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Analysis Suggests Remote Work May Stifle Innovation

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two workers communicating, illustration

Employees who are not co-located are less likely to form ties, weakening the spread of information in the workplace.

Credit: MIT News

The debate over what is lost when remote work replaces an in-person workplace just got an infusion of data. According to a study conducted at MIT, when workers go remote, the types of work relationships that encourage innovation tend to be hard hit.

The MIT researchers, with colleagues at Texas A&M University, Italian National Research Council, Technical University of Denmark, and Oxford University, analyzed aspects of a de-identified email network comprising 2,834 MIT research staff, faculty, and postdoctoral researchers, for 18 months starting in December 2019.

With the shift to remote work, the study shows, email communications between different research units fell off, leading to a decrease in what researchers call the "weak ties" that undergird the exchange of new ideas that tend to foster innovation.

"Our research shows that co-location is a crucial factor to foster weak ties," says Paolo Santi, researcher at MIT's Senseable City Lab and at the Italian National Research Council. The data shows that weak ties evaporated at MIT when the pandemic ended much of the campus' on-site research.

The study is published in the journal Nature Computational Science.

From MIT News
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