CEPR Prize for Outstanding Research in Organisation and Management 2017
by Diego Battiston, Jordi Blanes i Vidal, and Tom Kirchmaier
Motivation for the award: We all feel more productive when we are in the same room as our coworkers. Is face to face communication more productive? If so, why? Are moral hazard problems less important when we are together? Or is communication of better quality? In a highly original paper, Diego Battiston, Jordi Blanes i Vidal and Tom Kirchmaier take important first steps towards answering these questions. The setting of their study is Manchester's police call handling department. Productivity can be well measured, as it is measured by the delay in allocating emergency calls. In a painstakingly careful analysis of the evidence, Battiston, Blanes, and Kirchmaier rely on the random assignment of calls to show that allocation time of calls is 2% faster when handler and operator work in the same room. Moreover, they show that proximity within the room is important, suggesting that physical distance is key. They then rule out the main alternative channels to face to face communication as the causal channel. They also show that co-location increases productivity more for incidents that are more information-intensive, for more urgent incidents and in more busy periods. Finally also find that richer communication comes at a cost, as handlers are more time unavailable after face to face allocating a case.
In short, they persuasively provide prima facie pseudo experimental evidence of the value of face to face qualification and its impact on productivity. In doing so, the paper not only carefully analyses a relevant quasi experimental setting, but it also opens up a new and promising avenue for research in organisational economics that we hope other future papers will continue to study. We warmly congratulate the authors on a truly innovative and well executed paper.