Virtual meetings lead to less creative ideas, new study finds
A new study found people who conducted virtual meetings produced fewer total ideas, including less creative ones.
Researchers studied roughly 1,500 engineers to understand how they worked in a teleconference setting in comparison to in-person. Their results were published in Nature and found that teams who worked virtually generated significantly fewer total ideas than those who worked in-person, including fewer creative ideas.
They concluded that virtual communication, “constrains thinking relative to-in person pairs.”
One major downside to virtual interaction is eye contact, with researchers finding that when two individuals look at each other’s eyes on screen, neither end up looking directly at each other. That could affect communication coordination between employees.
That speaks to another hurdle with virtual meetings, with researchers finding those paired in a virtual setting struggled to decide who should speak next and when. Teams working virtually reported struggling more with communication coordination, resulting in fewer people chiming into discussions and significantly less crosstalk.
However, researchers also found that teams working virtually ended up being more selective about which ideas to pursue, suggesting that a virtual setting made people more effective at decision making.
“Our results suggest that there is a unique cognitive advantage to in-person collaboration, which could inform the design of remote work policies,” said researchers.
Though these results point to virtual meetings being less productive in terms of idea generation, researchers also noted that other factors like the cost of commuting, real estate and the potential to expand a company’s talent pool, are all important to consider.
Virtual work reduces the need for companies to host a physical space for employees, can allow reduced salaries for employees in lower cost of living areas and reduce business travel expenses too.
A recent research conducted by Pew Research Center found roughly 6 in 10 U.S. workers who say their jobs can be done from home are doing so all or most of the time.