Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Virtual Distance Unbundled

In Uniting the Virtual Workforce: Transforming Leadership and Innovation in the Globally Integrated Enterprise, published by Wiley in 2008, Karen Sobel Lojeski and Richard R. Reilly help us deconstruct the concept of 'virtual distance'. Virtual distance is defined as "a psychological distance created between people by over-reliance on electronic communications."

Virtual distance is said to be responsible for a:

50% decline in project success
90% drop in innovation effectiveness
80% drop in work satisfaction
83% fall off in trust
65% decrease in role and goal clarity
50% decline in leader effectiveness

It was to help minimize these potential consequences of 'working together apart' that I developed The Six Cs of Global Collaboration. But how do the authors help us unbundle virtual distance so that we can better manage its effects?

Virtual distance is comprised of three different types of distance:

Physical Distance - psychological gaps created by geographic, time, and organizational distances. "People tend to "cooperate less, deceive more, and are less persuaded when just the 'perception' of physical distance increases."

Operational Distance - psychological gaps that grow because of day-to-day problems in the workplace. Issues that are generated by:

Communication distance - a feeling of disconnectedness resulting from a lack of
shared context or from a less than optimal communication medium is used
Multitasking - feeling distant from everything because of attention to
Readiness distance - feeling of detachment when technical problems (particularly
those that persist) disable our ability to cooperate.
Distribution asymmetry - a sense of disconnected either by being isolated or of there being too many people in one place where a lot of power is located.

Affinity Distance - psychological gaps resulting from the feeling of emotional disconnectedness between virtual team members. Gaps can be generated by:

Cultural distance - resulting from differences in team member values
Social distance - resulting from differences in status
Relationship distance - resulting from a lack of past connections and a high
level of unfamiliarity
Interdependence distance - resulting from a sense that there is no shared vision a feeling of mutual dependence

Data gathered by the authors indicates that when virtual distance is managed properly, results can be very positive:

Innovation behaviors increase by 93 percent
Trust improves by 83 percent
Job satisfaction is better by 80 percent
Role and goal clarity rise by 62 percent
On-time, on-budget performance is better by 50 percent
Helping behaviors go up by almost 50 percent

I think Karen Sobel Lojeski and Richard Reilly have made a real contribution to conceptually mapping virtual distance. Definitely worth checking out.

No comments: