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Yang and colleagues investigated the remote work experiences of Microsoft employees.  They report that “The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caused a rapid shift to full-time remote work for many information workers. Viewing this shift as a natural experiment in which some workers were already working remotely before the pandemic enables us to separate the effects of firm-wide remote work from other pandemic-related confounding factors. Here, we use rich data on the emails, calendars, instant messages, video/audio calls and workweek hours of 61,182 US Microsoft employees over the first six months of 2020 to estimate the causal effects of firm-wide remote work on collaboration and communication. Our results show that firm-wide remote work caused the collaboration network of workers to become more static and siloed, with fewer bridges between disparate parts. Furthermore, there was a decrease in synchronous communication and an increase in asynchronous communication. Together, these effects may make it harder for employees to acquire and share new information across the network.”

Longqi Yang, David Holtz, Sonia Jaffe, Siddharth Suri, Shilpi Sinha, Jeffrey Weston, Connor Joyce, Neha Shah, Kevin Sherman, Brent Hecht, and Jaime Teevan.  2021.  “The Effects of Remote Work on Collaboration Among Information Workers.”  Nature Human Behaviour,

Boland and colleagues studied conversations during Zoom meetings.  They learned that “Small, variable transmission delays over Zoom disrupt the typical rhythm of conversation, leading to delays in turn initiation. This study compared local and remote (Zoom) turn transition times. . . . We consider the possibility that electronic transmission delays disrupt neural oscillators that normally synchronize on syllable rate, at around, 150–300 ms per cycle . . . and enable interlocutors to effortlessly and precisely time the initiation of their turns.”

Julie Boland, Pedro Fonseca, Ilana Mermelstein, and Myles Williamson.  “Zoom Disrupts the Rhythm of Conversation.”  Journal of Experimental Psychology:  General, in press,

Researchers have investigated why we get lost in places that are similar to other areas we’re familiar with.  Zheng lead a team that found that “the brain may treat similar environments as if they are even more different than a pair of environments that have nothing in common. The concept is known to brain scientists as ‘repulsion.’ . . .  Ekstrom points to a visit to a restaurant. There are many aspects about dining out that will always be the same – being seated, ordering food and waiting for the meal. But dinner with a romantic partner would come with key differences than, say, a dinner with a co-worker. ‘That's the challenge for the brain: A lot of stuff in our daily life is similar, so there's no reason to use our limited resources to relearn very similar experiences,’ Ekstrom said. ‘But at the same time, there are things in our everyday life that we have to treat as different in order to be able to learn.’” This study is published in Nature Communications.

“Ever Been Lost in the Grocery Store?  Researchers are Closer to Knowing Why It Happens.”  2021.  Press release, The University of Arizona,

Ayton and colleagues studied how links to a notable individual influence property values.  They report that “In many places commemorative plaques are erected on buildings to serve as historical markers of notable men and women who lived in them – London has a Blue Plaque scheme for this purpose. We investigated the influence of commemorative Blue Plaques on the selling prices of London real estate. We identified properties which sold both before and after a Blue Plaque was installed indexing prices relative to the median prevailing sales prices of properties sold in the same neighborhood. Relative prices increased by 27% (US$165,000 as of July 2020) after a Blue Plaque was installed but not in a control set of properties without Blue Plaques, sold both before and after a Blue Plaque was installed in close proximity.”

Peter Ayton, Leonardo Weiss-Cohen, and Matthew Barson.  “Magical Contagion and Commemorative Plaques:  Effects of Celebrity Occupancy on Property Values.”  Journal of Environmental Psychology,

Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at Wharton, studied how objects become special and wrote a related paper with Jacqueline Rifkin (“How Nonconsumption Can Turn Ordinary Items Into Perceived Treasures”).  When discussing this paper Berger reports on “a specialness spiral. You take an ordinary item and forgo using it once. Because of that, you start to see it as a little more special. . . . The next opportunity has to be even better, which means that it’s less likely to be used, so it becomes even more special. It’s this ratcheting upward of a specialness spiral where an item that started out very ordinary, through repeated lack of use eventually becomes quite special and seen more as a treasure. . . .we don’t mean to suggest that all clutter is driven by this. . . . Marketers may want to consider a number of ways of dealing with this. Maybe it’s associating offerings with a specific usage occasion. . . . brands could consider encouraging consumers to use their offerings as soon as possible after purchase. . . . even if they’re nonperishable.”

“Curbing Clutter:  Why Do We Hold On to Things We Never Use?” 2021.  Knowledge @ Wharton,

Research continues on sounds linked to curving and rectilinear forms.  Cwiek and colleagues report that “Most people around the world agree that the made-up word ‘bouba’ sounds round in shape, and the made-up word ‘kiki’ sounds pointy – a discovery that may help to explain how spoken languages develop, according to a new study. Language scientists have discovered that this effect exists independently of the language that a person speaks or the writing system that they use, and it could be a clue to the origins of spoken words. . . . The ‘bouba/kiki effect’ is thought to derive from phonetic and articulatory features of the words, for example, the rounded lips of the 'b' and the stressed vowel in ‘bouba’, and the intermittent stopping and starting of air in pronouncing ‘kiki’.”  This study is published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

“Perceptual Links Between Sound and Shape May Unlock Origins of Spoken Words.”  2021.  Press release, University of Birmingham,

Trainin and Yeshurun researched communication during the COVID-19 pandemic.  They report that “we tested the hypothesis that experience in looking in interlocutor’s eyes (as a result of mask-wearing) will be correlated with enhanced performance on ‘reading the mind in the eyes test’ (RMET). . . . We found that reported tendency to look at interlocutors' eyes, combined with experience in interacting with other people wearing masks, explained individual differences in RMET performance. Moreover, we found that individual’s tendency to look at interlocutors' eyes was correlated with change in performance in reading the mind in the eyes over this month. These results suggest that in addition to individual’s interest and motivation in understanding other’s mental state, continuous everyday experiences can result in an improved capacity for reading mental and emotional states by looking into individuals' eyes.”

Nitzan Trainin and Yaara Yeshurun.  “Reading the Mind with a Mask?  Improvement in Reading the Mind in the Eyes During the COVID-19 Pandemic”  Emotion, in press,

A current exhibit at the Wellcome Collection in London focuses on encouraging feelings of tranquility. A particularly intriguing section relates to forest bathing: “Researchers at the Nippon Medical School in Tokyo first publicised their research into the health benefits of shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’ in the 1980s. In 2019 Chrystel Lebas travelled to the Hoh Rain Forest in Washington State, USA, and then on to the Japanese island of Yakushima, known for its Yakusugi or cedar trees. These two temperate rainforests contain some of the oldest living trees in the world. Lebas takes photographs with a long exposure to capture a rich spectrum of blues and greens in the last moments of daylight. In this installation, these monumental photographs are accompanied by a natural soundscape recorded on location and a scent of petrichor that evokes the smell of the forest floor after it has rained.” For more information and images, visit

Joseph Allen, the director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings program clearly lays out in a recent article in The Atlantic (free at the web address below) why effective workplace ventilation is so important.  His piece includes information that’s crucial for every workplace designer and manager to know and to apply.  For example:  “My team at Harvard recently published research on the health of several hundred office workers around the world for more than a year. We found that people performed better on cognition tests when the ventilation rate in their working environment was higher. When they were exposed to more outdoor air, they responded to questions more quickly and got more answers right.  Our team reached a similar finding a few years back in a tightly controlled laboratory setting. In that study, people did notably better on cognitive tasks when carbon dioxide made up about 600 parts per million of the air they breathed than when it made up about 1,000 parts per million. . . .  In our new research, we observed the effect in real buildings globally. We also observed a reduction of worker performance even at indoor CO2 levels that many researchers had previously assumed were perfectly fine.”

Joseph Allen.  2021.  “Employers Have Been Offering the Wrong Office Amenities.”  The Atlantic,

Research on topics related to workplace ventilation continues.  A Laurent-lead team reports that their goal was “to understand whether cognitive function was associated with real-time indoor concentrations of particulate matter (PM2.5) and carbon dioxide (CO2). We conducted a prospective observational longitudinal study among 302 office workers in urban commercial buildings located in six countries (China, India, Mexico, Thailand, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom). For 12 months, [we] assessed cognitive function. . . . We found that higher PM2.5 and lower ventilation rates, as assessed by CO2 concentration, were associated with slower response times and reduced accuracy (fewer correct responses per minute). . . . Enhanced filtration and higher ventilation rates that exceed current minimum targets are essential public health strategies that may improve employee productivity.”

Jose Laurent, Piers MacNaughton, Emily Jones, Anna Young, Maya Bliss, Skye Flanigan, Jose Vallarino, Ling Chen, Xiaodong Cao, and Joseph Allen. 2021.  “Associations Between Acute Exposures to PM2.5 and Carbon Dioxide Indoors and Cognitive Function in Office Workers:  A Multicountry Longitudinal Prospective Observational Study.”  Environmental Research Letters, vol. 16, no. 6,


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