Video chat is a ubiquitous feature of our lives. Especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and the abrupt transition to remote work and interaction, video chats became a vital way to stay connected with coworkers and loved ones. People also speculate that, compared to other forms of digital communication, video chats can help people connect with others on a far more emotional level.
When it comes to remote work, in particular, the switch to video conferencing, versus in-person meetings, has raised several questions among business leaders about the efficacy of video chats on collaboration. New research published in Nature suggests that videoconferencing has some interesting effects on group collaboration, particular when it comes to idea generation.
Specifically, researchers were interested in how videoconferencing and virtual communication impacted innovation, a concept reliant on collective group ideation. To test the impact of the shift in virtual interactions, researchers conducted studies with participants in five countries in the Middle East, Europe, and South Asia. Overall, researchers recruited 602 participants who were then paired and asked to develop creative ideas for a specific product and select one idea. Some participants did this virtually, others were in person.
Then, researchers used eye-gaze and recall measures to analyze interactions. Overall, they found that where participants focus their attention can hinder creative idea generation in a video chat. Specifically, researchers noted that participants focused more on navigating what was on the screen, leading to reduced idea generation in virtual groups.
These findings suggest that the physical space of a meeting matters. Because people focus their attention more to what’s on the screen in a video chat, they limit what they process on their peripherals. As a result, people’s visual and cognitive attention becomes intertwined, so when the visual focus narrows, so does someone’s cognitive focus. When this happens, it can hamper the cognitive attention needed for creative idea generation.
However, researchers were quick to note that while video chats affect idea generation, not all collaboration in a virtual space is negatively affected. Specifically, researchers found that while participants in virtual meetings came up with fewer ideas compared to an in-person group, there was no significant difference between the groups regarding their ability to choose an idea.