The effect of co-location of human communication networks

by   Daniel Carmody, et al.

The ability to rewire ties in communication networks is vital for large-scale human cooperation and the spread of new ideas. Especially important for knowledge dissemination is the ability to form new weak ties – ties which act as bridges between distant parts of the social system and enable the flow of novel information. Here we show that lack of researcher co-location during the COVID-19 lockdown caused the loss of more than 4800 weak ties over 18 months in the email network of a large North American university – the MIT campus. Furthermore, we find that the re-introduction of partial co-location through a hybrid work mode starting in September 2021 led to a partial regeneration of weak ties, especially between researchers who work in close proximity. We quantify the effect of co-location in renewing ties – a process that we have termed nexogenesis – through a novel model based on physical proximity, which is able to reproduce all empirical observations. Results highlight 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 spatio-temporal 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 healthy work life.


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