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Chapter 3 What Do We Know about Proximity and Distance in Work Groups? A Legacy of Research 1

By Sara Kiesler and Jonathon N. Cummings

Abstract

Significant increases in the geographic distribution of work have been touted widely. Yet a large body of evidence suggests that close proximity is beneficial to relationships and group interaction. We examine these benefits through the lens of research on the mere presence of others, face-to-face communication, shared social settings, and frequency of spontaneous communication. Technological and organizational remedies for the absence of these factors in distributed work groups are popular but often problematic. We propose that communication technology is more likely to be effective when groups are cohesive than when they are not, and that structured management (as well as technology) is likely to be needed in groups lacking cohesion. 76 “Collaboration is a body contact sport. ” The researcher who said this during an interview believes, as many do, that people’s physical proximity has a tremendous impact on their ability to work together. There is considerable support for this belief in the academic community as well. Research harking back fifty years has demonstrated that close proximity between people is associated with numerous emotional, cognitive, and behavioral changes that affect the work process for the better. In this chapter, we describe these findings, discuss reasons why proximit

Year: 2013
OAI identifier: oai:CiteSeerX.psu:10.1.1.352.3575
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