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Mining Face-to-Face Interaction Networks Using Sociometric Badges: Predicting Productivity in an IT Configuration Task

Authors: Wu, Lynn
Waber, Ben
Aral, Sinan
Brynjolfsson, Erik
Pentland, Alex
Keywords: Social Networks;Face-to-Face Communications;Information Worker;Productivity
Issue Date: 10-Nov-2008
Series/Report no.: CeDER-PP-2008-05
Abstract: Social network theories (e.g. Granovetter 1973, Burt 1992) and information richness theory (Daft & Lengel 1987) have both been used independently to understand knowledge transfer in information intensive work settings. Social network theories explain how network structures covary with the diffusion and distribution of information, but largely ignore characteristics of the communication channels (or media) through which information and knowledge are transferred. Information richness theory on the other hand focuses explicitly on the communication channel requirements for different types of knowledge transfer but ignores the population level topology through which information is transferred in a network. This paper aims to bridge these two sets of theories to understand what types of social structures are most conducive to transferring knowledge and improving work performance in face-toface communication networks. Using a novel set of data collection tools, techniques and methodologies, we were able to record precise data on the face-to-face interaction networks, tonal conversational variation and physical proximity of a group of IT configuration specialists over a one month period while they conducted their work. Linking these data to detailed performance and productivity metrics, we find four main results. First, the face-toface communication networks of productive workers display very different topological structures compared to those discovered for email networks in previous research. In face-to-face networks, network cohesion is positively correlated with higher worker productivity, while the opposite is true in email communication. Second, network cohesion in face-to-face networks is associated with even higher work performance when executing complex tasks. This result suggests that network cohesion may complement information-rich communication media for transferring the complex or tacit knowledge needed to complete complex tasks. Third, the most effective network structures for “latent” social networks (those that characterize the network of available communication partners) differ from “intask” social networks (those that characterize the network of communication partners that are actualized during the execution of a particular task). Finally, the effect of cohesion is much stronger in face-to-face networks than in physical proximity networks, demonstrating that information flows in actual conversations (rather than mere physical proximity) are driving our results. Our work bridges two influential bodies of research in order to contrast face-to-face network structure with network structure in electronic communication. We also contribute a novel set of tools and techniques for discovering and recording precise face-to-face interaction data in real world work settings.
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