In a new paper in Nature Human Behaviour, BIDS Faculty Affiliate David Holtz and collaborators at Microsoft analyze anonymized telemetry data from over 60,000 U.S. Microsoft employees – collected before and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic – to estimate the effects of remote work on collaboration network structure, as well as workweek length and email, instant message, video/audio call, and meeting activity levels.
Understanding how remote work will affect workers beyond the pandemic has immediate implications for firms making long-term decisions such as whether to transition to a full-time remote workforce, whether to adopt hybrid work models, and how heavily to invest in physical office space.
As part of the study, the team used statistical techniques to separate the causal effects of firm-wide remote work on the collaboration patterns of information workers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Measuring the causal effects of remote work on collaboration and work patterns has historically been difficult because the subset of workers that worked remotely may have differed in both observable and unobservable ways from those that worked in more traditional office settings,” says Holtz. “Work-from-home mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic created a unique opportunity to measure the causal effects of remote work, because nearly all information workers were suddenly and unexpectedly forced to work from home.”
The study finds that firm-wide remote work caused the collaboration network among workers to become more siloed, with fewer connections across silos and denser connection within, and to become less dynamic. Firm-wide remote work also caused workers to shift away from synchronous communication (such as face-to-face communication, video conferences, and audio calls) and toward asynchronous communication (such as email and instant message). Taken together, these effects may make it harder for employees to acquire and share new information across the network, which could have implications for productivity and innovation among information workers.
The Effects of Remote Work on Collaboration Among Information Workers
September 9, 2021 | Nature Human Behaviour
Authors: Longqi Yang, David Holtz, Sonia Jaffe, Siddharth Suri, Shilpi Sinha, Jeffrey Weston, Connor Joyce, Neha Shah, Kevin Sherman, Brent Hecht, Jaime Teevan
When everyone works remotely, communication and collaboration suffer, study finds
September 9, 2021 | Laura Counts | Berkeley Haas