Working in remote teams can hurt innovation, according to a published study that suggests that researchers based at the same site make more breakthrough discoveries. Remote collaborators can benefit from greater collective knowledge, the research points out, but because such teams don't integrate fully, they are better suited to make only incremental progress at the expense of disruptive discoveries.
"People that collaborate at distance are less likely to come up with these more foundational types of discoveries," says Carl Frey of the University of Oxford, a study co-author. "The breakthroughs that are being made are more likely to be made by people that are more geographically proximate."
To assess the output of research teams, the study analyzed 20 million research articles and four million patent applications. The team found that, over the past 50 years, the average distance between members of a team increased. But such dispersion came with a penalty, with remote teams making fewer breakthroughs.
The study "shows what intuitively we all thought," says Marina Schröder at Leibniz University Hanover. "There can be side effects of moving towards remote work."
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