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Remote work & innovation

Here are two interesting studies that explore the relationship between remote work (distributed teams) and innovation:

  1. This one explores how distributed teams have impacted “disruptive scientific discoveries” from 1961 to 2020. To measure this they look at scientific discoveries that end up becoming widely cited, which they take to mean that the work has supplanted an existing body of knowledge. Here they find that distributed work is inversely correlated with disruptive innovation. It is fine for incremental improvements, but it is less than ideal for new foundational ideas. That said, they do note that new technologies — stuff like Zoom — have started to minimize the innovation gap by helping people communicate as if they were co-located.
  2. But stuff like Zoom isn’t perfect. The second study looks at the impact of virtual communication on idea generation. And what they find is that videoconferencing is bad for that, largely because it focuses people on a screen and “prompts a narrower cognitive focus.” So if your job involves coming up with new ideas, Zoom may not be the best forum for that. But you probably already knew that.

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