Wolf-Bertram von Bismarck & Markus Held University of Mannheim, Department of Industrial and Organizational Psychology
The fundamental prerequisite of cooperative work is communication. It is the mechanism by which information is transferred and thus essential for all organizational interaction. Because organizations expand their spheres of activities by internationalizing, work structures get geographically distributed. As a result companies become increasingly confronted with the problem that workgroups not working together at the same place and time still need to communicate. Different technologies like phone, e-mail, or even CSCW-tools try to support these groups. They help sustaining the communicational network of people not working at the same place and time. But the problem of this technologically supported form of interaction is that it is rather formal. However since the human relation movement the importance of informal communication is recognized. It was already in the fifties when it was realized that organizations do not only base on formal but informal communication structures.
The integration of this aspect of communication into CSCW was promoted by Kraut, Fish, Root and Chalfonte ( 1990) who found that these coincidental, spontaneous and dynamic aspects of communication are inadequately supported by existing technologies. They presented a taxonomy that distinguishes four categories of interaction on a continuum from formal to informal. These include planned, intended, opportunistic and spontaneous encounters.
Some characteristics of informal communication in organizations have been collected since then. It is not only known that managers spend substantial amounts of time on informal communication, but that the duration of this type of interaction is rather short, that episodes are spontaneously initiated,