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Innovations are also created in the home office

Current results of a study on communication media and creative work in virtual teams: Creativity is also possible without personal work meetings if the right communication media are chosen.

Due to the corona crisis, those who are able are currently working in their home office instead of the office since weeks. E-mails, telephone calls and video conferences have to replace working meetings and personal exchanges. How does this affect creativity in teams? Can homework generate innovations?

These are questions that are also being addressed by the scientists of the WiSo Faculty's Key Research Initiative "Design & Behavior". Together with colleagues from the Institute of Economic Policy of the Leibniz University of Hannover, WiSo researchers led by Professor Bernd Irlenbusch have investigated the connection between innovations and communication media in virtual teams. First results are now published as a discussion paper of the IZA - Institute of Labor Economics.

"The conditions for innovation in teams in which everyone works from home are not necessarily worse than in teams with personal contact. It is important that the right communication media are chosen", Professor Irlenbusch, head of the Seminar for Corporate Development and Business Ethics at the WiSo-Faculty of the University of Cologne, summarizes the results.

The starting point of the study was the assumption that creativity today is primarily generated in teamwork, i.e. when people come together, exchange ideas, let their thoughts flow, when one work step seamlessly fits into the next. If the team members work at a distance from home, this cooperation can suffer.

In an experimental study, the scientists of the universities of Hanover and Cologne compared personal communication with communication via video conference and chat. The experimental design imitates the idea generation phase of an innovation process. The tasks of individual team members are strongly interdependent and individual team members can hardly achieve anything on their own. The researchers compared creativity by means of a task in which the study participants used illustrations to illustrate terms they had chosen themselves - the criteria assessed were uniqueness, usefulness and the aesthetic value of the results.

Video conferencing can replace personal communication

"We provide evidence that the creative output in chat communication is considerably lower than in personal communication," says Marina Schröder, professor at the Institute for Economic Policy at Leibniz University of Hanover, and emphasizes: "However, this obviously changes with communication via video conferencing, where the difference to personal communication is not significant.

Differences between personal communication and videoconferencing on the one hand and chat on the other hand were particularly evident in the usefulness of the results achieved in the teams. "The study shows that the proportion of excellent ideas, which are particularly important for innovations, is significantly higher in video conferences and face-to-face meetings than in chat communication," summarizes Bernd Irlenbusch.

Based on their study, the researchers recommend promoting the use of video conferencing when innovation is the goal. This could mitigate negative effects of virtual collaboration - during the corona crisis and beyond.