In organisations, clear effective communication between individuals is essential. A plethora of technologies such as e-mail, web-based meetings, conference calls and instant messaging are aiding communication between individuals that are geographically displaced(REF). These communication techniques, although certainly helpful, lack interpersonality, and more specifically face-to-face interaction(REF). Face-to-face interactions are noted by several authors as being the most effective transferal method of information, influence job satisfaction, physical and mental health, collaboration, productivity, and organisational commitment(REF). More research shows individuals that exhibit these outcomes statistically produce higher quality work, contribute to workplace culture in positive ways and retain information during learning exercises more effectively (Campbell’s & Campbell, 1988; Kirschner etal., 2009; Mesmer Magnus & DeChurch, 2009: Reagans & Zuckerman, 2001; Short 1974; Strubler & York, 2007).
Therefore, organisations that rely primarily on virtual communication techniques, are at a disadvantage. To assist organisations encourage these interpersonal communication modes, designers are being challenged to find design techniques which allows the appropriate infrastructure of virtual communication needs, but not forgetting to encouraging face-to-face interactions. One mode of doing this is through the manipulation of floorplanning, making use the limitation of natural linear human movement to direct exchange of interpersonal communication between individuals as they move throughout a space or as they are stationary(Gerstberger & Allen, 1968;Penn 1999; Peponis el al., 2007; Rashid el al., 2006). The current literature review aims to be explorative of the concepts introduced above and methods that designers can use to manipulate the floorplan layout to foster informal, impromptu interactions and, as a result encourages face-to-face interactions. Importance of face to face communication Mental and physical health Participating in regular and quality social interactions are an essential human need. Research shows individuals that have higher levels of social interactions are statistically less likely to be diagnosed with myocardial infarction(REF). Separate studies have shown the same is true for both social isolation and non-supportive social interactions which has recorded lower immune function and higher neuroendocrine and cardiovascular activity(REF) in individuals. This implies, better workplace relationships may decrease the amount of sick days workers take during a work year and possibly the mental health of workers in the organisation as a whole.
2. Intraorganizational mobility
There is also evidence that links individuals that exhibit higher levels of informal social networks within the workplace to having faster intraorganizational mobility than those that do not(Podolny and Baron, 2016). Intraorganizational mobility, as defined within the article refers directly to the rising of an individual through the ranks of an organisation. Individuals that are well suited to the jobs they hold generally feel a greater sense of job satisfaction, productivity and organisational commitment(REF).
3. Organisational commitment
Organisations also benefit from encouraging their workers to engage in social endeavors. Workplaces that are reported better working conditions/benefits for their employees attract and retain higher levels of talented employees than those that do not(REF). Studies show individuals that are in teams that are physically based in work offices generally learn more from accomplishing tasks(REF).
4. Productivity, creativity and job satisfaction
According to social presence theory, as described by Short, Williams and Christie study conducted in 1976, communication is effective if the communication medium has the appropriate social presence required for the level of interpersonal involvement required for a task. This relates directly to Reagans and Zuckerman’s study conducted in 2001 drawing direct correlation to interpersonal bonding among workers to the reported number of face-to-face interactions. Similar ideals are conveyed by Short’s 1974 experiment where a series of small teams were asked to complete a task however half of the sample of teams were connected through their choice of virtual communication means while the other were allowed to collaborate in the flesh. The results shows individuals who were given the ability to sit together in the flesh exhibited higher levels of productivity, creativity and job satisfaction. This suggests there is a degree of information that is communicated through nonverbal cues which puts those using virtual communication tools primarily at a disadvantage. Muchinsky 1977 argues that if people have the opportunity to initiate face-to-face interactions, they also have a higher level of job satisfaction.
Face to face communication in collaborative work settings
Collaboration and learning
Organisations that encourage collaborative work environments use less resources to train their workers. Kirschner, et al in 2009 explored findings of higher levels of learning retention in individuals who worked within teams than those that worked in isolation. The study concluded that these individuals that worked collaboratively did so because there was less cognitive effort required as it was distributed among all the members. Similar findings are shown in Strubler and York (2007) study into the relationship between collaboration and increased job satisfaction, individual reported creativity and productivity. This is supported by Mesmer-magnus and Dechurch(2009) on effects of teamwork sharing between teams supports increase performance and productivity as a whole. It is interesting then, to consider Information spreads faster through informal interactions and through individuals that report higher interpersonal relationships with their co-workers than not(davis 1984).
2. Individual reported productivity and empowerment
A number of authors(Conger & Kanungo, 1988; Ford & Fottler, 1995; Koberg, Boss, Senjem, & Goodman, 1999; Liden, Wayne, & Sparrowe, 2000; Spreitzer, 1995, 1996; Spreitzer, Kizilos, & Nason, 1997; Thomas & Velthouse, 1990) have described empowerment primarily conceptualised at the individual understanding (REF). This means those that are
A growing body of recent theoretical and empirical research also supports the positive effects of empowerment for colocated work teams (REF).
In response to findings like these mentioned above, organisations are shifting their workplace structure to encourage impromptu collaborative networks amongst workers. informal communication and impromptu interactions
1. Informal and impromptu interactions
Apart from formal gatherings, face-to-face interactions are important in informal and impromptu interactions which research is finding affect productivity, job satisfaction and organisational commitment. Campbells and Campbell’s (1988) define: informal communication (p 212) as being (state definition). The report showed individuals that had higher levels of quality face-to-face interactions with their co-workers reported a greater sense of belonging.
2. Employee investment and organisation culture
The report drew direct linkage to these interactions with relationship strengthening between co-workers. and generally result in increased identification with and commitment to the organisation. Rashid, et al. 2006 also supports similar schools of thought, claiming the levels of interpersonal relationships directly influences organisational culture. Allen and John P. meyer in 1990 concluded Impromptu interactions can lead to positive outcomes such as enhanced network density, productivity, job satisfaction and identification with and commitment to the organisation
Ease of face-to-face interaction as affected by layout
Accessibility and meeting spaces
Organisations have an interest to encourage face to face interactions.
One mode of doing so is through office space planning as a design tool to propagate the likelihood of face-to-face interactions.
Penn, et al (1999), lets us know office spaces can either connect or separate individuals, conducted a survey indicating workers are more likely to interact with coworkers in areas more accessible. Similarly, Peponis, et al (2007) described increased areas of ‘meeting spaces’ increased density of interactions. Although this study does not directly imply impact on productivity, the survey found increased probability of interaction also increased probability of teamwork and collaboration.
Facilitate informal, impromptu, face to face interactions through the manipulation of floor plan layout In response to this, designers can make careful consideration to floorplanning as a method for encouraging face-to-face interactions. In retrospect of the review of the current literature surrounding layout planning and its implications on interpersonal relationships, two major schools of thought can be pulled from the lot. Designers are able to control the probability of impromptu interactions and ease of communication within office through movement control and spatial connectedness.
Blackhouse and Drew conducted a study in 1992 which weighed on the notion that movement encourages unplanned interactions. The study showed evidence that over 80% of office space interactions were impromptu. The study strongly suggested evidence that non-verbal cues were the deciding factors for unplanned interactions within office spaces. The study described a scenario between one individual in motion and another individual seated at a desk as the most regular impromptu interaction within the study. The study found face-to-face interactions were discouraged when either of the two parties looked focused, or the individual in motion had a quick step and looked directly forward, or the individual at the desk was leaning over the desk and looked directly forward. The opposite is true for when the individuals exhibit more relaxed body movements, where the individual in motion had a slower pace and allowed themselves to look around, while the seated person is leaning back in their chair and is looking around.
2. Spatial interconnectedness
Similarly, spatial interconnectedness is a major theme within Allen (1970 as cited in Rashid et al, 2006) which found the greater the distance between employees, the less likely they are to communicate, as well as Peponis et al (2007) found increase in perceived connectedness increased ease of communication among workers. Visibility as observed by Rashid et al 2006, quantified visibility through axial map drawings and Spatial Syntax software. Concluding visibility and location play a role in the frequency of face-to-face impromptu and informal interactions.
In conclusion a series of assumptions can be drawn in retrospect of the critical review. The first assumes more frequent face to face interactions that manifest its sellf in teamwork, group work and impromptu interactions implies positive effects on self reported productivity, organisational commitments, organisation employee retention, and job satisfaction.