co-Activity Manager: a Desktop Interface for Collaborative Work

Knowledge work is typically composed of both individual and highly collaborative work. This means that knowledge workers use personal computing devices to perform individual tasks that are part of a larger collaborative working context. The individual work is in many cases dependent on and driven by information that is provided by coworkers or other stakeholders that are part of the overall work activity.

We introduce co-Activity Manager (cAM), a new desktop interface that is designed for collaborative knowledge work. To support users in their daily work, cAM provides a dedicated desktop workspace for each work context. Rather than focusing on files and folders, cAM introduces ‘activity‘ as a first-class concept.


All open windows and files stored on the desktop are structured within the context of an activity. Activities are visualised on the activity-bar (Figure 1B) as a button (similar to applications on the task-bar). Clicking the button will cause cAM to restore the workspace (files and windows) of the selected activity.

For each activity workspace, users can construct an instant messenger contact list containing people that are relevant for that specific activity. Only people who are added to the list of the ongoing activity are able to interrupt the user by e.g. sending chat messages or share files and activities.  People that are not added to the activity as contact, will see the user as offline.

To explore the usefulness of this type of system, we deployed it for a period of two weeks in a software development team. The study showed that:

  • People would use activities in very different ways. Some users matched each activity to an ongoing project while another user used activities as to-do items.
  • People shared entire activities as a starting point for a collaborative project. As one user put it: “It is much easier to just receive an entire activity and then customize it, than to find and collect all information separately”.
  • Privacy and confidentiality issues arose from automatic sharing of awareness data. The team was allowed by its employer to use email and instant messaging for both work and personal purposes, which meant that automatic awareness messages from cAM were sent to both types of contacts.

For more, see our full paper, Activity-Centric Support for Ad Hoc Knowledge Work – A Case Study of co-Activity Manager or try our system.

Steven Houben, PIT Lab – IT University of Copenhagen
Jakob BardramPIT Lab – IT University of Copenhagen
Jo Vermeulen, Hasselt University
Kris Luyten, Hasselt University
Karin Coninx, Hasselt University

About the author


Steven Houben is a PhD student affiliated with the Pervasive Interaction Technology (pIT) Laboratory at the IT University of Copenhagen. His research interests include human-computer interaction, ubiquitous computing and computer supported cooperative work and is focused towards the theory, design, construction and evaluation of activity-centric computing interfaces, systems and infrastructures that support real work practices.

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