The last few years have seen a huge shift to remote and hybrid work. While there are certainly benefits to working from home, many leaders are realizing the value of in-person collaboration. Employees report higher engagement and job satisfaction when they work face-to-face with their coworkers. And as managers, we’ve seen the “Zoom fatigue” that can sap productivity in long virtual meetings.

New Insights from Neuroscience Research

New research from Yale University (Separable Processes for Live “In-Person” and Live “Zoom-like” Faces) highlights another advantage of in-person collaboration. Using advanced neuroimaging techniques, the researchers looked at brain activity during face-to-face versus Zoom conversations. What they found was striking: neural signaling was “dramatically reduced” on Zoom compared to in-person talks.

During in-person chats, there was increased activity in areas of the brain involved in social interaction and processing facial cues. People also showed more arousal indicators like longer gaze time and pupil dilation when talking face-to-face. And their brain activity became more synchronized, suggesting greater reciprocal exchange of social signals.

As the researchers point out, this shows how our brains are wired for live human connection. The nuanced social cues we pick up from body language and eye contact are hard to replicate in a video call. As one scientist put it, “Online representations of faces, at least with current technology, do not have the same ‘privileged access’ to social neural circuitry.”

Check out these two articles for a very simple summary of the results of the research.

Zoom Conversations vs In-Person: Brain Activity Tells a Different Tale

Zooming in on our brains on Zoom

The Power of In-Person Collaboration

While remote work is here to stay, these findings illustrate the power of in-person collaboration. For managers, it’s a good reminder to bring teams together regularly for brainstorms, team building, and social events. Video calls have their place, but nothing beats the “neural choreography” of a real-time team huddle or whiteboard session. Blending remote and in-person work may be the sweet spot for productivity and satisfaction.

The science gives us new insight into why in-person just feels different. As the world of work evolves, it’s reassuring that some things remain constant. We’re social animals, and nothing sparks creative magic like gathering around a table, whiteboard, or water cooler. This research reminds us to value the irreplaceable power of working shoulder-to-shoulder.

Conclusion

While remote work provides flexibility, science shows the unique benefits of in-person collaboration. As managers, we can aim for the ideal balance of virtual and face-to-face teamwork. With intention and empathy, we can thrive in this evolving world of work.

See Also

Categories: Communication

1 Comment

Roger Brinkley · March 8, 2024 at 6:35 pm

I worked remotely for over 19 years in the tech space from 1995-2014. For most of that time, I initially traveled once every other week to CA from CO for an overnight trip and then, later, once a month for a full week to Prague from CO. Undoubtedly, I was more productive working from home, but those regular visits to the office were invaluable to my personal success and the success of the projects I worked on. There were times when I went to the office with absolutely nothing planned, and yet somehow, someway, a tremendous amount of work got done.

There is something about being in the office for a limited time that heightens relationships with coworkers. I remember one time while working in Prague when a temporary cap on my tooth came off. The site’s executive secretary called her local dentist and arranged an appointment within 24 hours. That type of interaction would have never occurred in either a strictly in-office or strictly work-from-home setting.

Working from home is a valuable tool for attracting and retaining top talent. When married with regular in-person office visits, it can provide a highly productive, collaborative environment for both parties.

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