A look at a paper exploring face-to-face communication.
"Has technology made face-to-face communication redundant? We investigate using a natural experiment in an organisation where a worker must communicate complex electronic information to a colleague. Productivity is higher when the teammates are (exogenously) in the same room and, inside the room, when their desks are closer together. We establish face-to-face communication as the main mechanism, and rule out alternative channels such as higher effort by co-located workers. The effect is stronger for urgent and complex tasks, for homogeneous workers, and for high pressure conditions. We highlight the opportunity costs of face-to-face communication and their dependence on organisational slack."
Writes Diego Battiston, Jordi Blanes i Vidal, Tom Kirchmaier in their paper: Is Distance Dead? Face-to-Face Communication and Productivity in Teams link to paper here
“We exploit a natural experiment to provide evidence on the relation between distance, communication and productivity in a large public sector organisation: the branch in charge of answering 999 calls and allocating officers to incidents in the Greater Manchester Police. An incoming call is answered by a call handler, who describes the incident in the internal computer system. When the handler officially creates the incident, its details are available to the radio operator responsible for the neighbourhood where the incident occurred. The radio operator then allocates a police officer on the basis of incident characteristics and officer availability. The main measure of performance available to the organisation is the time that it takes for the operator to allocate an officer. Unfortunately, delays often result from the radio operator’s need to gather additional information. One way in which she can do this is by communicating with the call handler electronically or in person.”
“We find that allocation time is 2% faster when handler and operator work inthe same room. An important consequence of this faster response is that it decreases the likelihood that the operator misses the country-wide target for a maximum allocation time- a metric by which police forces are evaluated by the UK Home Office. We also show that proximity within the room is important - the effect of co-location is 4% when handler and operator are sitting very close together.”
“We provide two additional sets of results. Firstly, we establish that being able to communicate face-to-face has a higher effect for: (a) more urgent and information intensive incidents, (b) in conditions of higher operator workload, (c) when the teammates are more homogeneous (in terms of age and gender), and (d) when the teammates have worked together more often in the past. Secondly, we highlight and compute the opportunity costs of face-to-face communication.”
“This paper provides, we believe, the first detailed causal evidence on the relation between proximity, communication and productivity inside organisations. Of course,the study involves a particular setting and production technology. As such, the implications are stronger for high pressure environments such as the healthcare professionals assessing and treating patients in emergency rooms, or the frontline staff and their supervisors in air traffic control, the military, and other time-critical settings. More generally, we also believe that the insights on the contingent value of face-to-face communication have broader applicability.”
This paper looks at this from the point of view of worker productivity. But, it makes me wonder how many other social type interactions benefit from face-to-face interactions over electronic or social media.
Perhaps there is more to Nassim Taleb’s love of parties (though not artsy fartsy ones) than only the benefits of focused randomness.
If you'd like to feel inspired by commencement addresses and life lessons try: Ursula K Le Guin on literature as an operating manual for life; Neil Gaiman on making wonderful, fabulous, brilliant mistakes; or Nassim Taleb's commencement address; or JK Rowling on the benefits of failure. Or Charlie Munger on always inverting.
There's a discussion on what makes a life well lived, by a fun theorist.