Photocopiers and water-coolers: The affordances of informal interaction

Anne Laure Fayard, John Weeks

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


There has been increasing recognition of the importance of informal interactions in organizations, but research examining the effects of the physical environment on informal interaction has produced contradictory results and practical attempts to control the level of informal interaction by design have been marked by unintended consequences. Drawing on a qualitative study of informal interactions observed in photocopier rooms in three organizations, this paper builds on the work of ecological psychologist James Gibson to develop a theory of the affordances of informal interaction. The affordances of an environment are the possibilities for action called forth by it to a perceiving subject. Research on affordances has typically focused on the affordances of individual behavior. We introduce the notion of social affordances and identify the social and physical characteristics that produce the propinquity, privacy, and social designation necessary for an environment to afford informal interactions. The theory of social affordances provides a lens through which to reinterpret the conflicting results of previous studies and to reexamine the seemingly simple water-cooler around which the organization gathers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)605-632
Number of pages28
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2007


  • Affordances
  • Culture
  • Informal interaction
  • Space

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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