Substituting face-to-face contacts in academics’ collaborations: Modern communication tools, proximity, and brokerage

Claudia Werker*, Ward Ooms

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Prior analyses of face-to-face contacts in collaborations have focused on one substitute only. Instead, we analyse various potential substitutes for face-to-face contacts in collaborations. Based on 45 interviews with academics from five leading European universities of technology our findings show that face-to-face contacts are closely intertwined with other mechanisms of coordination and communication for collaboration, particularly modern communication tools, proximity, and brokerage. Generally, to add personal and social proximity to their collaborations academics in our sample rely on face-to-face contacts. In their relationships with industrial partners, face-to-face contacts remain crucial to overcome cognitive and organizational distance. Yet when working with their peers, a number of partial substitutes for face-to-face contacts exist, knowingly combinations of temporary geographical proximity and modern communication tools. Moreover, PhD students can play a crucial role as junior brokers, overcoming a lack of face-to-face contacts between partners jointly supervising them while working in different locations.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalStudies in Higher Education
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Aug 2019



  • modern communication tools
  • face-to-face contacts
  • junior brokers
  • proximity
  • academia
  • Modern communication tools

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