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Impact of office layout on communication in a science-driven business

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Driving innovation and creativity has relied heavily on new information technologies in the last decade. Human capital has certainly had its importance, but how to coordinate human capital in order to push productivity in research and development without compromising individual initiative is still not well understood. In this paper, we provide results showing that geometry of workspace has indeed an impact on communication patterns and may thus be used as a means to drive both innovation and efficient research. In order to be creative, new knowledge has to be created. Communication facilitates knowledge creation. We try to close the bridge between areas of creation of tacit knowledge and transfer of knowledge highlighted by authors like Nonaka, Takeuchi, Konno, von Krogh and von Hippel with the area of communication patterns pioneered by Allen, Hatch, and Stryker, by considering face-to-face (FTF) communication as a first step for socialization, socialization as a means for knowledge creation. In this article, we compare two different office environments within the same site, same activity, same hierarchical level and same company: a traditional cell office area and a new multi-space office, used by people who used to work in cell offices. We observed FTF communication patterns during 120 h in two areas and measured over 2,000 communication events. We found that people communicate three times more often in a multi-space area than in a cell-space area. We also found that the mean duration of communication events decreased from 9 to 3 min when transferring collaborators from a cell-space to a multi-space. Finally time spent without communication increased from 5% to 29% when going from cell-offices to multi-space areas – leaving more time for people to work and think on their own. And we found that most communication events during work time in the multi-space took place at the work place and seldom or never in soft sitting areas installed for the purpose of communication.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: ETH Zurich, Kreuzplatz 5, 8032 Zurich, Switzerland., Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 2008-09-01

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