Khaos

Virtual / Co-located Team Hybrids: Favouring those you work beside

I have just read another study that suggests yet again that if you work on a team that has members who are co-located and members who are in another geographical location that you will be more inclined to work with the ones who are in the same place as you. Fussell et. al. [1] write about using instant messenger as a means of communicating. They note that it’s much easier for people to schedule tasks when they are together and that, in knowledge based environments, the division of tasks is best done through spontaneous conversation in a co-located environment. However, they wanted to find out if using something like IM would facilitate working and scheduling of work between team mates.

I am not that interested in their observations about IM clients and how these can be improved but rather on the work habits of the teams they observed. Their findings suggested that when workers have multiple tasks to carry out that they will favour the face-to-face ones over the ones that need to be carried out remotely even if all the tasks are equally important. And when given two tasks of equal size and importance, one co-located and one remote, they will spend more than half their time on the co-located one and not leave adequate time to complete the remote one.

I keep reading papers that strongly suggests that it’s better to have a co-located team and if you have to have a virtual team all the members should be in different geographic locations. Hybrids of the two will always lead to divisions between the co-located members and the virtual members. How do you stop people from favouring team members they see and work with everyday over team members who are located in a different place or time zone that they may never have to meet in person? And if you can’t stop them from doing this how do you make it work to your advantage?

[1] I cannot find a copy of this paper that does not require an ACM Digital Library login

Fussell, Kiesler, Setlock, Scupelli. Effects of instant messaging on the management of multiple project trajectories. CHI 2004, 191-198.

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