Why being located in the same office can sometimes feel like you’re miles away.
When you work in the same office, collaboration isn't supposed to be a challenge. You can yell over the cubicle wall, stop by a colleague's desk or bump into each other serendipitously at the water cooler. It all comes naturally - especially when your workplace is small.
But as a company grows, it's easy to see how you can start to feel disconnected. Let's say you have 25 employees in the office, and suddenly you add 5 or 10 more, and another 5 or 10, and then departments start to form more rigid boundaries and layers of hierarchy, trust begins to fall and communication, as a whole, suffers.
There are two primary forces that can contribute to this: the distance between workers and the limit on our capacity to form relationships.
First, in the workplace a few feet can have a dramatic impact on the interactions we have and the relationships we build. In the late 1970s, Tom Allen, an MIT researcher, looked at the probability of communication as a function of distance. He found that while the chance of talking to people who work a few feet away is high, it plunges to less than 10% within 30 feet. And after about 60 feet, forget about it. According to his theory, if you're in another pod or outside my visual perimeter, you might as well be in another country.
Second, research shows that the cognitive limit for social relationships is generally understood to be about 150 people. It's the breaking point at which knowledge sharing really starts to suffer. In my experience, cracks can emerge far earlier. 150 is more of a maximum when you're in a work context. Even when you cross the 25-person barrier, information doesn't flow as easily as it once did before. The ease of interaction is replaced by official departmental memos and top-down leadership updates.
That's why social collaboration is not just for teams located in different time zones and continents - it's even important for teams in the same office.
- The activity stream becomes the water cooler
- Discussion forums become the impromptu brainstorming sessions
- and microblogs become how we yell down the hall
Do you find it difficult to collaborate with your colleagues even when you share the same office space? Let us know about it in the comments below or tweet your office challenges to @IglooSoftware.