The Effect of Small Distances – Investigating Interaction Networks in a Workplace
Kerstin Sailer | University College London | United Kingdom
Research has long shown the impact of physical distances on communication and collaboration patterns. The propinquity effect first proposed by Festinger et al in the 1950s showed how communication decreased with increasing distance. This was underlined by the seminal study of R&D engineers by Allen in the 1970s, giving rise to a distance – communication curve often found in organisations, where the probability for frequent communication tailed off after as little as 22-25 metres walking distance between work stations. More recently, it was suggested that the impact of small distances is often underestimated. Investigating dispersed software development teams, Siebdrat et al found that teams located on different floors of the same building performed as badly as globally dispersed teams when it came to task efficiency. In other words there is a non-linear relationship between distance and team performance. The authors argued that more geographically dispersed teams were possibly more aware of their spatial disadvantage and put more effort into overcoming barriers induced by physical distances than teams in the same building.
Against this background, this talk aims to investigate the effect of small distances in the case of the headquarters of a medium-sized retail organisation, which moved from a partitioned office across two floors into an open plan office with all staff placed on a single floor. In line with the above-mentioned findings, it would seem likely that the organisation experienced improved communication due to the overall decreased distances between teams. The opposite was the case, as networks of face-to-face interaction decreased in density in the new workplace design, and often also showed fewer ties bridging between departments. Exploring small distances in more detail using both architectural floor plan analysis tools (including space syntax) and theories of subjective distances, perceived distances and psychological distances, we will aim to explain why ties in the interaction networks of the organisation formed in constrained ways, and what role the physical design of the workplace, particularly visibility relationships played in this.
Spatial diffusion and churning over the life-cycle of innovation
Balazs Lengyel | Massachusetts Institute of Technology | United States
Social networks have been extensively used to study how innovative ideas, products or services spread through society. However, it is not fully understood how social contagion happens in space, how diffusion takes place over the life-cycle of products, and how churning happens in spatial social networks. In this paper, we use a unique dataset compiled from a Hungarian online social network (OSN) that was established earlier than international OSNs and was closed down after failing the competition with Facebook . We find that the OSN was adopted early in large towns where churning also happened early. However, while the coefficient of imitation in the Bass DE diffusion model varies, the rate of exponential growth in churning is surprisingly stable across towns. Using information on invitations to register on the OSN, we show that the extent of town-level transmission became a superlinear function of town size by the middle of the product life-cycle. Interestingly, invitations became less and less likely to be sent to large distances; we find that the exponent of the distance decay function increases over the life-cycle. Further, we discover that the cascade of churn is local because the fraction of proximate friends who already churned is smaller than the fraction of distant friends who already churned when the user in focus decides to churn . Finally, we develop an agent-based Bass model of diffusion on the one hand and an agent-based threshold model of churn on the other hand. With these models we target town-level peaks of adoption and town-level critical mass of churn, respectively, in order to exploit how geographical distance influences diffusion and churning processes in social networks.
 Lengyel B, Varga A, Ságvári B, Jakobi Á, Kertész, J (2015) Geographies of an online social network. PLoS ONE 10(9): e0137248.
 Centola D, Macy M (2007) Complex contagions and the weakness of long ties. American Journal of Sociology 113(3): 702-734.
The Place of Interaction: Social Networks and Practices of Visual Artists in European Studios
Dafne Muntanyola-Saura | Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Artistic residencies are designed to foster collaborations, and collaborations happen as distributed artistic practices. How does studio space shape the artistic practices of visual artists? Does a studio design have something to do with the patterns of collaboration among artists, as compared to friendships between them? How does the studio structure foster moments of informal communication? Following Bourdieu (1984) and Portes (2010), artistic practices are part of the artists’ cultural capital. Meanwhile, collaborations and friendships build social capital. We ought to find the empirical roots of collaboration and friendships. Our general objective is to understand the role of spatial organization of the artistic residence space in artistic practice that involvescollaboration and friendship patterns. We developed a cognitive ethnography of visual artists sharing studios in St Petersburg, Barcelona and Hamburg. As part of a mixed methods approach, we mapped the artists’ personal networks within each of the studios running verified sociometric surveys, collected interview narratives and traced their daily creative practices with photoelicitation and video recording during observations of their daily creative practice. We defined patterns of interaction and distributed practices that arise from working together in the same building. We analyzed the audiovisual data with the following software: UCINET & EGONET for the quantitative analysis of personal networks, ATLAS.ti.for the qualitative analysis of artists narratives, and SPACE SYNTAX for the analysis of architectural space. To test if there is a relationship between sharing a studio and being connected with a social tie (collaboration or friendship) we applied exponential random graph models using MPNet. Our findings show how the residence structure is related to patterns of collaboration and friendships of artists. Collaboration takes place mainly in the studios, while friendship happens in common areas as well. Thus, the studio space is a resource for distributed artistic practices among artists. Moreover, the artists' use of both physical space and objects consolidates friendship patterns. We conclude that mixed methods approach allows us to shed more light on the role of interaction in artistic practice.
Why some encounters encourage unplanned discussions on R&D-projects and others do not
Philip Roth | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung | Germany
Research has shown that informal advice networks are a key success factor for developers working on innovation projects in enterprises (Allen 1977). Following this, questions arise concerning the emergence of these networks and the corresponding milieu of interpersonal, spatial, and contextual interactions that facilitate their formation.
The research on these questions focuses particularly on the knowledge that actors have about others. This is grounded in the assumption that the occurrence of interactions results from a cognitive selection process. Contrasting research has demonstrated that unplanned encounters are essential to the emergence of informal advice networks (Backhouse & Dew 1992). In this context, the spatial work environment is of great importance, since it structures the occurrence of these encounters (Sailer et al 2016).
So far, it has not been possible to satisfactorily explain why some encounters encourage interactions , in particular professional exchanges, while others do not (Rivera et al 2010, S. 107). It is assumed that the context of the encounter is significant for this endeavor (Feld 1981; Fayard & Weeks 2007).
I suggest considering space relationally (Löw 2001) to reveal the structural meaning of contexts. We must account for the shared schemes of perception, thought, and action that structure the practical effect of space in Communities of Practice (CoP).
In the lecture, I will present the results of an investigation in which I examined the importance of the socio-spatial contexts of encounters at the occurrence of focused interactions in three development departments embedded into large corporations. Methodically, I applied the diary method (Roth 2015) and interviews. In sum, I worked with 43 developers for one month and analyzed 129 interactions.
The results clearly show that contexts have a CoP-specific but systematic impact on the unplanned occurrence of professional exchange. Furthermore, these findings relativize some basic assumptions about the connection between unplanned exchange and space. For example it is found, that open spaces, which promote the chance for co-presence, in two of three cases are counterproductive in regards to encouraging the interpersonal interactions critical to productive, informal advice networks.
These studies can be further employed to specify spatial conditions that promote unplanned encounters resulting in professional exchange, as well as those conditions that do not encourage productive network transactions. This enables the research community to determine the effect of spatial work environments on network interactions more precisely than is currently possible.