Designing Rooms for Virtual, Informal Communication: Reciprocal Awareness as a Central Criterion
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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 café (room and technology) is designed. Furthermore, encouraging (reciprocal) awareness could also be a possible solution.
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