The PsychNology Journal (PNJ) recently published an article on How Space Affords Socio-Cognitive Processes during Collaboration. The paper looks at spatiality and its role within groups. There are some valuable and important concepts in the document for practitioners designing collaborative environments (see earlier post). Spacial design is a topic most IT groups do not spend enough time on. We tend to jump into discussions around portals, search, presence, team workspaces and such. We want tools to be more intelligent (focusing on models, repositories, meta data, etc), without taking the time to understanding the cognitive aspects of how people and groups deal with information, relationships and group activities in an increasingly virtual workplace.
Some thoughts I took away from my initial read:
· A virtual space is a multi-informational space where users have a representation of their group members as well as themselves. It’s not just about the information (a library) but the symbolism around team member personas. This points to the synergy between virtual workspaces, presence and identity for instance.
· While there is a spatial metaphor for the group to carry out a joint task, the importance of personal space needs to be supported. There is value to having varying levels of private and public space. Some might be uncomfortable with that (e.g., hoarding), but its human nature that people discover, aggregate, organize and then share something that “makes sense” versus dumping what they believe to be raw materials into a shared space.
· Personal space supports a persons’ comfort zone similar to the physical space we maintain in real-world relationships. We’re also still territorial in the workplace often influenced by title, role, etc. Important for designers to think about common areas and to consider control and trust issues. Group space is group space and should have its own identity.
· Persons, spaces and artifacts come together around activities.
· Informal conversations are the cornerstone of collaboration (an argument for close proximity and the challenge for virtual collaboration).
· Close proximity helps people maintain a situational awareness of the activities around them which provides a context for their own activity. Another challenge for designers of collaborative environments.
· Co-presence also enables “shadowing” (overhearing others conversations). Ambient noise in a virtual world is both annoying on one hand but fills in “white space” so to speak on the other.
· Distance and its impact on cooperation, persuasion and influence.
· Grounding is important for collaboration: referential communication and referential identity (ensuring that people are talking about the right artifact), deictic reference (gestures and such that provide additional cues). This is a challenge in a virtual world – perhaps the best we have today are Web conferencing tools and shared whiteboards.
· Perimeters and group space – where are the boundaries and how permeable do they need to be?
· Archiving spaces for group memory (an old KM theme but still valid).
There’s more – a recommended read for those interested in a scholarly background to some collaboration research.