Mediated interaction

In effect, what they stress is that face-to-face interaction is only one amongst a variety of cooperative activities that take place in a mediated work environment. They state that ‘much collaboration is undertaken side by side where the individuals 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.).

Heath et al. mention the following aspects of collaborative work as significant to mediated interaction:
1. Focused and unfocused collaboration largely occurs through alignment towards the focal area of activity, such as a document, where individuals coordinate their actions through ‘peripheral monitoring’;
2. Collaborative work is dependent on individuals and their subtle and continuous adjustment to each others’ activities;
3. Collaborative work involves ongoing and seamless transitions between individual and collaborative tasks, where staff simultaneously participate in multiple interrelated activities;
4. An individual’s ability to contribute to the activities of others and fulfil their own responsibilities relies upon peripheral awareness and monitoring: ‘in this way information can be gleaned from the concurrent activities of others within the ‘local milieu’, and actions and activities can be implicitly coordinated with the emergent task of others’;
5. In co-present working environments, the interaction through which individuals produce, interpret and coordinate actions is accomplished using various objects and artefacts (paper, computers, etc.). Teamwork is rendered visible through these objects and artefacts. (ibid.: 177)
These aspects are useful in that they point to activities in relation to their physical or mediated surroundings. While it is perhaps obvious that such collaborative work primarily takes place outside allocated meeting rooms, i.e. in the actual workplace, it is noteworthy that in terms of the research and development of mediated spaces, there has been an emphasis on face-to-face interaction and supporting formal meetings by means of ‘video-conferencing’. Heath et al.’s discussion therefore provides an important point of departure for my own study and serves as the cornerstone of the design work that my colleagues and I have undertaken to support informal and collaborative mediated interaction. Heath et al. conclude as follows:
Perhaps the most important element of this interactional work, is the ways in which individuals monitor each other’s involvement in, or alignment to, an object or artefact. It is not a case of seeing what another is seeing, but rather seeing the other in relation to what he or she is looking at and doing. (1995: 178)[23]

Note 23: At EuroPARC such observations led to a series of user studies conducted by using multi cameras, and a variety of displays, some of which provided a bird’s-eye view of the spaces (Heath et al. 1995: 178ff).