Chatty employees more productive than quiet coworkers

Though email and other communication technologies have made office communication more convenient, they may be doing little to improve workers’ productivity. A new study suggests that giving employees more time to chat around the water cooler could actually help them get more done back at their desks.

People who interact with each other in person are more productive than people who rely on electronic forms of communication, according to a recent report by researchers at MIT and New York University.

By outfitting workers in a Rhode Island call center with wearable sensor packs, or “sociometers,” researchers recorded details of individuals’ social interactions throughout the day. What they found was that employees who had more in-person conversations with coworkers tended to be more productive than those who did not.

The same team of researchers conducted a similar study last December that backs these recent findings. The December study examined a tight-knit team at an IT company, finding that face-to-face communication improved worker productivity by about 30 percent.

"The big idea is that what you do on your coffee break and over lunch really matters for productivity," says Sandy Pentland, a professor at MIT's Media Lab, who led the study. "Face-to-face networks matter, and the implications are huge."

Researchers cite two main reasons for the connection between in-person communication and productivity:
  1. Face-to-face conversations help employees maintain strong relationships with coworkers, those relationships help workers solve complex problems and complete calls more efficiently.
  2. Support networks among coworkers increases overall morale and job satisfaction - two major factors of productivity.

Researchers suggest that giving employees time to interact with each other will “likely bolster information transfer across individuals and departments,” a vital ingredient in organizational success.

"The underlying theme here is that humans are social beings," says Pentland. "Technology pushes us toward the abstract, and away from richer face-to-face communication."

The moral of the story: Encourage employees to interact and work with each other in-person. Improved face-to-face communication could be the key to your business’ success.

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