Physical vs. Virtual Colocation, and the Effects of Interruption
Officially, “colocation” is the proper spelling, but “co-location” and “collocation” are also recognized spellings. Regardless of how you spell it, it boils down to the science of communication probabilities and qualities between individuals.
Tom Allen, at MIT in the late 1970s, put the first benchmark on the table. He found that the probability of communication depended on whether any two people had any common organizational bonds, such as working in the same department or on the same team. He called this “intra-group” communication; otherwise it was “inter-group.” If people sat more than 10 meters from one another, there was only a 5% chance of inter-group communication and a 10% chance of intra-group. Unless people sit close to each other, they rarely communicated.
By the early 1990s, while videoconferencing, the Internet, and email were emerging, a study conducted by GGI found 300 companies examining roughly 50 distinct approaches to simulating colocation. A new industry was developing to facilitate effective colocation regardless of physical distance. Since then, a myriad of “solutions” have entered the marketplace.
Alas, the enabling technology has advanced more quickly than its target audience’s behavior. If one examines the relationship of individuals to their work assignments and locations, individuals have not changed significantly since 1930 studies driven by unionization efforts. Individuals without systemized and policed corporate policies still largely behave as they did 80 years ago with regard to the task in front of them.
Physical vs. Virtual Colocation, and the Effects of Interruption [Machine Design – October 2015] discusses several studies conducted in the past ten years that explore the differing workplace environment for physical versus distributed workers and the effects of interruptions on individual and corporate productivity.