Arie Goldshlager recently posted about the two views of the productivity of water cooler conversations. First there are the dire warnings about workplace productivity lost to water cooler chats. Arie said that in 2008, Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimated productivity lost to NCAA March Madness in the U.S. would cost the economy as much as US$1.7-billion. Idle chatter, it seems, is an expensive waste of workplace time. That may be if it is idle.
In contrast, he links to a study by Alex (Sandy) Pentland of MIT and Benjamin Waber, a doctoral candidate at the MIT Media Lab, who found that workplace chatter, even the idle kind, increases productivity. I would have to agree with these MIT guys. For years I used to quote a study that showed that the vast majority of employees said that the vast majority of their learning occurred in the water cooler rather than in formal classes. I wish I could remember the source. It may have been IBM.
We used these results to design learning activities that were more like water cooler discussion than formal classes. Now Twitter can serve that purpose, especially for people like me who work out of their home. I find much of what I write about on the various blogs I contribute to through the “water cooler” of Twitter. Rather than a waste of time, it is a useful supplement to more formal news sources. And it is interactive. In fact I learned about this study through Twitter as Arie posted it in response to my tweet on how office cubicles can reduce collaboration. These studies are not contradictory. In fact they point out the need to leave the cube and go to a common social space to increase collaboration. So among other things, Twitter is the virtual water cooler.
Then Gil Yehuda, in response to the water cooler issue, brought the question for tomorrow’s post, what about smoker networks. Tune in tomorrow to see my answer to Stewart Mader’s tweet back to us, “is Twitter modern equivalent of going out for a smoke?”