This instructive Reality Mining Article demonstrates the power of informal coffee break conversations among call center employees:
“Last year, for instance, Pentland’s lab put sociometers on 80 employees at a Bank of America … call center in Rhode Island. The inconspicuous badges used Bluetooth and infrared signals to measure which co-workers the test subjects talked to every minute for a month and, later, another period of six weeks. After the first month the MIT researchers could see that individuals who talked to more co-workers were getting through calls faster, felt less stressed and had the same approval ratings as their peers. Informally talking out problems and solutions, it seemed, produced better results than following the employee handbook or obeying managers’ e-mailed instructions.
So the call center tried its own experiment. Instead of staggering employees’ coffee breaks as it had previously, it aligned their breaks to allow more chatter. The result, Bank of America told MIT a few months later: productivity gains worth about $15 million a year.”