Research Press Release

Sociology: Remote working affects collaboration among employees

Nature Human Behaviour

September 10, 2021

Firm-wide remote working led to workers’ collaboration network becoming more siloed and decreased real-time communication, such as scheduled meeting hours, according to a case study of about 61,000 Microsoft employees in the USA from December 2019 to June 2020 published in Nature Human Behaviour.

Work-from-home policies at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic led many firms to rapidly shift nearly all employees to remote work. Longqi Yang and colleagues used this shift in work patterns to identify the effects of firm-wide remote work on patterns of collaboration and communication. They used a large set of anonymized data on the emails, calls, scheduled and unscheduled meetings, and instant messages of Microsoft employees in the USA to study how these communications changed as more colleagues shifted from office to remote work. The authors found that firm-wide remote work decreased connections with colleagues in other business groups and reduced the amount of time spent with colleagues who bridged between different groups (and are more likely to provide access to new information). Remote work also decreased real-time communication such as scheduled voice and video call hours, increased the volume of emails and instant messages, and increased the average number of hours worked in a week.

The authors suggest that firm-wide remote work can change patterns of communication and collaboration in ways that potentially reduce opportunities for cross-group teamwork.


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