London, July 1 : Workers who gossip between tasks, not during them, are more productive than those workers who remain isolated, says a new US research.
What's more, communication at the wrong time reduces productivity.
Employees who remain closely knit with one another frequently are more productive than those who are more isolated, the researchers have found.
The researchers used electronic monitoring to tease apart the various types of interaction in the workplace and their differing effects.
Such monitoring could improve how individuals and organizations work, but it raises issues about the extent to which companies monitor their employees' behaviour.
Many studies of communication within organizations, such as of who e-mails whom, have suggested that loose networks, in which people have few contacts in common, boost productivity. But these don't capture face-to-face, moment-to-moment communication, says Benjamin Waber of the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
"People have formal structures and reporting relationships, but when you look at who's actually talking to each other you get a different picture. We can predict productivity far more accurately from these informal structures and behaviours," Nature quoted Waber, as saying.
Waber and his colleagues equipped a team of 23 employees at a Chicago IT company with badges that detect when they are talking, who they are close to and when they are moving about.
The workers were designing server systems. Over the course of a month, the researchers collected data on 911 individual jobs done by 23 employees in 1,900 hours. As well as measuring the time spent on each job - anything from five minutes to several days - they were able to control for its complexity and detect errors.
People who spent lots of time between jobs interacting with their colleagues - going to lunch or stopping for a chat - ultimately got much more done, the results showed. The best connected employee was 60 percent more productive than the least, says Waber, who presented his results at the International Conference on Network Science in Norwich, UK, on 27 June.
No one suspected that such interaction would help, says Waber.
"The company was astounded - formally, these people were not supposed to be talking to each other," he says.
On the other hand, if someone communicated while they were assigned to a task - whether seeking help or distracted by others - their productivity dropped sharply.