Presence in knowledge-sharing practices

These observations regarding mediated interaction can be related to the concept of dialogism that Mikhail Bakhtin (1984) put forward as a basic principle on which all essential human interaction is based.[24]

For Bakhtin, ideas develop through dialogic relationships with language as a tool. When organizations rely on collaborative work practices, as many do, the underlying assumption is that interpersonal communication and interaction (i.e. human presence) can be linked to knowledge sharing and effective workgroup performance. In consequence, it might also be assumed that a certain spatial layout, e.g. the open plan office, may facilitate such exchange. As many have already shown, these assumptions are grounded in complex epistemological processes that are not directly related to spatial design, but this discussion nevertheless serves to illuminate the presence-in-person paradigm I presented previously. Even if it has proven difficult to establish a causal link between spatial layout and workgroup performance (Sailer 2010; Steen 2009) or knowledge sharing, it may still be an assumption that prevails in workplace design. Practitioners and organizations may use a specific layout, for example ‘open plan’, in the interest of promoting interaction, collaboration and knowledge sharing. It is therefore important to observe which role presence plays in knowledge-sharing practices.

My primary aim is to establish whether human presence really is a prerequisite for knowledge sharing in work contexts, or whether mediated presence may also be regarded a viable alternative. If knowledge sharing is facilitated by mediated presence, the implications for workplace design can be discussed accordingly. To explore these complex issues, I must clarify the concept of organizational knowledge and further address the underlying expectations of presence and interaction in work contexts.

Note 24: Bakhtin considered the opposite of dialogism to be monologism. He writes: “In the monologic world, tertium non datur: a thought is either affirmed or repudiated: otherwise it simply ceases to be a fully valid thought.” (1984: 80).