In the video above, Columbia Business School Assistant Professor of Business Melanie Brucks shares insights from her research into the cognitive and behavioral consequences of technological innovations related to the work-from-home phenomenon.

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And watch the rest of the videos in our Future of Work series here.

The shift to remote work during the pandemic has fundamentally changed how companies innovate, collaborate, and problem-solve.

According to new research by Columbia Business School Professor Melanie Brucks, virtual communication tools like Zoom conferencing can enable connection and idea evaluation on par with in-person interactions. However, initial creative concept generation suffers compared to sharing a physical space.

These findings carry meaningful implications for organizational structure, management, and office space design. Companies cannot assume full digitization is optimal or that all tasks should be treated equally. As Professor Brucks explains, certain collaborative creative processes still benefit tremendously from in-person synergies.

She advises a targeted hybrid approach — identifying specific roles, projects, or events where face-to-face interaction sparks innovation, while other work can flexibly remain remote. For instance, annual on-site conferences could stimulate new ideas that remote teams then develop digitally day-to-day. Video meetings facilitate efficient implementation but may not be best for unstructured brainstorming sessions.

The key is matching communication modes to intended outcomes, instead of assuming digital interaction should replace physical proximity entirely. Though the metaverse aims to simulate shared environment virtually, Professor Brucks finds forcing every task into immersive technology is unnecessary and potentially counterproductive.

As the professor's research shows, the post-pandemic future of work calls not for an absolutist stance on location, but for thoughtfully balancing the social and cognitive differences between in-person and virtual spaces. With careful calibration, companies can leverage the advantages of both to enhance creativity, productivity, and employee flexibility.