Let it Flow: Information Exchange in Video Conferences versus Face-to-Face Meetings
67 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2020 Last revised: 1 May 2023
Date Written: April 28, 2023
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, policymakers faced a seemingly difficult choice. On the one hand, health considerations required imposing restrictions on face-to-face meetings. On the other hand, intuition suggested that switching to video conferencing might lead to some information loss. As the pandemic progressed, in-person meetings largely turned digital, including court hearings, lawyer-client consultations, board meetings, and more. But did this turn actually cause an information loss?
Figuring out whether information is lost in video conferences is pivotal not only as a reflection on the pandemic, but also to determine how to move forward in a post-pandemic world. Should policymakers permit video conferencing?
Briefly before the pandemic erupted, we conducted a lab experiment that focused precisely on this issue, foreshadowing its relevance. Subjects were asked to solve a riddle, which could only be solved correctly by exchanging information with other subjects. Our main research question was whether the medium used to communicate—video conference or face-to-face—mattered for information flow. Contrary to our expectations, we found no significant difference in information flow between the two mediums. However, we did observe a perception gap: those who communicated face-to-face were more likely to perceive themselves as giving away useful information. Yet this perception was entirely subjective, as face-to-face meetings did not, in fact, yield better performance.
Our findings entail two key implications. First, actors in the legal sphere, such as policymakers, lawyers, judges, shareholders, and board members, should be potentially (and counter-intuitively) less concerned about information loss in video conferencing. Second, policymakers should be aware that resistance to video conferences might stem from a biased perception of differences in information flow. To maintain data-driven decisions, we also stress the need to collect additional evidence that accounts for experience with video conferencing during and after the pandemic.
Keywords: face-to-face, video conference, virtual teams, social distancing, COVID-19, communication, information flow
JEL Classification: D02, D23, D83, K20, O39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation