The Effects of Temporal Distance on Intra-Firm Communication: Evidence from Daylight Savings Time

43 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2020 Last revised: 15 Dec 2021

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

Cross-border communication costs have plummeted and enabled the global distribution of work, but frictions attributable to distance persist. We estimate the causal effects of temporal distance, i.e., time zone separation between employees, on intra-firm communication, a critical means of coordination and knowledge transfer. We argue that temporal distance creates frictions for synchronous communication, which could be especially harmful for collaboration among employees engaged in non-routine tasks. Exploiting Daylight Saving Time (DST) as a natural experiment and detailed data from a large multinational firm, we show that among collaborators who experience an increase in temporal distance, total communication volumes drop by 9.4 percent on average, an effect fully driven by reductions in richer, synchronous communication. Further, we show that these declines are concentrated among employees in routine tasks. Employees in non-routine tasks, meanwhile, react to increased temporal distance by shifting synchronous communication across the boundary of their workday into leisure time. Additional tests show that workers’ propensity to employ this adjustment mechanism is only partly explained by differences in their ability to work from home. Overall, our findings provide evidence that employees collaborating on non-routine tasks place a high premium on synchronous communication even at the cost of personal leisure. We present additional evidence and draw implications for how temporal distance relates to strategic considerations such as worker mobility, co-production of patents, and temporal boundaries of the firm.

Keywords: communication patterns, time zones, geographic frictions, knowledge workers, multinational companies

Suggested Citation

Chauvin, Jasmina and Choudhury, Prithwiraj and Fang, Tommy Pan, The Effects of Temporal Distance on Intra-Firm Communication: Evidence from Daylight Savings 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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