Do Zoom and Microsoft Teams destroy creativity or enhance it?

The time employees typically spend in meetings has risen steadily by 10% every year since 2000, resulting in over a billion meetings a year in the US alone. But how does this affect our creativity?

If you were to take the average $338 salary cost per meeting, these meetings could quickly set employers back $20,000 per event. But the reality is many spend this time daydreaming or feel that too many meetings are unproductive.

The average office worker receives 121 emails a day. An onslaught of distracting instant messages that demand an immediate response combined with back-to-back Zoom or Teams meetings can take individuals on a one-way trip to burnout. Unsurprisingly, many are left dreaming of the right to disconnect rather than feeling creative. As a result, although we are more connected than ever before, we often still feel disconnected.

Despite being a topic everyone loves to hate, there is no avoiding that meetings are essential in the workplace. For example, during the pandemic, technology played a critical role in ensuring people could still communicate, collaborate and brainstorm ideas in real-time. But unfortunately, surveillance tools also arrived, leaving many employees feeling that they should always be available.

Recent studies suggest that Zoom and Microsoft Teams kill creativity

A recent report revealed that virtual communication on video conferencing tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams curbs creative idea generation rather than enhancing it. The study put 600 people in pairs and split them into two groups working virtually and in person. Both received the same brief to brainstorm concepts on creative uses for a frisbee or bubble wrap in just 5 minutes. Whether or not the first two minutes involved a participant saying, "You're on mute" was not disclosed.

It quickly became apparent that the pairs working together on a Zoom meeting came up with fewer ideas. When a similar experiment was performed with engineers during workshops at a telecommunications company, the result was the same, Zoom calls appeared to kill creativity. It has also been suggested that turning off video may help boost collective intelligence and help restore creativity in online meetings.

There is a strong counter-argument that this black or white approach to virtual meeting technology risks driving corporate culture back to somewhere nobody wants to return. Binary thinking is a more significant challenge that needs addressing rather than blaming any videoconferencing platform. Rather than picking a side, embracing nuance helps us understand how we're all different and how this impacts how we collaborate.

Why we should celebrate our differences and diversity of thought

We all thrive in different scenarios, whether an introvert, extrovert, or a combination of the two. For example, forcing someone who is neuro-A-Typical into an in-person office meeting might shut down their creativity. Equally, an extrovert who is often the loudest voice in the room might struggle in a Zoom meeting from a 13" laptop screen.

For these reasons alone, businesses need to create environments where every creative voice is heard and invest in better infrastructure. For hybrid working to succeed, remote workers and meeting room spaces need the same technological tools at their disposal so that everyone is working on the same level.

In the last two years, we have seen the emergence of remote working at scale evolve into hybrid working where many employees can work from any device and location. By thinking differently and not traveling into the office as much, we are beginning to explore how we can all play a part in lowering our carbon footprints, commuting costs, and stress levels. Equally, businesses are reducing costs around office leases and energy bills.

The workplace and our attitudes towards work have gone through a creative digital transformation. As a result, everyone has been forced to evolve and adapt to hybrid working environments. But to blame video conferencing for stifling creativity is a very lazy assumption when many workers still do not have the infrastructure to support their new working environment.

There is no excuse for employees not to have access to multiple large screen monitors, HD quality webcams, and proper microphones wherever they choose to work in a post-pandemic world. However, for employees to successfully unlock creativity in meetings, they need these tools to help them embrace new ways of thinking to thrive in a hybrid working environment.

Video might have killed the radio star, but don't fall into the trap of blaming Zoom or Teams for the quantity over quality approach that has been guilty of stifling creativity in meeting rooms for decades. Of course, most people reading this will agree that less is more regarding the frequency and length of meetings. But, ironically, maybe we need to simply accept that meetings, in general, are in dire need of a creative makeover.

Instead of choosing a side or demanding a one size fits all cookie-cutter approach, maybe it's time to see the strength in accepting our differences. We can only move forward if we ensure that everyone unlocks their creative side to create opportunities together.

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