Think your colleagues are wasting time when they chat together? Think again.
There's an interesting article in Forbes magazine about new research from MIT Professor Alex (Sandy) Pentland's group at the MIT Media Lab. The researchers studied interactions among call center employees at a Bank of America site -- and discovered some quantifiable benefits to conversations with coworkers. Noted Forbes:
"Individuals who talked to more coworkers were getting through calls faster, felt less stressed and had the same approval ratings as their peers. Informally talking out problems and solutions, it seemed, produced better results than following the employee handbook or obeying managers' e-mailed instructions."
Equipped with these findings, the call center, Forbes reports, rescheduled employees' breaks to coincide with one another. The result?
Productivity improvements equivalent to approximately $15 million annually.
Not a bad return on informal conversation.
Interested in learning more about Pentland's research? MIT Sloan Management Review published an adapted excerpt from Pentland's book Honest Signals [pdf] in our Fall 2008 issue -- and also produced an interview with Pentland in collaboration with The Wall Street Journal.