Frontal versus lateral forms of collaboration

Further, the example of the mediated therapist illustrated a focused form of collaboration, where both parties were concentrated on the interaction.

However, such face-to-face interaction, to which I will refer as frontal interaction, is only one of many cooperative activities that distinguish teamwork. I will distinguish between frontal versus lateral forms of collaboration that can be supported in workplace design. Heath et al. have, in fact, stressed that frontal interaction constitutes a relative small part of working together. It is only ‘one amongst a diverse configuration of spatial and bodily arrangements through which personnel participate in each other’s activities and accomplish the “business at hand”’. (Heath et al. 1995: 177). From their observations of earlier media space projects, they conclude that ‘video technology which primarily provides a face-to-face orientation to users, fails to support peripheral monitoring and peripheral participation, does not provide access to tools, artefacts and the users’ local environment, and introduces unanticipated asymmetries into the interaction between users, is unlikely to support even the most basic forms of organisational work’. (Ibid.).

In turn, lateral forms of collaboration facilitate peripheral monitoring and awareness in relation to a shared artefact. When office workers sit side by side, they are ‘continuously sustaining a shared focus on an aspect of a screen or paper-based document, such as a section of an architectural drawing’ (Ibid: 176). It is noteworthy that architects were involved as users in the Xerox PARC prototyping process. In effect, sketching together is a crucial part of architectural practice, and it is well characterized by Heath et al. who summarize that it is not necessarily a case of seeing what another person is seeing, ‘but rather seeing the other in relation to what he or she is looking at and doing’ (Ibid: 178).

While it is noteworthy that many important design criteria were already considered in the first mediated workplaces 30 years ago, such as at Xerox PARC—such as the need for mutual gaze, life-size representations, and integration with spatial design (Bly et al. 1993)—the concepts of working and meeting were quite different at the time and have, since, acquired significantly different meaning.