Audio Only is Better

A recent study by Carnegie Mellon shows that Collective intelligence, the ability of a group to solve a wide range of problems, decreases with video meetings compared to audio only.

In a pre-COVID world companies collectively spent uncountable billions on maximizing office traffic layouts to encourage teamwork and actively encouraged employees to spend as much time as possible in the office. All with the goal to encourage collective problem solving. The pandemic has caused companies to replace co-location (working in the same physical space) to telework (working remotely) in one form or another.

Value of Collective Intelligence (CI)

CI is the scientific understanding of a group's general ability to perform a wide range of tasks and solve problems.

One could argue, that a large percentage of employees who were able to keep working remotely during the pandemic were in fact information technology workers. Traditionally the primary task of IT workers is to solve problems.

  • Problems with the Standard Operating Procedure for onboarding new client or partners
  • Problems with the product launch
  • Or billing problems that seem to happen to every company.
  • etc.
Telework removes the easy access to team members and has been generally replaced by video conferencing with hopes to have similar results to co-working.

Audio only produces better CI to video

A higher CI is achieved when there is good synchrony. Synchrony is the simultaneous action that happens between two or more people when they take turns sharing thoughts on a subject. The traffic flow of data during a conversation is regulated by non-verbal cues. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon have know from previous studies that synchrony promotes collective intelligence, it improves joint problem-solving. Therefore the hypothesis was that if a conversation can’t take place face-to-face, it could be best simulated with video over audio.

Collective Intelligence Is Achievable With or Without Video, but Even More So Without

During the study, the it became clear that when there was video access, this lead to greater speaking turn inequality and, in turn, decreases synchrony, which then decreases the CI.

“We found that video conferencing can actually reduce collective intelligence,” says Anita Williams Woolley, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Theory at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, who co-authored the paper. “This is because it leads to more unequal contribution to conversation and disrupts vocal synchrony. Our study underscores the importance of audio cues, which appear to be compromised by video access.”

Solve problems 30% better

The study is called "Speaking out of turn: How video conferencing reduces vocal synchrony and collective intelligence" and the results show that video conferencing is almost 30% less effective than audio only.

in a telework situation, audio only in many employee interactions where CI or problem solving is required, Audio only should produce 30% better results for a company.

Nothing beats face-to-face, but in certain situations, audio only is more inclusive, will draw more input and therefore will produce better results.

Do yourself and your team a favor, get openspace and improve the productivity of your team.