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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: August 2009

8 - Overcoming distance and time

from Part II - Managerial competency


All things being equal, any manager would prefer to manage a co-located team rather than a distributed team.

Offshoring requires distributed collaboration in which people work across distance and time. This is a key difficulty in offshoring. In this chapter, we first take a close look at the root of the problem: Why is it so difficult to collaborate across distance and time? We then present the many small solutions to this problem. The difficulties in distributed collaboration cannot be eliminated, but they can be mitigated somewhat through a mosaic of solutions described in this chapter: applying principles of formalisms and informalisms, managing time differences, using a mix of collaborative technologies, selecting the right staff, and designing the optimal organizational structure.

We like to be close

In spite of the hype about our new “virtual world” in which “distance is dead,” we humans like proximity. We perform better when we are close together. We thrive when we have face-to-face interaction. We crave proximity.

In order to understand why distributed work is more difficult for us humans, Kiesler and Cummings gathered the results of decades of group psychology research. We begin by summarizing their thought-provoking findings.

The mere proximity to another human introduces a “social facilitation effect.” That is, our physiologic performance changes: alertness increases, our heart rate goes up, and our blood pressure increases. Television producers introduced laugh tracks to comedy shows because we all tend to laugh when others laugh; we smile when others smile.