ArticlePDF Available
Designing Rooms for Virtual, Informal
Communication:
Reciprocal Awareness as a Central
Criterion
Corsin Flepp, Michael Imhof, Gregory Meier, Thomas Ryser,
Roger Burkhard, Hartmut Schulze and Andreas Simon
“You See Me, When I Also See You”
- Reciprocal Awareness as a Design Criterion for Rooms
Providing Virtual, Informal Communication, using a
Virtual Ca as an Example.
Remarks - Bemerkungen:
E - In this version of the article, the authors make use of the right to self-archiving.
The final publication is available at Springer under the following link:
http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-53305-5_14
D - Bei dieser Version des Beitrages macht die Autorenschaft vom Recht der Selbstarchivierung
Gebrauch.
Die endgültige Veröffentlichung ist bei Springer unter dem folgenden Link verfügbar:
http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-662-53305-5_14
Zitiervorschlag nach den Richtlinien der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychologie (DGPs):
Flepp, C., Imhof, M., Meier, G., Ryser, T., Burkhard, R., Schulze, H., et al. (2017).
Designing Rooms for Virtual, Informal Communication: Reciprocal Awareness as a Central
Criterion. In C. M., Schlick, S., Duckwitz, F., Flemisch, M., Frenz, S., Kuz, A., Mertens &
S., Mütze-Niewöhner (Eds.), Advances in Ergonomic Design of Systems, Products and
Processes - Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of GfA 2016 (pp. 191-208). Berlin: Springer.
Zitiervorschlag nach Springer:
Flepp C. et al. (2017) Designing Rooms for Virtual, Informal Communication: Reciprocal
Awareness as a Central Criterion. In: Schlick C. et al. (eds) Advances in Ergonomic Design
of Systems, Products and Processes. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg
C. Flepp et al.
Abstract
The trend towards decentralized collaboration in companies leads to challenges
for informal communication because spatial proximity is missing. This is a
problem since informal communication is considered to be key for successful
collaboration. Telepresence systems, which connect distant places, are potential
solutions. However, little is known about which conditions are beneficial and
which ones detrimental to informal communication. In this qualitative study,
conditions which further informal communication, were examined in different
virtual café settings. A method was developed which combined participatory
design with a qualitative experiment. In the Usability Lab of the University of
Arts and Sciences Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW), 19 people (N 19) tried
out various virtual café settings, analyzed requirements for optimization and
subsequently tested them. At the same time, 20 group interviews were
conducted and analyzed according to the principles of heuristic-detecting social
research. Three subcategories which influence each other were identified as key
results (awareness, privacy and control). These three subcategories need to be
balanced when a virtual ca (room and technology) is designed. Furthermore,
encouraging (reciprocal) awareness could also be a possible solution.
Keywords
Digitization • Informal communication • Participatory design • Qualitative
experiment • Reciprocal awareness Decentralized communication
Decentralized cooperation Virtual communication Computer-mediated
communication
Authorship
C.
Flepp
G.
Meier
T
.
Ryser
R.
Burkhard
H.
Schulze
Institute for Research and Development of Collaborative Processes (ifk), School of
Applied Psychology, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern
Switzerland,
Riggenbachstrasse 16, 4600 Olten, Switzerland
e-mail: corsin.flepp@fhnw.ch; gregory.meier@fhnw.ch;
thomas.ryser@fhnw.ch; roger.burkhard@fhnw.ch;
hartmut.schulze@fhnw.ch
M. Imhof
Institute for Higher Education in Applied Psychology (ZfA), School of Applied
Psychology, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland,
Riggenbachstrasse 16, 4600 Olten, Switzerland
e-mail: michael.imhof@students.fhnw.ch
A. Simon
Institute of Experimental Design and Media Cultures (IX DM), School of Art and
Design, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland,
Freilager-Platz 1, 4023 Basel,
Switzerland
e-mail: andreas.simon@fhnw.ch
C.M. Schlick et al. (eds.), Advances in Ergonomic Design of Systems, Products and Processes,
DOI 10.1007/978-3-662-53305-5_14
191
Designing Rooms for Virtual, Informal Communication
1
Introduction
According to Hrastinski (2010), informal communication is a key success factor for
company performance. Between 80 and 90 % of all interpersonal interaction in the
work place is informal (Kraut et al. 1990) and deals mostly with work related topics
(von Bismarck et al. 1999b). Pentland’s (2012) study outcomes show that cross-
sector informal communication is recognized a key criterion for team performance.
It is a significant factor which conveys organizational culture and knowledge and
also encourages the loyalty and good will of employees (Fish et al. 1993). Kraut et
al. (1990) as well as Coradi and Boutellier (2013) substantiate a clear connection
between spatial proximity and the frequency of interaction. However, due to the
ever expanding globalization, the trend towards decentralized collaboration is
impeding the important factor for informal communication, spatial proximity
(Schulze et al. 2014). The economic relevance of this impeded informal communi-
cation is shown by the fact that already in 2008, 47 % of the 4.8 million people in
the Swiss workforce worked in companies with decentralized locations, and this
trend
is
still
rising
(Br
a
¨ndle
et al.
2010).
In
order
to
compensate
for
this
decentralized distance, organizations have been forced to support their cooperative
processes through cost-intense, internet-based media (e.g. Telepresence systems1)
(Rack et al. 2011). The disadvantage is that such systems usually support the formal
aspects of collaboration and not the informal ones (von Bismarck et al. 1999a).
Using technical media to satisfy the demands of informal communication in
decentralized settings is challenging and, at the same time, solution potential. The
use of audio- and video technologies to permanently connect geographically sepa-
rate places can potentially solve the dilemma between the trend to cross-company,
virtual cooperation and the importance of informal communication. The research
project, “The Development and Implementation of Places for Virtual, Informal
Communication (OviK2)”, also deals with this topic which will be described in
more detail in the following section.
2
Research Project “The Development and Implementation
of Places for Virtual, Informal Communication (OviK)”
In this section, the overall project OviK will be presented. The current study, a
sub-project of OviK, is explained in Sect. 3 and the following.
1Alternatively video transmission systems.
2The abbreviation for Places of Virtual, Informal Communication.
192
C. Flepp et al.
2.1
Project Description
OviK is a research project promoted by the Swiss Commission for Technology and
Innovation (KTI) and by industrial partners (application partners). This project has
run for 2 years and ended in November, 2016.
The project looked at how and under which conditions informal, virtual commu-
nication can be established or promoted among a company’s different sites. There-
fore, the application partners (see Sect. 2.3) set up a room for virtual, informal
communication” in two different sites of individual companies. In the pilot phase,
the practical usage of the OviKs were introduced, tested, evaluated and optimized
through an iterative developmental process (modifications included).
Before the begin of the project’s pilot phase, inspections, interviews, diary
studies, and observations (see Sect. 2.3) at companies of the application partners
were conducted to assess the needs and to differentiate and define the demands on
the OviKs. With this information, the first initial settings or rather, pilot scenarios
(see Sect. 2.1.1ff.) were conceptually devised and prototypes developed.
In the following the various pilot scenarios will be briefly described. The three
developed conceptual pilot scenarios were based on complex combinations of the
aspects motion, encounter possibilities and intimacy, each of which was weighted
differently in each case.
2.1.1
Pilot Scenario “OviK - Virtual Piazza
The “OviK - Virtual Piazza” (see Fig. 1) is similar to a public place with the strong
aspect of motion and transience, or rather they are transient places to linger with
limited proximity. Such a place can be, for example, an entrance hall or transit area
in organizations or companies with a welcoming- or lingering-areas. Such areas are
being continuously expanded into places for informal encounters.
Fig. 1 Illustration of a Virtual Piazza, ©
CCTP Competence Centre for Typology and
Planning in Architecture, 2015.
193
Designing Rooms for Virtual, Informal Communication
2.1.2
Pilot Scenario “OviK - Virtual Extended Office”
The “OviK - Virtual Extended Office” (see Fig. 2) is a shared room for a group of
employees who work and communicate virtually and decentralized (e.g. project
work). Colleagues in the one place are meant to work with their colleagues in the
other place as if they all sat together in the same room.
Fig. 2 Illustration of a Virtual Extended Office, ©
CCTP Competence Centre for Typology
and Planning in Architecture, 2015.
2.1.3
Pilot
Scenario
“OviK - Virtual
Caf
e
´
The
“OviK - V
irtual Café (S
ee
Fig.
3)
i
s
a
sem
i-public
room
to
increas
e the chance
of serendipitous informal cross-company encounters. This is in contrast to the more
formal video conferences. In addition, it is legitimized through a socially accepted
attractor (cafeteria). Places where employees can relax, such as a cafeteria or
something similar, can be used in this way.
The
current
study
focuses
on
thi
s
pilot
scenario
“OviK-V
irtual
Caf
e
´
(see
Sect.
3ff.).
Fig.
3
Illustration
of
a
Virtual
Caf
e
´,
©
CCTP
Competence
Centre
for
Typology
and
Planning
in Architecture, 2015.
194
C. Flepp et al.
2.2
Project Goals
A central goal of the whole project is the initial development and testing of OviKs
to promote informal virtual communication between geographically separate sites.
The OviKs should have coordinated furnishings and video communication
technologies. A further goal was to have the different companies and the applica-
tion partners implement and use the developed OviKs throughout the project. Based
on project experience, progress reports were written explaining the necessary
requirements of informal, virtual communication.
After the project’s end, a descriptive model of the evaluated OviKs is going to be
conceptualised that will contain the relevant data and the parameters for design
and equipment. In addition, an advisory concept for the implementation,
introduction and operation of OviKs is planned.
2.3
Project Members
Several research partners participated in this project: the Institute for the Research
and Development of Collaborative Processes (ifk) from the School of Applied
Psychology and the Institute of Experimental Design and Media Cultures (IXDM)
from the Academy of Art and Design, which are both parts of the University of
Applied Sciences and Arts Northwest Switzerland (FHNW). Prof. Dr. Hartmut
Schulze (Institute Director ifk) was the project manager and Andreas Simon
(member of IXDM) the co-project manager. A further research partner was the
Competence Centre for Typology and Planning in Architecture (CCTP), which is a
part of the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts - the Lucerne School
of Engineering and Architecture. These research partners were primarily
responsible for the development and evaluation of the OviKs in close consultation
with their implementation partners who were Vitra AG (home and office
furnishings), Cisco Systems (Switzerland) GmbH (IT/Telecommunication). They
provided the various video technologies and also the design components and
furniture to develop the OviKs. In addition, so-called application partners were
also involved in the project who were willing to use and actually test the first virtual
initial settings. These application partners were: POST CH AG (transport and
logistics), Trivadis AG (informatics) and SKAN AG (isolation and clean room
technologies). Vitra AG and Cisco System (Switzerland) were also application
partners.
In summary, it can be said that the project plan OviK seamlessly connected the
furnishings with the video technological components, something which was new
and innovative. The permanent audio-visual connection was the key medium
linking the rooms. This connection could be used at any time by anyone without
any further active interaction with the video technological components to get in
touch with people in the other place. Another prerequisite was the integration of
furniture appropriate for an OviK.
195
Designing Rooms for Virtual, Informal Communication
The development of such interconnected components during the project was
made possible thanks to the close cooperation of the two project partners, Vitra
AG and Cisco System (Switzerland) GmbH.
Further information about the OviK project can be found on the following
website: http://www.fhnw.ch/aps/ifk/projekte
3
Theoretical and Empirical Foundation
The following section provides the theoretical and empirical foundation to under-
stand what is meant by informal- and by computer-mediated informal communica-
tion.
In
addi
tion,
a
brief
overview
of
other,
studies
relat
ed
to virtual cafe
´s
will
be
given. Moreover, key success factors are presented which promote (computer-
mediated) informal communication. The situation awareness model is also
introduced to embed the analyzed subject in the literature.
3.1
Informal Communication
Kraut et al. (1990) describe informal communication as something that happens
spontaneously. It is interactive and has many subjects ranging from work related to
more private communications. They also worked out dimensions to differentiate
informal from formal communication. Hrastinski (2010) complemented these
dimensions, but focused more on computer-mediated informal communication.
According to these dimensions, as seen in Fig. 4, computer-mediated informal
communication is unscheduled, interactive, spontaneous, optional, participant
organized and experience-focused. Further, it is characterized by informal language
and generates few costs (Hrastinski 2010).
Fig. 4 The formal and informal dimensions of computer-mediated communication (adapted
from Hrastinski (2010), p. 26)
196
C. Flepp et al.
Now that computer-mediated informal communication has been explained, the
virtual café and related literature will be presented.
3.2
Pilot
Scenario
“OviK-Virtual
Caf
e
´
As stated before, a virtual ca is a semi-public place that enhances informal cross-
company encounters and can be differentiated from formal video conferences (see
Sect.
2.1.3).
Two
cafe
´s
are
connec
ted virtually
by
means
of
a
video broadcasting
system
(see
Fig.
5)
so
that
both
cafe
´s
are linked togethe
r
const
antly
with
sounds
and
images (Tollmar et al. 1999).
Fig.
5
Virtual
Caf
e
´.
Explanation:
Left-hand
side
:
Illustration
of
a
Virtual
Caf
e
´,
©
CCTP
Competence
Centre
for Typology and
Planning in Architecture, 2015.
Right-hand side: Example of a Virtual Café in the Usability Lab of the School of Applied
Psychology in Often, Switzerland, 2015.
Since the 1990s occasionally studies have been carried out that have dealt with
virtual cafe
´s
(e.g.
Kr
aut et al.
1990
; Tollmar et al.
1999).
However,
due
to the
technological shortcomings, the idea could not be then implemented (Schulze et al.
2014).
In addition to the knowledge what a computer-mediated communication and a
virtual ca is, research has shown that there are six success factors which promote
computer-mediated informal communication. They will now be explained in the
following section.
3.3
Success Factors for Computer-Mediated
Informal Communication
Kraut et al. (1990) defined five prerequisites, respectively, success factors that
promote computer-mediated informal communication. Schulze et al. (2014) later
added a sixth factor, confidentiality regulation.
197
Designing Rooms for Virtual, Informal Communication
1.
Low personal cost:
The first of the six factor is low personal cost (cf. Kraut et al. 1990) which
means that certain conditions have to be fulfilled which ease informal commu-
nication. Therefore, according to Kraut et al. (1990), as little effort as possible
should be required to establish communication.
2.
Social Presence:
Social presence is the second factor (cf. Schulze et al. 2014). Informal
communication is based on the certainty that someone is there. However, there
is a difference between knowing about the others activities and the perception of
the others in the same room (co-presence/telepresence) (cf. Kraut et al. 1990,
quoted from Schulze et al. 2014). With computer-mediated informal communi-
cation, it is important to be able to judge whether potential communication
partners are inside the other room and whether or not they want to communicate
(cf. Kraut et al. 1990, quoted from Schulze et al. 2014).
3.
Abundance of the transferred Information:
The third factor is called the abundance of the transferred information (cf.
Schulze et al. 2014). Kraut et al. (1990) concluded that in informal commu-
nication various senses should be involved and that the visual channel plays an
important role when a conversation starts. In addition, the combination of a
visual- with an auditory channel then ensures that communication can be
conducted (cf. Kraut et al. 1990).
4.
Common working environment:
The common working environment and shared objects is the fourth factor (cf.
Schulze et al. 2014) both of these elements are very important for information
communication according to Kraut et al. (1990). Informal communication
needs a common theme (cf. Al-Zubaidi and Stevens 2004).
5.
A concentration of suitable partners:
The next factor, the fifth, is concentration of suitable partners (cf. Kraut et al.
1990). A certain spatial proximity is necessary as well as a concentration of
potential communication partners so that meeting someone spontaneously
becomes possible (cf. Schulze et al. 2014). Computer-mediated informal com-
munication could be supported by a system, which would find appropriate
communication partners or initiate contact with other people (cf. Kraut et al.
1990, quoted from Schulze et al. 2014).
6.
Confidentiality Regulation:
The sixth and last factor is confidentiality regulation (cf. Schulze et al. 2014).
Users of communication systems should have the possibility to regulate the level
of confidentiality. This could be achieved by having a spatial separation: one
zone to make contact and another one into which people could withdraw and
have a private talk (cf. Schulze et al. 2014).
198
C. Flepp et al.
Having explained the six success factors, respectively, prerequisites for
computer-mediated communication, the situation awareness model and its
elements (e.g. activity) will now be presented. In this study, computer-mediated
informal communication can be seen as an activity.
3.4
Theoretical Framework Model: Situation Awareness
Endsley’s (1995) framework model of situation awareness (SA) is looked upon as a
theoretical background and as an application-oriented concept within the context of
complex working worlds (Schaub 2012). According to Schaub (2012), this model
chiefly includes aspects of attention and consciousness. It must be added though,
that in the SA model, the interaction between person and environment takes centre
stage (cf. Endsley 1995). According to Schaub (2012), the model integrates
different perspectives from “action theory” (cf. Hacker 1986), “natural decision
making” (cf. Klein 1997; Orasanu and Salas 1993) and “complex problem solving”
(cf.
Dörner 1989
;
Funke
2003
;
Schaub
2009).
For
Endsley
(1995),
SA
is
to
be
understood as a level of knowledge which determines how much a person knows
about a current situation. This knowledge level is composed of perception, com-
prehension and projection (see Fig. 6).
Fig. 6 Framework of situation awareness (adapted from Endsley (1995), p. 35)
SA’s three levels (perception, comprehension and projection) (see Fig. 6) can
also be understood as higher cognitive3 functions respectively processes, which,
occur before a decision and can ultimately turn into concrete actions (Schaub 2012).
According to Schaub (2012), the three levels can be described as follows (cf. Fig. 6):
3Cognition can be understood as a general term that involves conscious and unconscious mental
processes (e.g. perception or thinking) (Wirtz 2013).
199
Designing Rooms for Virtual, Informal Communication
1.
The objects in the environment must first be perceived by the particular person.
This level thus includes the perception of the condition, the characteristics and
the dynamics of the relevant situational elements.
2.
In a further step, the meaning of the situational elements must be understood by
the particular person. This level describes the integration of the situational
elements into a whole picture, which allows the person to comprehend the actual
situation. Therefore, this integration causes the comprehension of the meaning
of the individual situational elements.
3.
In the third step, changes in the environment or in a future condition of the object
can be predicted, respectively, projected by a person for a certain period of time.
Expectations about the future behavior of the situational elements can be
generated that are based on the achieved comprehension of the situation in the
second level.
However, these three levels or rather, these higher cognitive functions can be
influenced from two directions (see Fig. 6): from the particular person (individual
factors) and from environmental factors (task and system factors). Additionally,
fundamental cognitive resources, for example, information processing mechanisms
as well as long term memory stores and automaticity, further influence more
complex subprocesses such as an individual’s goals, expectations, and hypotheses
(Schaub 2012).
In summary, in order to informally communicate the making of a decision,
respectively, the performing of an action, the perception of the situational elements
is key. Due to the perception of the situational elements, their meaning can be
understood. This is important because the particular person can then predict,
respectively, project the development of the situation and the future condition of
the actual surroundings elements, which in turn is key for decision making and
taking action to accomplish goals (Schaub 2012).
4
Relevance and Question
Based on research (cf. Schulze et al. 2014), it is assumed that the technical
infrastructure, such as monitor resolution or audio quality, and spatial aspects,
such as room partitioning, influence the experience and the users’ communication
behavior
in a virtual cafe
´.
With the current level of knowledge, it is not known yet which conditions are
responsible
for
the initiatio
n
of
inf
ormal
commun
ication in a virtual cafe
´.
T
h
i
s
points to a research gap, which should be addressed within this study.
200
C. Flepp et al.
Therefore, the following research question has been formulated:
Question: Which conditions promote and/or hinder informal communication in a
virtual café?
Investigating this question should bring new scientific knowledge and also be of
practical use. As mentioned before (see Sect. 1), there is a trend today towards a
cross-company collaboration, whereby this geographic separation of the employees
endangers informal communication (cf. Schulze et al. 2014). This study should
provide
practical indicati
ons
for
the
design
and
introdu
ction
of
virtual cafe
´s
t
o
reinforce the use computer-mediated communication.
In the following section, the study’s methodology is explained.
5
Methodology
In spite of all efforts to the contrary, the study of informal communication in a virtual
café can be considered to be unchartered territory. Therefore, a qualitative procedure
was chosen (cf. Lamnek 2010). The reason for this decision was the following:
The virtual café as a research object had to be first constructed by the
users as there was no comprehension about it. Therefore, the users had to
first experience a virtual café themselves and then try it out to become
experts in regard to the subject.
Based on this reason or rather, this presupposition, a specifically modified
iterative and qualitative procedure was developed: The approach of Kleining’s
(1986) qualitative experiment and the three steps of Spinuzzi’s (2005) participatory
design, 1. initial exploration of work, 2. discovery process, and 3. prototyping, were
adapted and combined. An overview of developed process will now be described
(adapted from Spinuzzi 2005):
1.
Initial exploration of work:
The purpose of the first step was to let the authors of this study become
comfortable with the way users collaborate, which included researching (litera-
ture research, field observations and expert interviews), analysis of the used
technologies (e.g. various audio-visual conferencing systems) and the process of
designing, introducing and using OviKs (e.g. behavioural routines: initiation of
informal communication).
2.
Discovery process:
In the next step, the goals and the desired results of the users were clarified
(e.g. through literature research, field observations and expert interviews). This
was done based on the technical possibilities and on the interests and
201
Designing Rooms for Virtual, Informal Communication
experiences of the partners who were involved in the research project. With this
gained knowledge, a list with key dimensions was deduced. Based on the list
differ
ent initial
settings
of
virtual cafe
´s
were
conceptua
lised.
In
the qualitative
experiment, the dimension list together with the initial settings built the founda-
tion for the systematic variation of the different aspects (e.g. put the coffee
machine either inside or outside of the camera area, etc. see Fig. 7).
Fig. 7 Variations of initial settings, Usability Lab of the School of Applied Psychology in
Olten,
Switzerland,
2015.
Explanation:
Initial
setting
1
shows
a
possible
variation
of
a virtual cafe
´.
This
setting
has
only a contact zone.
In comparison, the more complex initial setting 2 has a retreat zone in addition to a contact zone
for its users.
3.
Prototyping:
In this last step, the developed initial settings of a virtual café were
implemented in the Usability Lab of the School of Applied Psychology in
Olten. As defined by the qualitative experiment (cf. Kleining 1986), the object
of research was observed from different perspectives and as a result, new
psychological phenomena could be discovered. This was possible due to the
characteristic variations of the various dimensions.
The implementation of the prototyping took place within the framework of
three 1-day workshops. 19 employees (users) of the research-, application- and
implementation partners tested different complex virtual café settings (see Fig.
7). In a participatory way, the users could also revise the café setting
requirements, modify them in order to try them out again. Each setting had a
contact- and/or a retreat zone (see Fig. 7). At the same time, 20 group interviews
were conducted. Furthermore, the strategy of maximum variation was used for
the sampling of participants (cf. Flick 2010). During the selection process,
attention was paid to gender, sample size, hierarchical levels, relationships
between the participants,
organ
izational
background
and
also
exper
ience
with
virtual cafe
´s
i
n
order
to have as many different perspectives as possible. The
participants worked in the field IT, Sales, or Product Management, for
example.
202
C. Flepp et al.
The results were analysed with the heuristic and detecting principles of
Hagemann (2003). All coded statements were checked for double coding (those
statements which could be assigned to several categories). Furthermore, the con-
nection, respectively, the relationship between the identified categories was defined
(cf. Hagemann 2003) (see Fig. 8).
6
Results
A psychological phenomenon (overarching construct, respectively, supercategory)
showed
itsel
f
t
o
b
e the
most
relevant
result
for
the virtual cafe
´.
In
this
study,
it
is
called situational sense (see Fig. 8) and consists of three subcategories:
Fig. 8 Illustration of results. Frequency of connections (double coding) between the category
awareness and the other categories as well as all mentions of the categories itself
1.
Privacy (37 mentions):
The feeling of being protected, of not being observed or monitored.
2.
Control (44 mentions):
The feeling of being able to control the activities in a room and to use the
technology and the room according to one’s individual needs (e.g. being able to
have
a
coffee,
whi
le
not
having
to participate in the
vir
tual cafe
´).
203
Designing Rooms for Virtual, Informal Communication
1.
Awareness (89 mentions):
Consciousness (also understood as a level of knowledge) of the own and the
other room, containing the present people and the available objects. Moreover, it
contains the consciousness of the visual and auditory area of present people as
well as of the video transmission system.
Awareness develops because the users constantly revise their knowledge which
includes these three different levels of knowledge:
a. Knowledge of the other person (presence, identity, message conveyance) in
one’s own room and in the other one:
With this knowledge it becomes apparent who (identity) is in one’s own room
and who is in the other one and to what degree the conveyed message in the
communication (i.e. intention, interest, and attention) can be understood as such
by both parties.
b. Knowledge of the object (attendance and use) in one’s own room and in the
other one:
The user knows which objects are in one’s own room and in the other one and
how to use them.
c. Knowledge of the visual and auditory areas of one’s own room and of the other
room (present people and video transmission system):
The user knows how far the visual and the auditory area of present people and
of the video transmission system extend in one’s own room and in the other
room (room height, width and depth). This includes the knowledge of the
limits of the visual and the auditory area.
In addition, it is clear from the results that the supercategory (see Fig. 8)
situational sense and the supercategory objects as well as its subcategories are
frequently connected (double coding).
7
Discussion and Design Recommendations
Concerning the subcategories privacy, the use of the virtual café is being hindered if
the users cannot do what they want (activities) without being observed (e.g. making
or drinking a coffee). On the other hand, it is an advantage when the users feel
they are unobserved and unheard. As for the subcategories control, things which
could enhance computer-mediated informal communication are beneficial,
especially when, for example, the volume of a loud speaker can be regulated in
order to better hear the users in the other room. However, it can be a disadvantage
if, the technical infrastructure in the other room can be changed.
204
C. Flepp et al.
For example, if someone remotely changes the camera angle in the other room,
then the people in that room could feel that their privacy has been invaded.
Regarding the subcategories awareness, it is a disadvantage for the computer-
mediated communication if the users do not have the possibility to find out who is
in their room and who is in the other room and if people outside the visual area can
still follow the conversation. In contrast, the knowledge of how far the visual
and/or the auditory area stretches into one’s own room and into the other room is
helpful. Knowing how people perceive each other in their own room and in the
other room also enables informal communication.
According to Hrastinski (2010) (see Sect. 3.1) computer-mediated communica-
tion differentiates itself from formal communication by the lower costs. This is
also a success factor (Kraut et al. 1990). Based on the results (cf. Sect. 6), it can
also be
assumed
that
low
costs
are
not
possibl
e i
f
the
users
of
both
cafe
´s
do
not
develop
awareness. This is because establishing a conversation is related with
more effort (e.g. calling the attention of users of the other room). In reverse, an
existing
awareness
of
the
users
(v.i.z.
users
of
both
cafe
´s
devel
op
awareness,
thus
it
is
reciprocal), more likely result in lower costs and in an informal
communication.
Referring to Endsley’s (1995) framework model of situation awareness (see
Sect. 3.4), the authors suppose there is a large similarity to the phenomena aware-
ness (see Sect. 6) since both represent a level of knowledge. The key difference
between the two phenomena lies in the fact that awareness represents a specific
level
of
knowledge
in the context
of
virtual cafe
´s,
respect
ively, com
puter-med
iated
informal communication. Further, reciprocal awareness does not concern itself
with the knowledge level of a single person, but with that of several people and
their connected reciprocal interactions. For example, there would be no contact
between people who do not know each other.
Furthermore, when the success factors are considered, some overlapping of
computer-mediated communication (cf. Kraut et al. 1990; Schulze et al. 2014; see
Sect. 3.3) and awareness can then be detected. For example, both social presence
and subcategory a. of awareness (knowledge of the other person) (see Sect. 6)
mention knowledge of other people’s presence. The latter one differentiates itself
from social presence in such a way that not only the presence, but also the identity
and the message of the other person must be considered.
Awareness is the most important category of this study. When it was compared
to other psychological phenomena, respectively, subcategories, awareness had the
most connections (double codings, see Fig. 8) of all categories. Furthermore,
reciprocal awareness facilitates computer-mediated informal communication.
Therefore, we suggest adding a seventh factor, reciprocal awareness, to the
existing prerequisites, respectively, success factors of computer-mediated informal
communication (Kraut et al. 1990; Schulze et al. 2014; see Sect. 3.3). Based on the
discovered connections (double codings), it can be concluded that the three
205
Designing Rooms for Virtual, Informal Communication
subcategories (of the category situational sense) reciprocally influence each other
and can indirectly promote or hinder computer-mediated informal communication.
It was also shown that users would like a good deal of control over the knowledge
and the presence of people in the other room (thus subcategory a. of awareness; see
Sect. 6), which, on the other hand, limits the perceived privacy of the people in
that room.
Therefore, when a virtual café is designed, the subcategories awareness, privacy
and control should to be balanced by the spatial and technological aspects of a
virtual cafe
´.
For
example:
“You
can
see
or
hear me in the
other
room
only
when
I
can see or hear you”. If the balancing is successful, an adequate perception of
privacy and control can be achieved.
Furthermore, spatial and technical aspects should be adequately designed in
order to support reciprocal awareness (knowledge categories a., b., c., see Sect. 6).
Despite the knowledge gained by this study more research is needed to better
understand conditions which promote or hinder informal communication in
distributed
settin
gs
(e.g.
virtual cafe
´s).
Interesting
avenues
for
research
could
be
the
generalisation of the findings in regard to reciprocal awareness to other
crosscompany computermediated communication setting. Further research might
examine the optimal level of awareness, privacy and control to promote
computermediated informal communication.
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