The shift to company-wide remote work caused business groups within Microsoft “to become less interconnected”, according to research by the technology firm.
The study published in journal Nature Human Behaviour says that remote working “also reduced the number of ties bridging structural holes in the company’s informal collaboration network, and caused individuals to spend less time collaborating with the bridging ties that remained”.
The shift to firm-wide remote work “caused employees to spend a greater share of their collaboration time with their stronger ties, which are better suited to information transfer, and a smaller share of their time with weak ties, which are more likely to provide access to new information”.
Remote work “obviously eliminates in-person communication” however, the researchers found that “people did not simply replace in-person interactions with video and/or voice calls” but the shift “to firm-wide remote work caused an overall decrease in observed synchronous communication such as scheduled meetings and audio/video calls”.
The researchers also say that “remote work caused employees to communicate more through media that are more asynchronous – sending more emails and many more IMs”, which they say indicates it “may make it more difficult for workers to convey and/or converge on the meaning of complex information”.
Researchers had analysed anonymised individual-level data describing the communication practices of 61,182 US Microsoft employees from December 2019 to June 2020 – data from before and after Microsoft’s shift to firm-wide remote work (its data on workers’ choice of communication media goes back only to February 2020).
Previous research has also shown that the performance of workers is affected not only by the structure of the network and the strength of their ties but also by the temporal dynamics of the network.
The researchers say that the “benefits of different types of ties vary with their age, but people also benefit from changing their network position, adding new ties and reconnecting with dormant ties” so “the shift to firm-wide remote work may have reduced these benefits by making the collaboration network of workers more static –individuals added and deleted fewer ties from month-to-month and spent less time with newly added ties”.