Researchers have found that Zoom, Teams and other videoconference tools can stifle creativity.

According to a new research study just published in Nature, collaborating with someone using screens instead of sitting face to face resulted in both participants being less creative.

This was from a field and laboratory study looking at the creative performance of more than 600 people in a lab, and 1,490 engineers a company across offices in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia.

Of the participants in the laboratory, who were paired up and given 5 minutes to braintstorm creative uses for a frisbee or bubble wrap, and then a minute to select the best idea. Those collaborating over zoom came up with 20% fewer ideas than those working face to face.

And of the engineers, who were given an hour to brainstorm, those working face to face generated more ideas, and more creative ideas, than those using videoconferencing.

One of the reasons for the difference in idea generation could be that using videoconferencing requires intensely focusing your eyes on your screen, allowing less mind wandering and random input from around the room or other thoughts. The researchers found this by measuring eye tracking in the lab, and saw that people using videoconferencing kept their focus much more on the screens in front of them. Dr Melanie Brucks, lead author of the paper, noted that:

“Visual focus is a huge component of cognitive focus. When you’re focused on the screen and filtering out the rest of the environment, that spills over into how you approach the task. It’s uniquely bad for creativity because it’s inhibiting broader exploration.”

Interestingly, when it came to selecting the best ideas to put forward, there was little difference in performance between in-person groups and videoconferences. This indicates that when it comes to divergent generation of ideas, there are benefits to being in the same room. However, when it comes to the convergent thinking of evaluation and selection, there is little benefit.

So with teams around the world now debating how to balance working remotely or coming back into the office, it may make sense for some activities which require creativity, innovative problem solving and collaboration to take place face-to-face, while some activities which require evaluation of ideas or decision making can be done equally well with remote / hybrid teams collaborating using online tools.

Did you know that scientific evidence shows your creativity decreases over time

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.