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Idea generation
Innovation
Remote work
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Study finds virtual meetings inhibit creative idea generation

75% of US employees in a 2021 survey reported a preference for working remotely at least one day per week, how does it affect innovation?

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This paper was made available in partnership with the Swiss School of Business Research.
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Covid has vastly accelerated the shift to remote work. Millions of employees all over the world were forced to work from home and do so virtually using videoconferencing technologies. The truth is, it worked; at least better than the world thought. Not only were we able to continue producing, but in fact in many cases, workers felt more productive. As a matter of fact, 40% of employees indicated in a survey that they would quit a job that required full-time in-person work.

Starting from the key assumption that collaborative idea generation is at the heart of scientific and commercial progress, does working from home hinder progress in the long run more than meeting in person?

The data gathered by Melanie Bucks from the Columbia Business School and Jonathan Levav from Stanford University suggests that the physical difference in shared space – comparing physical to virtual space – compels virtual communicators to narrow their visual field by concentrating on the screen and filtering out visual stimuli that are not visible or relevant to their partner. As they narrow their visual scope to the screen, so does their cognitive focus.

This narrowed focus on the screen limits the associative process required for idea generation, whereby thoughts emanate and activate from contrasting information that is then combined to form new ideas.

In their study, Melanie and Jonathan also find that videoconferencing groups generate fewer creative ideas than in-person groups due to narrowed visual focus, but they find no evidence that videoconferencing groups are less effective when it comes to selecting and choosing an idea.

Perhaps a hybrid model or an environment where teams meet every so often might be the best antidote for losing our creative capacities when generating ideas.

To read the full study, click here: Virtual communication curbs creative idea generation

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