Does WFH hinder creativity and innovation?

September 24, 2022

Close physical proximity is requited to foster employee relationships that facilitate innovation, according to research from MIT.

When workers go remote, the types of work relationships that encourage innovation tend to be impacted, suggests research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The research analysed the email network of 2,834 MIT research staff, faculty, and postdoctoral researchers for 18 months starting in December 2019. Their emails were anonymised and the network structure of their origins and destinations were analysed, without bearing on the email content, according to MIT News.

It found that physical proximity plays an important role in the development of ‘weak ties’, which in turn foster innovation. With the shift to remote work, email communications between different research units fell off. This led to a fall in what researchers coined ‘weak ties’, which formed the basis of the exchange of new ideas that fosters innovation.

‘Weak ties’ is defined as any connection between two people who had no mutual contact in the email network. ‘Strong ties’ refers to the type of communication that tend to expose people to the same ideas repeatedly, which increased as remote work started.

“Our research shows that co-location is a crucial factor to foster ‘weak ties’,” said Paolo Santi, researcher at MIT’s Senseable City Lab and at the Italian National Research Council. “Our data showed that ‘weak ties’ evaporated at MIT starting on 23 March 2020, with a 38% drop.”

This article was first published on HRM Asia. 

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