FTF - 1 The Place of Face-to-Face Communication in...

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Unformatted text preview: 1 The Place of Face-to-Face Communication in Distributed Work Bonnie A. Nardi Agilent Technologies Steve Whittaker AT&T Labs-Research Abstract Most distributed work requires mediated communication, but the appropriate use of mediated, as compared with face-to-face communication, is not well understood. From our ethnographic research on workplace communication, we characterize unique aspects of face-to-face communication. Face to face communication supports touch, shared activities, eating and drinking together, as well as informal interactions and attention management. We argue that these activities are crucial for sustaining the social relationships that make distributed work possible. We contrast these social aspects of communication with the informational aspects emphasized by traditional communication theories, arguing that social linkages are a precondition of information exchange. We also document the disadvantages of face to face communication – that it can be disruptive, expensive and effortful – describing when mediated communication is preferable. We discuss the design of “media ecologies” that balance the advantages and disadvantages of mediated and face to face communication to provide cost-effective solutions for communication in distributed organizations. Introduction Most distributed work requires mediated communication but the appropriate use of mediated as compared with face-to-face communication is not well understood. Many theorists imply that face-to-face discussion is the gold standard of communication (Clark 2 and Brennan, 1991; Kiesler et al., 1984; Rutter, 1987; Short et al., 1976), possibly irreplaceable (Nohria & Eccles, 1992; Handy, 1995; Hallowell, 1999; Olson & Olson, 2001). On the other hand, in the distributed situation, face-to-face communication can be costly and disruptive. Mediated communication sometimes may be preferable to face-to- face communication (Hollan & Stornetta, 1992; Sproull & Keisler 1992; DeSanctis & Gallupe, 1987; Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999; Morley & Stephenson, 1969; Nardi, Whittaker, & Bradner, 2000; Walther, 1994). From our ethnographic research on workplace communication, we characterize the uniquely valuable aspects of face-to-face communication, especially in sustaining social relationships, but document circumstances when other media are preferable. We discuss ways to design “media ecologies” that provide cost-effective solutions to the problems of distributed organizations. The Value of Face-to-Face Communication New technologies support remote interaction and global ventures, but business travel has increased so much that airports are nearly in gridlock. Why? An impressive body of research demonstrates that face-to-face communication is the most information- rich medium (Doherty-Sneddon et al., 1997; O’Conaill et al., 1993; Short, Williams, & Christie, 1976; Daft & Lengel, 1984; Clark & Brennan, 1991; Clark, 1996). Neverthless, we will argue that face-to-face communication persists in the workplace because it is the...
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This note was uploaded on 01/17/2012 for the course ECON 101 taught by Professor Econnorm during the Spring '11 term at Art Institutes Intl. Minnesota.

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FTF - 1 The Place of Face-to-Face Communication in...

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