Social work


The slides for our CHI 2010 talk on workplace communication tool use are now available online. In the study, we explored people’s use of workplace communication tools, and found that new tools don’t replace previous ones, that multiple similar tools coexist, and that people’s communication patterns shift over time. Please see Thea’s earlier post for additional details on the research.

Overall, the talk was well-received, but I thought one question from the audience might warrant some additional comments. The question focused on our use of the word “workplace” in the paper (and in the title) while still discussing some aspects of communication that seemed not quite work-like.

As Thea mentioned in her presentation, we reported on people’s answers to our questions, which did use the word “workplace” in them. The fact that people reported some episodes that didn’t seem strictly work-related reflects at least some of the characteristics of the modern, distributed workplace. People’s work lives and their private lives are often intertwined in ways that are difficult (and not necessarily useful) to disentangle. Much workplace communication is social: people coordinate lunch plans, exchange jokes, schedule evening parties, ask about each others’ families, etc. Yet this communication also serves to strengthen work bonds by building trust and understanding, thereby increasing the effectiveness of more overt work-related communication.

The fact that people didn’t make strong distinctions between work and non-work communication in some cases is just additional evidence that social communication is an integral part of an effective workplace.

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  1. Jofish says:


    There’s a great book by Christina Nippert-Eng called “Home and Work”, in which she makes the point that researchers often don’t separate work and home; at the lab she studies, that’s a characteristic of the mechanics, not the scientists. I think you’d get a lot out of it.

    That’s one of the reason that I think the occasional kerfuffles at CSCW about the relative importance of Work and work are so misplaced: we do multiple kinds of work at Work, and, as you point out, making an artificial distinction between them doesn’t reflect reality.


  2. Thanks for the pointer!

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