We exploit a natural experiment – the annual change of clocks from Daylight Savings Time (DST) – to study the effects of temporal distance on communication patterns in a large multinational company. We hypothesize that temporal distance constrains employees’ ability to communicate synchronously (via calls, instant message chats, virtual meetings) but not asynchronously (via e-mail), and that a release in the temporal distance constraint will increase synchronous communication, especially among employees engaged in knowledge-intensive collaboration. Using the shift from DST as a discrete change in temporal distance and detailed data on employee communication patterns, we find that a one to two-hour increase in shared time between offices increases volumes of unscheduled Skype calls by 28 percent while an equivalent decrease in shared time decreases chat and scheduled call and meeting volumes by 9.5 and 9.0 percent, respectively. In contrast to the significant responses in synchronous communication, asynchronous communication volumes (e-mail) are largely unaffected. Exploiting data on employee function, we further show that the positive responses to increased shared time is driven by R&D workers, while the negative responses are concentrated among workers in operational tasks (production and IT). We interpret our results as evidence that knowledge workers place a high value on shared time and discuss implications for the spatial organization of firms and the offshoring of work.
Tommy Fang is a doctoral student in the technology and operations management unit at Harvard Business School. He is broadly interested in the economics of digitization, information technology, and social networks.