May 2, 2022 - Podcasts

How remote work can stifle creativity

New research says video meetings generate fewer creative ideas. Is it time to save Zoom only for certain kinds of work gatherings?

  • Plus, the push to make Asian American history a requirement in public schools.
  • And, food prices spike around the globe.

Guests: Axios' Russell Contreras and Erica Pandey.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Monday, May 2nd.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re watching today: New clues about the effectiveness of remote work. Plus, food prices spike around the globe.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: the push to teach Asian American history in public schools.

Lawmakers in several states are considering bills to make Asian American history a requirement in their public schools. So far two states, Illinois and New Jersey have already passed similar bills. As Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month begins, Axios race and justice reporter Russell Contreras has been talking to historians and activists about the push to get more Asian American history into education. Hey Russ.

RUSSELL CONTRERAS: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: Russ, why are lawmakers and activists pushing for this and saying these bills are needed right now?

RUSSELL: Well, groups like Make Us Visible and the Asian American Education Project are saying we need more Asian American history in schools to combat the surge in anti-Asian violence. Many people, including many young people do not know basic facts about Asian American history and what these educators believe is if you know more about the experience of Asian Americans, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Desi Americans, you will see them in kinship with fellow citizens because out of all the groups Asian American history is probably the most marginalized in curriculum from K-12 and in college.

NIALA: There's a hallmark of American history that happened in 1898, the Wong Kim Ark case. Can you tell us more about that for people who don't know this American history and how this exemplifies what you're talking about?

RUSSELL: Yes, the Wong Kim Ark case is one of the most crucial moments in American history. This was an American born cook of Chinese immigrant parents who went to China on a number of occasions. And at one point he came back and was denied entry into the United States. Uh, the person who was holding up immigrants at the port of entry in San Francisco said Asian Americans or Chinese Americans, people who were born in the United States could not be citizens and therefore could be excluded. He fought it, went all the way to the Supreme Court. The United States was excluding Chinese immigrants. It was excluding Chinese Americans, but he said, “Look, based on your constitution, if I'm born here, I'm an American citizen.”

This established the birthright citizenship part of the 14th amendment. That has enormous effects for generations. So Mexican Americans, Native Americans, any child of immigrants born. you're automatically an American citizen and I think the one case in 1898 - that year, that mark is similar to The 1619 Project of the New York Times, where they cited 1619, the arrival of the first African slaves to the Virginia colony.

That was a moment of tragedy, 1619, but the year 1898 is a moment of triumph, according to the historians. This is a moment where Asian Americans are fighting for civil rights and that struggle reverberates across generations.

NIALA: Russ, you mentioned The 1619 Project. Some states are also trying to limit so-called “diversity education” - the things you're talking about - with the banning of critical race theory. We're seeing this in a lot of states, particularly in public schools. How does this conversation fit into that?

RUSSELL: Yes, this push to integrate Asian American history comes at this time where there's a push to limit diversity education under the guise of banning critical race theory. Yet people are okay with the introduction of Asian American history right now, because we don't know much about it. Most folks don't understand it. They think that Asian American history is a late 20th century construct, whether it's the Vietnam War, immigration from China. Look, if you look at Asian American history from the beginning, it is a history of racial violence but it's also a history of triumph and it remains to be seen that once teachers and parents learn more about Asian American history and what’s being taught, this may fall under the guise of limiting diversity education. But right now it's not.

NIALA: Axios’ race and justice reporter Russell Contreras joining us from Albuquerque. Thanks Russ.

RUSSELL: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: We’re back in a moment with new research about working over Zoom.

[ad break]

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo. Video meetings, which so many of us rely on in remote work, may be less effective for generating creative ideas. That's according to new research published in Nature, and Axios’ Erica Pandey, who follows work and life trends for us, has the story. Hey Erica.


NIALA: So what exactly did this study find? I have to say, I have suspected this.

ERICA: Yeah, so this study was really interesting to me because it's the first time that we've seen actual research into something that we've all kind of been feeling right? That the Zoom fatigue, spending time on zoom, is taking some X factor away. And this compared in-person interactions to video interactions and found that those video interactions are generating fewer creative ideas.

NIALA: So why are we finding that this doesn't allow for as much creativity?

ERICA: So one big reason is that a lot of creativity comes from movement. Moving your, your head around in a space, looking at different things, walking around, if you're, you know, meeting with someone by the water cooler, even just moving your limbs and stuff like that, or shifting your weight. And Zoom kind of trains us to look at a camera and stay still. And that staying still, experts are saying, is some of the reason why the creativity is getting chipped away at.

NIALA: And so that's something that could be solved in a virtual environment.

ERICA: Absolutely. So, if as Nature says in this study, 20% of all work days across startups and big companies are going to be remote, we need to figure out different ways of engaging virtually. So, standard Zoom meetings work for a lot of people, work for a lot of different situations, but if you're trying to brainstorm, you're trying to do a retreat where people are coming together for big ideas, some people are saying maybe we turn to VR. Because if you're in the VR world, you can move around. You can kind of let those creative juices flow. Or just turn the camera off, do an old fashioned phone call. You know, like I find that when I'm Zooming with people with the camera off and I'm moving around my kitchen, I feel like I can let the ideas flow more freely. So maybe for brainstorming sessions that aren't, you know, an executive making an announcement, if it's a different sort of meeting, maybe we go camera off.

NIALA: And I feel like I have to say to everybody, you and I are having this conversation in person, and I'm watching you move and your hands, and I will say, this is, it's a lot more freeing.

ERICA: Absolutely. I need to move around when I talk. It's how I connect point A to point B, and you, you lose that on Zoom when you have to kind of be focused.

NIALA: Axios’ Erica Pandy, who writes the Finish Line newsletter. Thank you, Erica.

ERICA: Thank you. Niala

NIALA: Here’s what you need to know this morning on the war in Ukraine: A portion of the hundreds of people sheltering in a steel plant in Mariupol has been evacuated. It’s one of the only places in the city Russian forces have not taken, according to Ukrainian and Russian officials. But hundreds more remain trapped inside, including soldiers.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other US representatives met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a surprise visit to Kyiv this weekend. In the meeting, Pelosi assured him that additional American support is on its way.

And USAID Administrator Ambassador Samantha Power sounded the alarm yesterday about soaring global food shortages.

SAMANTHA POWER: It is just another catastrophic effect of Putin's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

NIALA: Power spoke on ABC's this week

SAMANTHA POWER: Food prices right now globally are up 34% from where they were a year ago, aided substantially, again, by this invasion.

NIALA: For the latest on the war, you can always visit

And finally, one funny note to leave you with: I attended the White House Correspondents Dinner this weekend – where host Trevor Noah roasted our very own Jonathan Swan, Axios national political correspondent and frequent guest here on Axios Today.

TREVOR NOAH: An interview with Jonahtan Swan is like being interrogated by a koala bear. "But Senator McConnell, don't you think it's strange that you and the devil have never been seen in the same place at the same time? Don't you think that’s strange?’”

NIALA: Jonathan was also awarded the 2022 Aldo Beckman Award for Overall Excellence in White House Coverage at the dinner. Congratulations Jonathan!

That’s all we’ve got for you today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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