt like they were free from anything and it helped with their creativity.

“It still needs to be tested, and there is still a lot to be tested in this whole case, because we had a kind of emphasis on working remotely at Covid, and the research is still catching up. So we still need to follow up on that.”

Look at it from a different angle Does the introduction of more immersive technologies, such as virtual or mixed reality, or even larger video screens eliminate some of these barriers to creative collaboration?

“I’ve thought about it a lot. Right now, VR technology is very new. We’re in this avatar state, you can’t see people’s faces, and a big component of why Zoom is so great is the data from how your rich people are responding to you.

“But I think, once VR is able to mimic the real-world environment, the negative effects we’re seeing now will probably go away.

“What’s interesting is, and why I think future research needs to follow our results. The idea that evaluation might be a little better at video conferencing is that once we’re able to fully mimic personal experience, we may not always be. I hope. Research will look at it. Maybe there are times in the future when it will be more effective if we stick to some kind of video technology instead of VR. So I want to see it. More. I think it has to be an interesting aspect.

“In terms of screen size, we’ve actually seen it a bit. Based on our process, we agree that if the screen is large enough, your shared environment has really grown and you no longer feel compelled to look at the screen, it will help. The current market options for screen size may not reach that level, so if you have a really large monitor, it’s a small proportion of your entire environment, within a room.

“So we tried to look at it; we ran a virtual study where we had people create ideas and we captured their screen size. And we saw, ‘Is there a relationship between screen size and human perception generation? Performance?’ We see that there is no significant relationship, but, again, I think it could be because it is still a very narrow part of our environment. And maybe if we could get a screen that was a whole wall or something, it would be different . “

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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