Who moved your conversation? Be it for chat, tete-a-tete, offloading or banter, the ‘watercooler’ was traditionally positioned in management texts as the go to workplace destination for informal social exchanges. But, in practice is this habit still alive or are practices shifting towards a new era of workplace communication?
The changing conversation
With a rise in healthy workplace initiatives, conversations are arguably becoming less spatially entrapped, occurring distributed across hotspots for talk and activity. For instance, particular workplace corridors or external walkways, that naturally attract higher footfall, become prime zones for ‘walking meetings’.
Think also of the piloting of ‘device free’ days enabling co-workers to navigate between workstations or offices to talk eyeball to eyeball with each other instead of emailing. With table tennis bats in reach, the installation of a workplace table
Similarly, the gamification of the popular StepJockey Stair Climbing Challenges
Sparking new ideas
Whether on the ascent, descent or on stairwell landings, face to face conversations
Somewhat removed from the silo of an immobile ‘watercooler’, m-chats are mobile conversations specifically revolving around episodes of healthy workplace activity, be it a burst of stair climbing, corridor walking, table-tennis or so on. Imagine, over the course of a workday, quarter or financial year, cumulatively these m-chats have the potential to set the social thermostat of an
Keeping it face to face
Strong adopters of the ‘healthy company’ already know the longer term value of social impact, for the ‘big three’ - health, productivity, and innovation. Yet we are now living in an era where communications occur in multiple overlapping conversations across multiple interfaces within fixed timescales (Cameron & Webster, 2013). Employees read emails while in staff training and a leader may fire off a direct mail on Twitter while in a board meeting.
Significantly, research shows us that the quality of conversation and therefore decision-making is drastically different across each of these interfaces. Amongst these competing alternatives, of course, it is vital to continue to single out ‘face to face’ as one ‘must have’ communication in the collection. Backing this position, Dr Marie Griffiths (Reader in Digital Technologies, The University of Salford), fears us delegating too much of human communication through our devices, she comments: "We should all just look around at each other on our devices, and reflect – is this interaction what we really want for society? Let some face-time actually mean face to face time."
And so, it appears that the reign of the ‘watercooler’ is over. Away from the ‘watercooler’, where will your next m-chats take you and your
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References: Cameron, A.F., & Webster, J., (2013) Multi-communicating: Juggling Multiple Conversations in the Workplace, Information Systems Research, 24, 2, 352-371.