Tuesday, September 08, 2020

When It Comes to Creativity, Face-to-Face Interaction Matters

Source:  Wikimedia

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many firms have extended their working from home policies indefinitely.   People may not be returning to the office for quite some time.  We all know many of the challenges of working from home, particularly if you have young children or kids trying to engage in remote learning.   Still, for many firms, they have found that employees have been remarkably productive while not coming to the office.  Many companies have talked openly about perhaps having a substantial chunk of the workforce never return to the office again, even after COVID subsides.  Geoff Colvin of Fortune wrote recently, though, about the potential costs and risks of remote work.  He argues that creativity and innovation will suffer if we lose opportunities for face-to-face interaction.  Colvin quotes Steve Jobs, from Isaacson's biography:   “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat.  That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.” Here's a more extended excerpt, in which Colvin discusses the research on this subject:

In one of the most revealing studies of creativity in the workplace to date, researchers from MIT, Northeastern University, University of Cologne, University of Bamberg, and Aalto University studied several teams working on projects involving computer science, economics, psychology, and other fields; their findings were published in the International Journal of Organisational Design and Engineering in 2012. The subjects wore small badges called sociometers to record interactions within the teams, and the creativity and quality of the teams’ ideas were rated by peers on a scale of one to five. The results show strikingly what a deeply human experience it is to be creative in a group. The more that group members faced each other, the more creative was their output. The more they looked into each other’s eyes, the more creative they were. The more willing they were to confide in one another, the more creative they were. 

Facing each other, looking into the eyes, confiding—all those behaviors reflect and build trust. The researchers measured trust within the groups and found that it was crucial to the whole process. Their conclusion: “There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction to build up this trust.”

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