The Effects of Temporal Distance on Intrafirm Communication and the Employee Workday: Evidence from Daylight Saving Time

51 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2020 Last revised: 8 Apr 2023

See all articles by Jasmina Chauvin

Jasmina Chauvin

Georgetown University

Prithwiraj Choudhury

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Tommy Pan Fang

Harvard University

Date Written: November 30, 2021

Abstract

This paper examines how temporal distance stemming from time zone separation affects intraorganizational communication in geographically distributed firms. Analyzing communication- level data from 12,038 employees of a large multinational firm and using cities’ shifts to/from Daylight Saving Time for identification, we find evidence that temporal distance creates a sizable communication friction. Results using both difference-in-differences and regression discontinuity research designs show that an increase in temporal distance between collaborators of one-to-two hours reduces volumes of rich, synchronous communication between them by 11.0% on average, while reductions in temporal distance tend to have the opposite effect. These results are largely driven by collaborators whose jobs are intensive in routine tasks. Employees in what we term “synchronous communication-intensive” (non-routine and managerial) jobs counteract increases in temporal distance by shifting work-related communication to outside of traditional business hours. Even with these adjustments, we find evidence suggesting that communication frictions due to time zone separation increase coordination costs and impact firm organization, as reflected in a lower span of control of managers whose subordinates are more temporally distant from them. Our study improves our understanding of a ubiquitous source of collaboration friction and has implications for location strategy, human capital management, and organizational design in geographically distributed firms.

Keywords: temporal distance, communication, collaboration, geographic frictions, temporal flexibility, routine and non-routine work

Suggested Citation

Chauvin, Jasmina and Choudhury, Prithwiraj and Fang, Tommy Pan, The Effects of Temporal Distance on Intrafirm Communication and the Employee Workday: Evidence from Daylight Saving Time (November 30, 2021). Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 21-052, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3710778 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3710778

Jasmina Chauvin

Georgetown University ( email )

3700 O Street, NW
Washington, DC 20057
United States

Prithwiraj Choudhury (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Tommy Pan Fang

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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