The effect of co-location on human communication networks
Carmody D., Mazzarello M., Santi P., Harris T., Lehmann S., Abbiasov T., Dunbar R., Ratti C.
The ability to rewire ties in communication networks is vital for large-scale human cooperation and the spread of new ideas. We show that lack of researcher co-location during the COVID-19 lockdown caused the loss of more than 4,800 weak ties—ties between distant parts of the social system that enable the flow of novel information—over 18 months in the email network of a large North American university. Furthermore, we find that the reintroduction of partial co-location through a hybrid work mode led to a partial regeneration of weak ties. We quantify the effect of co-location in forming ties through a model based on physical proximity, which is able to reproduce all empirical observations. Results indicate that employees who are not co-located are less likely to form ties, weakening the spread of information in the workplace. Such findings could contribute to a better understanding of the spatiotemporal dynamics of human communication networks and help organizations that are moving towards the implementation of hybrid work policies to evaluate the minimum amount of in-person interaction necessary for a productive work environment.