‘Work from home’ hinders creativity and innovation, claims study

Now your boss has compelling scientific data to ask you to return to the office, abandoning work from home setup. A new study reported by MIT news suggests that a remote working environment has a negative impact on our work relationship, which impairs innovation and creativity in our job.

The research published in Nature Computational Science tries to scientifically address the question of what got lost when Covid-19 forced us to work in a virtual setup, replacing a physical workplace.

“Until now, we could only guess. Today we can finally start to put real data behind those hypotheses,” Carlo Ratti, director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Senseable City Lab, states the importance of the research.

What does the study say?

Researchers have examined the impact of remote work on job efficiency after physical working got disrupted in the MIT campus because of Covid-19.

The study says that email communications between different research units fell drastically, leading to interruption in the exchange of new ideas due to slackening of “weak ties” among the staff.

What is ‘weak ties’ ?

In Sociology, weak ties refers to your connections with acquaintances or coworkers with whom you don’t work closely too often. On the other hand, strong ties are developed among your family members, team members with whom you interact regularly.

Why is ‘weak ties’ important ?

According to Sociologist Mark Granovetter, these good enough relationships with other members at the workplace are crucial. His study mentions that individuals with many weak ties are best placed to diffuse a difficult innovation.

The research points that remote work has a concerning effect on these weak ties. It says that co-location matters in fostering weak ties.

The study data showed weak ties diminished by 38 percent at MIT a year after the pandemic on March 23, 2020, and further got reduced to an estimated cumulative loss of over 5,100 new weak ties in the next 18 months.

Though, virtual setup has made it possible to interact with our team remotely, but our interactions with those who are not in our team, the other department workers, have decreased significantly hindering the flow of innovation among different teams. While being present physically, the chances of creating new connections and strengthening existing ones are strengthened.

Recovery of weak ties

The research is optimistic that a “complete recovery of weak ties” is possible once there is a reinstatement of work from the office setup. However, while foreseeing this, the research also acknowledges the flexibility work from home offers to an individual and advocates for a hybrid work environment (mix of remote and physical work) as an optimal solution.

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