How much un-tapped productivity savings is there in business today?
A study was conducted in a software engineering company, which was already above the norm in terms of efficiency. The Trial consisted of 7 teams who were co-located compared with the rest (more) who used audio, video and application sharing.
The co-located teams averaged double the output and reduced time to market by 2/3! The co-located teams achieved this amazing improvement in performance by careful design of their work environment and they modified their processes to take advantage of the fact that they were co-located. So for all of us currently deploying audio, video and application sharing we still have plenty of improvement left to tap to achieve the levels of effectiveness of a well designed co-located team.
Of course it’s important to note that many co-located teams don’t achieve anywhere near these levels of performance because their work environment is NOT designed to maximise team performance, nor do they carefully design their work processes to take advantage of their co-location. Also the teams studied were at a stage in their work where it was deemed appropriate for this intense collaborative effort.
Fluidity of participation was rated as very important to the timely completion of their work. They could move from one subgroup to another, or to a meeting of the whole, by merely overhearing others’ conversations, seeing what someone was working on, and
being aware of how long they had worked on it with or without progress.
Spatiality of human interaction was the second key factor; if a team member wants to observe his manager’s reaction to a
point someone made, he can just glance quickly in her direction. A team member can refer to someone’s list of ideas on a taped-up flip chart sheet by making a gesture or glance in its direction that everyone can immediately interpret.
I can personally testify to the power of workplace design on productivity because I have had the good fortune of designing from scratch four different offices, and two of these I have managed. In fact in the two offices I managed the teams had a big input into the design of their office and even more interestingly regularly re-designed it (ease of change was an original design goal) to meet their evolving needs.
In another study of SW developers teams in the war room environments were more than twice as productive as similar teams at the same company working in traditional office settings. In a follow-up study of 11 more war room teams, productivity nearly doubled again, making the war room teams almost four times as productive as their counterparts in ordinary offices. The setting alone may not account for all of the productivity differences; teams working in the war rooms also used techniques designed to accelerate software development. However, those techniques could only be carried out by radically co-located teams.
A final caution; co-location can also be expensive, such teams can take a long time to establish, may not utilise resources very effectively and may not be as creative as virtual teams. However a well designed co-located team establishes a benchmark for performance that designers of virtual teams, team processes and tools can aspire to.