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Report: How collaboration and creativity are suffering in the wake of COVID-19

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Research from Lucid reveals a need for better tools to support virtual collaboration and productivity in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The coronavirus pandemic dramatically accelerated a trend toward dispersed workforces that had already been gaining momentum. This period confirmed remote teams were capable of operating as a permanent feature of the business landscape in the future. Organizations learned a lot from being forced to work remotely — employees gained flexibility, and businesses proved they could quickly adapt to urgent customer needs in a volatile, changing climate. 

This survey explores the attitudes held by managers and knowledge workers about two critical priorities of this new normal: collaboration and productivity. During the pandemic, managers were more concerned with productivity, while workers were most concerned with collaboration. 

In truth, productivity and collaboration are directly linked. Increase your team’s collaborative potential and you’ll increase their productivity. The key to doing both is adopting agile workflows and processes that allow for iteration, exploration, and meaningful collaboration. 

One thing is clear: In the Next Normal, businesses will need to adopt new visual solutions to ensure teams can ideate together to efficiently produce better work than ever before.

Let’s examine what our survey research revealed about perceptions and experiences of productivity and collaboration among remote teams. 

Key Findings

Productivity

Productivity was by far the biggest concern of C-suite managers during the pandemic. 43% of the C-suite indicated that their company had been forced to delay major launches, campaigns, or initiatives as a result of employees working from home and collaborating virtually. 

Productivity was also cited as one of the top three concerns by 78% of lower-level management. Among managers who had concerns with employees working from home, 86% ranked productivity as the top concern.

Employees, however, were not as concerned with productivity levels. Only 52% of remote workers said productivity suffered the most while working from home and 40% said working from home actually made them more productive. 

However, employees did admit that without visual tools, their attention span was affected. A quarter of employees were distracted for about half of a typical virtual meeting. 11% even admitted to taking a shower or using the bathroom during a meeting!

Key takeaway: Employee productivity was management’s top concern during the pandemic, but employees say team collaboration suffered more. Virtual, visual brainstorming tools could have solved problems for managers and workers. Workers could have engaged and collaborated more effectively, resulting in better productivity and less disruption.

6 Pie charts showing the percentage of managers who thought productivity suffered due to Covid-19 versus number of actual delayed launches and remote workers' perspective on productivity suffering compared to collaboration suffering.

Collaboration

As explained earlier, during the pandemic, managers were worried most about productivity — 90% rated it as one of their top three concerns related to employees working from home. In contrast, 75% of employees cited collaboration as having suffered the most, rather than productivity. 

Collaboration was a clear area of focus in distributed workforces during the COVID-19 work-from-home period. In fact, 75% of remote employees who expressed concerns about working from home ranked team collaboration as the aspect of their work that suffered the most. 

Survey participants also noted that they missed the casual in-office moments among employees that inspired spontaneous brainstorming or strategizing. Along the same lines, more than a third (37%) of workers said collaboration was adversely affected since their teams were unable to ideate together in-person. One in five workers said meetings were less collaborative during the pandemic and 25% of workers said people worked more individually in silos. 

One of the most telling indicators of the need for effective virtual collaboration tools was the fact that nearly 1 in 5 (17%) remote workers met with colleagues in person against company protocol, despite COVID-19 isolation policies. Interestingly, the C-suite who should have set an example for their organizations were often the worst offenders (43%). 

The biggest reason for doing so? To collaborate on a project together. Of those remote workers who met with colleagues, roughly 1 in 4 (23%) said that virtual meetings weren’t adequate because they lacked a shared visual collaboration space with a whiteboard.

Image showing 1 in 5 remote workers had met in person against company protocol in recent months, and 1 in 4 claiming that virtual meetings weren't adequate due to lack of visual collaboration.

Key Takeaway: Working from home can result in higher productivity, not less, but creative collaboration suffers. Companies need to be able to replicate online the dynamics of an in-person collaborative session that is held in an environment with a whiteboard.

Creativity

Our research explored a third element of remote work life: creativity. Creativity is often the result of productive collaboration, so we wanted to examine how decreased collaboration and productivity might impact overall creativity.

Infographic illustrating that 1 in 4 remote work has hurt creativity, 22% attributed this to no visual collaboration, 46% to not meeting face to face, 44% to not knowing colleagues work progress, and 40% to more difficult collaboration over phone

Remote workers said brainstorming and ideation, both critical to creativity, suffered during the pandemic. Nearly 1 in 4 (22%) reported that working from home hurt their creativity and 26% of managers agreed with that sentiment. 17% of workers said the work being produced was of a less creative standard. 

Even managers were not immune to creative struggles: 38% of C-suite managers said they were slower to make decisions and take action since working from home, and 28% of C-suite managers say they struggled to innovate and devise creative solutions.

In other words, everyone from entry-level employees to C-suite executives reported feeling less responsive and nimble than usual. The ability to ideate, innovate, and maintain an agile work environment is key to thriving in the Next Normal, so this drop in creativity is concerning. 

Managers and workers placed the blame for decreased creativity on the isolation sometimes associated with a distributed workforce. Of the remote workers who felt less creative while working from home during the pandemic, 46% cited less face time with their team as a reason, 44% said they felt like they were working in a bubble and didn’t know what their colleagues were doing, and 40% said it was harder to collaborate with their team on calls. 

On the management side, nearly 1 in 4 (22%) said the drop-off in creativity was directly correlated to the fact that they no longer had the ability to brainstorm as a team on a whiteboard or in a similar visual way.

Key takeaway: Managers and workers agreed that under the isolated conditions of a dispersed workforce during the pandemic, creativity suffered. Managers who struggled to devise creative solutions now know that facilitating online collaboration tools is an effective way to boost company creativity.

Solutions: Virtual visual collaboration

Our survey research spotlights how essential virtual communication tools and platforms are for distributed teams. However, less than half (41%) of remote workers said that current cloud platforms helped them and their teammates maintain innovation while working from home. In fact, 37% said that the constant notifications from collaboration tools disrupted their ability to be creative. And 24% of management got frustrated when ideas generated in virtual meetings were lost because there was no centralized place to jot things down.

Infographic visualizing how remote workers perceive collaboration tools effectiveness, and how virtual whiteboard tools helped 93% of respondents with remote communication.

So what is the solution? Visual communication. 

29% of remote workers said that having a shared visual collaborative space to swap ideas was one of the top three most important elements for a productive brainstorming meeting, while 28% of managers who feltl less creative while working from home said that visual brainstorming as a team helped generate creative ideas. 

In fact, 27% of remote workers cited drawing as one of their favorite ways to explain an idea to someone else. Additionally, a resounding 93% of those who have a virtual whiteboarding tool said that it was effective in helping communicate in a remote work situation. 

Virtual whiteboarding offers a solution to another frequently expressed frustration associated with remote collaboration: loss of input. 83% of remote workers in the pandemic said they experienced coming up with a great idea in a team brainstorm that never got any follow-up. 70% said their idea didn’t even make it into the notes and got lost in next steps. Meanwhile, when in the office, 49% of workers experienced the frustration of having someone erase a whiteboard where ideas were drafted.

Virtual whiteboards save these ideas so they are never lost in the brainstorm vacuum. Of those that used them, 97% of managers and 89% of employees said virtual whiteboarding tools were effective. With these types of tools, managers can facilitate a collaborative team environment that will ultimately increase productivity and creativity. 

Key takeaway: Current collaboration platforms have not been successful in filling the void created by the lack of common meeting spaces with whiteboards to enable visual communication. Virtual whiteboards have been very successful in this regard, providing more than just a place for teams to jot down ideas. They are a central place for teams to ideate, create, and act. 

Virtual whiteboards expand the functionalities of physical whiteboards to create a truly unique brainstorming experience, regardless of a team’s physical location. Some of these functions include an infinite canvas, labeled collaborator cursors, quick sticky notes, revision history, live chat and comments, voting, and the ability to tag others.

Preparing for the Next Normal

The pandemic accelerated the shift to a modern distributed workforce. Forced to switch to a remote environment, managers saw first-hand the importance of using virtual tools to facilitate productivity and collaboration. 

Lucidspark, created by the makers of Lucidchart, helps companies prioritize collaboration, productivity, and creativity. Lucidspark is a cloud-based online whiteboard where teams can work together in real time, regardless of location. With Lucidspark, teams can swap ideas, share feedback, and build shared consensus to actually put ideas into action. For more information about Lucidspark, visit https://lucidspark.com

About the research

Lucid conducted this research using an online survey prepared by Method Research and distributed by Dynata among 1,000 full-time employed adults in the U.S. who work a traditional desk job from home at least three days a week. The sample included 300 in a management role. Respondents came from enterprise and mid-sized businesses nationwide in all major industry segments. They were equally divided between male and female, and included baby boomers, millennials, and Gen Xers. Data was collected from September 9–17, 2020.  

About Lucid

Lucid is the only visual collaboration suite that helps teams see and build the future from idea to reality. Its products, Lucidchart and Lucidspark, provide users with an end-to-end experience that helps teams truly see and build the future by enabling collaboration and clear communication. Lucidspark is a virtual whiteboard application for freeform ideation, group brainstorming, and real-time collaboration across teams. Lucidchart is an intelligent diagramming application for understanding the people, processes, and systems that drive business forward.

Lucid products are utilized in over 180 countries by more than 30 million users, including customers like Google, GE, NBC Universal, T-Mobile, and 99% of the Fortune 500. Lucid's partners include industry leaders such as Google, Atlassian, Amazon Web Services, Salesforce, and Microsoft. Since the Utah-based company's founding in 2010, it has received numerous awards for its products, business, and workplace culture. For more information, visit lucid.co.

See how Lucidspark can help you share ideas, collaborate seamlessly, and put ideas into action.

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About Lucidspark

Lucidspark is a virtual whiteboard that helps you and your team collaborate to bring the best ideas to light. It comes packed with all of the sticky notes, freehand drawing tools, and infinite canvas space you need to capture that next big idea. And it’s built for collaboration. Think of it like a sandbox where your team can bounce ideas around and innovate together in real time.

Brought to you by the makers of Lucidchart, trusted by millions of users worldwide, including 99% of the Fortune 500.

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