The Collapsing Corporation and Rise of Virtual Distance

March 19th, 2009

We’ve been hearing a lot about collapsing corporations lately.  Dr. Karen Sobel Lojeski, author and Professor of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University, says Virtual Distance may be to blame for many of today’s corporate problems.

Last night, I heard Dr. Lojeski speak at a lecture sponsored by the Project Management Institute.  She has spent the last several years studying the concept of Virtual Distance™, which she defines as  “the perceived distance between two or more individuals when their primary method of communication and  coordination is not face to face.”  Her research shows that our increasing dependence on technology for communication (even with those in the cubicle down the hall) and outmoded vertical corporate structures have led to failures in efficiency, collaboration, engagement, and innovation.

She is not proposing that we outlaw telecommuting, email, and conference calls. Instead, Dr. Lojeski has  identified some techniques for minimizing virtual distance within an organization, regardless of the geographic distance between team members. These include building in face time at key points in a project and forcing focus during calls (shut down your email and step away from distractions).

Most importantly, she believes that techniques for managing  successful virtual teams must be people-focused, not technology-focused. The technology enables, but there is no innovation without engaged human beings.

I must say that I agree strongly with that philosophy. And because  I value the flexibility of being able to work from just about anywhere in the world, I’m a big supporter of any research that will help make remote workers, telecommuters, and road warriors more effective.

Virtual teams are here to stay.  And if they are managed well, they can help companies achieve serious business and productivity benefits.

However, I do find that work relationships develop more quickly when I have already met someone in person. That’s not to say that I don’t have close and valued clients and colleagues that I’ve never met face-to-face.  I do, but it usually takes a bit longer to bond when you only communicate via phone and email.

Ask any sales guru — they always try to score an in-person pitch meeting because they know it will improve their chances with a prospect exponentially.

So what do you think? Does virtual distance make the heart grow fonder or is it a productivity-killer? Have you found successful techniques for maintaining strong relationships with virtual team members?

For more information about Dr. Lojeski’s research, check out her latest book, Uniting the Virtual Workforce (and look for her upcoming follow-up, Leading the Virtual Workforce, later this year).

Buy The Book
Anissa Stein

Thank you for sharing this post! It is very timely for me as I am writing my dissertation on virtual leadership. She is a fantastic and timely researcher. Anissa Stein

Delaware Job Hunters

Join us on May 6, 2009, from 8am-3pm at the Chase Center on the Riverfront for The Delaware Job Hunters Education and Networking Event. This important and timely event is being held to provide education to Delaware job seekers to improve their job search skills and gain a competitive edge in today’s job market. The event will also provide attendees the opportunity to meet with local companies to learn about job opportunities. This is a FREE event.

To register for the event call Joyce Dungee Proctor at 302-504-9922 or visit and click on seminars and choose the Delaware Job Hunters event to register.

Mark McClure

The in-person thing works best (for me) because I get a better sense of what the other person is like – and is capable of.

Plus, when the chips are down (and they invariably are with the project deadlines that many global virtual teams endure), it’s ‘easier’ to help each other out – and go the extra mile – for someone you actually know and dare I say it, trust.

(Don’t ask about those you don’t like and don’t trust haha!)

On technology – well, people ‘hiding’ behind email, instead of getting on the dog and bone (phone) and sorting the issue out directly, used to be a pet-dislike of mine.

But that one was left in the dust when I came across someone ‘live chatting’ to me about a deadline or something. I forget the details.

But he was sitting less than 15 feet away from me, and in direct line of sight Ahhhh!

Strangely, he was rather annoyed when I got off my chair and came round to sort the prob out directly. And do you know why he was irked by me…? He had about 15 other chat windows going at the same time with people all over the region!! Talk about an overworked, multi-tasker…

I almost felt sorry that technology (my forte) had enslaved this poor guy’s sensory apparatus between 9 to 9 (near enough) each day…

comments are closed for this entry