The data collected by each sociometer can, for instance, reveal how central a person is to a social network and how cohesive the network is overall. A more cohesive network is one in which all people talk to each other, thereby forming a closed loop. This may be an important measure of workplace social dynamics: workers in the most cohesive networks were about 30 percent more productive than those who weren’t in such networks, according to the call-center study.
The researchers chose a call center for their research because productivity is constantly monitored and recorded–the number of calls and other tasks completed, and the time taken for each of them throughout the day.
“The thing that’s really innovative is bringing social-network data together with productivity and performance data,” says Eric Brynjolfsson, a professor at the Sloan Business School at MIT, who worked on the project.
The findings come at a time when telecommuting is booming, thanks to digital communication tools such as e-mail, instant messaging, and teleconferencing. Cameron Anderson, a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that organizations could use such findings to weigh the costs and benefits of telecommuting, or to schedule break times for workers. “More interaction will likely bolster information transfer across individuals and departments,” he says. “Studies have shown this is extremely important to organizational success.”
In the case of the call center, Pentland notes that workers’ break times were staggered, making it difficult for many of them to interact in person. “The people who managed to have more cohesive support groups were in atypical situations,” he says. The next phase of the study is to see if productivity improves when workers are given opportunities for more direct social interaction.
“The underlying theme here is that humans are social beings,” says Pentland, who will present details of the work at the Where 2.0 conference in San Jose, CA, next week. “Technology pushes us toward the abstract, and away from richer face-to-face communication.” Without direct communication, he says, many physical signals, such as body language and facial expression, are lost.