OlsonOlson-DistanceMatters-HCIJ - HUMAN-COMPUTER...

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Distance Matters Gary M. Olson and Judith S. Olson University of Michigan ABSTRACT Giant strides in information technology at the turn of the century may have unleashed unreachable goals. With the invention of groupware, people expect to communicate easily with each other and accomplish difficult work even though they are remotely located or rarely overlap in time. Major corporations launch global teams, expecting that technology will make “virtual collocation” possible. Federal research money encourages global science through the estab- lishment of “collaboratories.” We review over 10 years of field and laboratory investigations of collocated and noncollocated synchronous group collabora- tions. In particular, we compare collocated work with remote work as it is possi- ble today and comment on the promise of remote work tomorrow. We focus on the sociotechnical conditions required for effective distance work and bring to- gether the results with four key concepts: common ground, coupling of work, collaboration readiness, and collaboration technology readiness. Groups with high common ground and loosely coupled work, with readiness both for collab- oration and collaboration technology, have a chance at succeeding with remote work. Deviations from each of these create strain on the relationships among teammates and require changes in the work or processes of collaboration to suc- ceed. Often they do not succeed because distance still matters. HUMAN-COMPUTER INTERACTION, 2000, Volume 15, pp. 139–178 Copyright © 2000, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Gary Olson is a psychologist interested in computer supported cooperative work; he is Professor in both the School of Information and the Department of Psychology. Judy Olson is a psychologist interested in computer supported collaborative work; she is Professor in the School of Business Administration, the School of Information, and the Department of Psychology.
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1. INTRODUCTION In 1898, Arthur Mee stated, If, as it is said to be not unlikely in the near future, the principle of sight is ap- plied to the telephone as well as that of sound, earth will be in truth a paradise, and distance will lose its enchantment by being abolished altogether. (p. 345) Half a century later, video conferencing became a reality. Mee’s predictions are still heard. In 1997, Frances Cairncross, a senior editor at The Economist, published a book entitled The Death of Distance. The dust jacket blurb stated, “Geography, borders, time zones—all are rapidly becoming irrelevant to the way we conduct our business and personal lives … .” The book trumpeted the marvels of modern communication technologies. As the dust jacket in- toned, her book claimed to be “a trendspotter’s guide to thriving in the new millenium.” We believe differently. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of dis- tance’s death are greatly exaggerated. Even with all our emerging information and communications technologies, distance and its associated attributes of cul-
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OlsonOlson-DistanceMatters-HCIJ - HUMAN-COMPUTER...

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