The Surprising Benefits of Office Chitchat

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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.”

Professor Sandy Pentland

Professor Sandy Pentland

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.

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Comments (5)
Sean Vox
Really...of course off chit chat helps out productivity.  If you work in a cubical farm, or out in the public eye communication with other employees can cause all kinds of good things to happen...like new work ideas and an increase of job satisfaction  SUre MNF is gonna get brought up but most great new ideas are brought about by good communication.
Phil Roberts
Yes, it's good to see some recognition of the productivity (and health) benefits of simple communication in the office environment.  Thanks for the insights!
It’s Good To Talk!
[...] The Surprising Benefits of Office Chitchat – Improvisations – MIT Sloan Management Revie...       If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it!             Tagged with: Research  [...]
Charles H. Green
This is one of those findings that, when you see it, you think, 'well, yeah, that makes a lot of sense.'

Yet of course the first daily instinct among supervisors and most managers is exactly the opposite; to condemn or otherwise disapprove of 'just idle chit-chat,' gossip, or whatever. 

Thanks for a thoughtful piece of insight into human behavior. 

(Does this mean folks will have to admit Twitter is a force for social good?)
Robbie Simons
At Last a company that realises looking after its workforce in an ethical yet decisive manner brings results that help not just the workers but also the company

Thankyou for a well written and informative Blog