“If the entire culture moves to remote, we’re doomed!” explained Robert Angel, creator of Pictionary when I asked him about remote work. Angel made his living off a tactile collaborative experience, and I believe his success holds a significant clue as to why in-person collaboration is key to success.
Angel made his living off an iconic in-person collaboration and experience, and he correctly points out there is a lot more information exchanged when we have an in-person discussion. “Pictionary wasn’t a game, it was an attitude. It was an atmosphere. It was an emotion. So when you played Pictionary, you weren’t playing a game” he explained, “the 10 or 5 people you were plating with were having a shared emotional experience.” This experience translated to more productive collaboration.
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In-Person Collaboration Is More Effective Than Remote
Dr. William Klemm, Senior Professor of Neuroscience at Texas A&M University explains the mechanics of simple paper note taking is a big boost in memory because it illustrates what’s called the “production effect.” The very act of producing something physical, aids in memory. The more areas of the brain you light up when learning new information, the more likely you are to retain it. But in-person collaboration is more than just memory.
Body posture, gesturing, intonation, vocally produced noises, facial expressions, and even eye movement are highly beneficial when collaborating with a team. When we go online, we don’t simply move the conversation onto a different platform. There is real data loss. Real productivity lost.
Consider a simple reassuring smile hidden by the mask in the area of Covid-19. Consider that terse email your boss sent that turned out to be a surprisingly positive experience. Consider a colleague that furrows their brow at a confusing statement. This data loss is evident when we lack eye contact on a virtual meeting, struggle to communicate abstract ideas over the phone, and completely miss facial cues that typically would signal someone’s lack of understanding. And we haven’t even addressed the “you’re on mute” or video delay issues.
The magic of in-person collaboration is what led the cultural revolution that was Pictionary. “The laughing, the guessing—it’s tactile because you’re touching. Everything that was going on excited your senses…That’s what we sold. We didn’t sell drawing and guessing—big deal. You can do that without Pictionary. ” Angel told me.