Today’s far-flung workforce teams have a wealth of tools for sharing information around the globe. But does the virtual experience promote optimum collaboration? Writing in the Harvard Business Review Dr. Karen Sobel-Lojeski, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University, points out that, beyond data exchange, “Genuine collaboration is achieved through ongoing meaningful exchanges between people who share a passion and respect for one another.”
Such meaning can be eroded by “virtual distance”, says Sobel-Lojeski—by which she means “physical distance, operational distance, and affinity distance.” When she and her colleagues measured virtual distance around the world they found that when it was high, innovation fell by 90%, and cooperative behaviors and trust fell by 80%.
To restore true collaboration, she says, leaders must offer shared context. Even a simple thing like making sure team members know what local time it is for everyone else can help people feel respected. Of course, virtual distance can occur even among workers on different floors of the same building. It is up to leaders to be deliberate about facilitating communication to and among team members so that bonds can be built and maintained. The power of our PRES system and our model for Collaborative Problem Solving can help create greater “presence” and interaction even in remote settings. Remember: Behind every keystroke is a human being.
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