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Distributed Work Distributed Work edited by Pamela Hinds and Sara Kiesler The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England © 2002 Massachusetts Institute of Technology All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher. This book was set in Sabon by SNP Best-set Typesetter Ltd. Printed and bound in the United States of America. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Distributed work / edited by Pamela Hinds and Sara Kiesler. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-262-08305-1 (hc. : alk. paper) 1. Division of labor. 2. International division of labor. 3. Teams in the workplace. 4. Communication in management—Technological innovations. 5. Computer networks. 6. Globalization. I. Hinds, Pamela. II. Kiesler, Sara, 1940– HD51 .D57 2002 658.4¢036—dc21 2001056237 To Herbert A. Simon, 1916–2001 Contents Foreword by C. Suzanne Iacono Preface xiii I History of Distributed Work xi 1 1 Managing Distance over Time: The Evolution of Technologies of Dis/Ambiguation 3 John Leslie King and Robert L. Frost 2 Distributed Work over the Centuries: Trust and Control in the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670–1826 27 Michael O’Leary, Wanda Orlikowski, and JoAnne Yates II Lessons from Collocated Work 55 3 What Do We Know about Proximity and Distance in Work Groups? A Legacy of Research 57 Sara Kiesler and Jonathon N. Cummings 4 The Place of Face-to-Face Communication in Distributed Work Bonnie A. Nardi and Steve Whittaker 83 5 The (Currently) Unique Advantages of Collocated Work 113 Judith S. Olson, Stephanie Teasley, Lisa Covi, and Gary Olson 6 Understanding Effects of Proximity on Collaboration: Implications for Technologies to Support Remote Collaborative Work 137 Robert E. Kraut, Susan R. Fussell, Susan E. Brennan, and Jane Siegel III Group Process in Distributed Work 165 7 Managing Distances and Differences in Geographically Distributed Work Groups 167 David J. Armstrong and Paul Cole viii Contents Addendum: Virtual Proximity, Real Teams David J. Armstrong and Erika Bill Peter 8 Attribution in Distributed Work Groups Catherine Durnell Cramton 187 191 9 The Phenomenology of Conflict in Distributed Work Teams Elizabeth A. Mannix, Terri Griffith, and Margaret A. Neale 213 10 Time Effects in Computer-Mediated Groups: Past, Present, and Future Joseph B. Walther 235 11 Conventions for Coordinating Electronic Distributed Work: A Longitudinal Study of Groupware Use 259 Gloria Mark 12 Fuzzy Teams: Boundary Disagreement in Distributed and Collocated Teams 283 Mark Mortensen and Pamela Hinds IV Enabling Distributed Work 309 13 Maintaining Awareness in Distributed Team Collaboration: Implications for Leadership and Performance 311 Suzanne Weisband 14 Fostering Intranet Knowledge Sharing: An Integration of Transactive Memory and Public Goods Approaches 335 Andrea B. Hollingshead, Janet Fulk, and Peter Monge 15 Outsiders on the Inside: Sharing Know-How Across Space and Time Thomas A. Finholt, Lee Sproull, and Sara Kiesler Box 1: Sense of Presence 379 Box 2: Distributed Work Groups and External Task Communication 16 Essence of Distributed Work: The Case of the Linux Kernel Jae Yun Moon and Lee Sproull V Distributed Scientific Collaborations 357 380 381 405 17 What Makes Collaborations Across a Distance Succeed? The Case of the Cognitive Science Community 407 Christian Schunn, Kevin Crowley, and Takeshi Okada Contents 18 Computer Network Use, Collaboration Structures, and Productivity John P. Walsh and Nancy G. Maloney Contributors Index 465 459 433 ix Foreword The chapters in this book breathe fresh air into a critical area of research: the increasing geographical distribution of work enabled by shifts in the world economy, increasing investments in new information technologies and changing expectations about how people will use these technologies to carry out their work and engage with their colleagues. Such research is critical if we care about high-quality worklife, organizational productivity, innovation, collaboration, learning, and knowledge generation. Can work be effectively carried out at a distance? If so, how should that work be managed, supported, and carried out? What technologies are useful, and at what point? And what is lost or gained when we embrace these changes in our workplaces? While research on transformations in the workplace related to information technologies has been carried out for several decades, this book represents a significant leap in the development of an overarching multidisciplinary framework for carrying out this work. With this book, the field has a new starting place for understanding how information technologies interact with the various dimensions of work relationships at a distance, for example, with ambiguity, proximity, awareness, know-how, trust, control, knowledge sharing, and leadership. Over the past fifteen years, the Computation and Social Systems (CSS) Program (formerly called Information Technology and Organizations) at the National Science Foundation has been interested in developing new knowledge about collective phenomenon and social action. This book and the workshop that helped produce it were funded by CSS to bring together researchers from various disciplines— computer science, information systems, communications, industrial relations, social sciences, human-computer interaction, and others—who work on these important topics. Multidisciplinary research is critical to further our understanding of distributed, collective action and how it can be supported by information technologies. xii Foreword The editors, Pamela Hinds and Sara Kiesler, have produced a book that makes a serious intellectual contribution to this field of inquiry. Their guidance and persistence made this book possible. C. Suzanne Iacono Information and Intelligent Systems Division Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering National Science Foundation Preface Technological advances and changes in the global economy are motivating and enabling an increasing geographic distribution of work. Today, the geographic distance between an average pair of workers is increasing in industries ranging from banking, to wine production, to clothing design. According to Bureau of Labor surveys of workers, more people worked for an employer with more than one location in 1998 (61.8 percent) than in 1979 (52.3 percent). Many workers today communicate regularly with coworkers at a distance; some monitor and manipulate tools and objects at a distance. Work teams are spread across different cities or countries. For example, research and development laboratories are increasingly deploying labs in countries other than the home of their headquarters (Brockhoff 1998), and software development teams increasingly are composed of programmers from around the globe (Carmel 1999). Joint ventures and multiorganizational projects are pervasive and entail work in many places. Complex work arrangements involving long-distance commuting and multiple employers are becoming commonplace. Some spectacular examples—ranging from the Hudson’s Bay Company’s fur trading empire in the seventeenth century to the recent development of the Linux computer operating system—suggest that distributed work arrangements can be innovative, flexible, and highly successful. Nonetheless, geographically distributed work has always presented challenges to the conduct of work and personal life. Distributed work can change the way people communicate, how they organize themselves and their work, and the manner in which they live. Research from over thirty years ago to the present suggests that physical proximity can have powerful and positive effects in everyday life as well as in science, government, and business (Sykes, Larntz, and Fox 1976). Moreover, proximity has proven to be hard to simulate through modern technologies such as videoconferencing. xiv Preface Given the benefits of proximity and collocation, organizations would seem to face some major hurdles when the work is distributed rather than collocated. What are the forces favoring distributed work arrangements? There are many. In mergers of companies or acquisitions of new companies, it may be infeasible to bring all employees to a single site, perhaps because key personnel refuse to move or perhaps because of the expense involved in orchestrating a move. To leverage expertise from these multiple sites, companies often form cross-site project groups and consultations. This is possible when jobs and professions use cognitive and social skills that can be practiced anywhere and the work process can proceed without close supervision. Some organizations choose to distribute work geographically to acquire otherwise unavailable expertise, perhaps by hiring or contracting with workers who prefer to live in the distant location. Carmel (1999) describes a software development project for which the organization scoured the globe to find a few people with the required expertise. Because workers could not be uprooted, a team was formed with experts working together across four continents. In addition to increasing access to expertise, organizations can reduce costs by tapping into the lower-cost labor supply in developing countries. Some organizations distribute work purposely as a way to establish a presence in multiple locations and increase the global appeal of their products. For example, LM Ericsson achieves a more global product by having members of product development teams located on multiple continents collaborate on actual designs (Mayer 1998). Organizations also can reduce the time required to bring products to market and the time required to trouble-shoot customer problems by using globally distributed teams. For example, Pape (1997) described a team at Verifone that worked on a customer problem around the clock by handing it off from team members in San Francisco to team members in Singapore and then to team members in Greece, so that they could deliver a solution in twenty-four hours. Workers themselves may choose distributed work because of external incentives and priorities. For example, to promote innovative science, the National Science Foundation has been offering financial support for multidisciplinary collaborations—scientific or technical groups whose members have diverse skills and disciplinary or professional backgrounds that are applied to their collaboration (see Goodwin 1996). These collaborations can range from dyads or partnerships, to small teams, to huge projects of 100 members or more. Preface xv These and many other factors, are motivating the rapid expansion in the amount of distributed work. However, neither the phenomenon of distributed work, nor its causes and effects, are clearly understood. In contrast to the detailed statistics that the U.S. government collects and analyzes about other work conditions, it has no direct measure of the geographic distribution of workers within organizations, the mobility of workers in their jobs, or the reliance of organizations on communications and computer technologies to get work done across distance. In 1994, a group of scientists and engineers convened to discuss research on distributed work and ways to facilitate basic technologies and applications for distributed work (see Committee on Telecommuting and Technology 1994). This group worked mainly on a research agenda that would encourage appropriate technological support for distributed work in teams and better understanding of the processes of distributed work. In the ensuing years, technological and economic change, as well as new studies of distributed work, suggested that distributed work is even more varied and complex than was envisioned five years ago. Research on distributed work is being conducted by psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, computer scientists, economists, and others. These scholars are located with disciplinary programs as well as cross-disciplinary programs in information systems, cognitive science, organizational behavior, humancomputer interaction, industrial engineering, and other hybrid fields. Because of their diverse backgrounds and separate venues for publication and research peer groups, there have been few opportunities for these researchers to meet and work together to understand distributed work from a broader perspective. Our objective in this project was to provide a forum for researchers from many fields to exchange ideas and present research on distributed work. A group of the authors met for this purpose at a workshop in Carmel, California, in August 2000 to share papers and ideas. One can understand distributed work on many levels: at the individual level, as on stress, family life, and careers; at the group and organizational levels, as on communication, innovation, and effectiveness; and at the industry and societal levels, as on regional economies and the maintenance of community. The main topic in this workshop was particularly the group and organizational aspects of distributed work. This book, based on the papers presented at the workshop, is a compendium of essays and research reports representing a variety of fields and methods. It is xvi Preface intended primarily for researchers and others who seek to understand the nature of distributed work groups and organizations, the challenges inherent in distributed work, and ways of enabling and organizing more effective distributed work. Through this work, we hope to spur more research on this topic and encourage debate on the design of technologies for and policies relating to distributed work. The chapters are organized to begin with a historical perspective on distributed work, starting in ancient times. We then follow with a collection of four chapters on proximity and collocation to provide a basis for comparing distributed work with collocated work. The next six chapters address the group dynamics and social processes involved in distributed work. We then present four chapters that describe factors associated with successful distributed work. Finally, two chapters present research on distributed work in one domain, collaborative scientific research. Because of space limitations, much excellent research and some entire areas of work are not represented here. We do not include studies of the effects of distributed work on people’s personal lives. For example, we do not include a chapter on workers who are required to travel extensively and often work on the road. This choice was partly motivated by a dearth of research on this topic. We also do not include chapters addressing industrial organization—changes in the nature of industries and economies—because that literature is too large a domain of inquiry. Nor do we include chapters on telecommuting or telecommuters. We believe that this work has been reasonably well covered elsewhere. Many chapters discuss technologies to support distributed work, but this is mainly a book designed to foster understanding of what distributed work entails rather than to understand technology itself. Several cross-cutting questions about distributed work arise in the book and suggest where promising research on distributed work is headed. One question concerns the organization and management of distributed work and distributed workers. Starting with the two historical chapters (1 and 2), many other chapters in the book describe alternative ways that distributed work is organized and managed. Many of the authors discuss divisions of labor, incentives, methods for controlling group members, ways of facilitating interaction among distant workers, and ways of monitoring performance. From these discussions, it seems clear that much remains to be learned, but that research on the organization of distributed work is emerging as an exciting and fruitful domain of inquiry. Effective strategies for organizing and managing distributed work may depend in part on the type of work being conducted. A question one can draw from the Preface xvii chapters concerns the role that the type of work plays in determining the success of distributed work arrangements. The types of work represented in this book range from soldiering and missionary work (chapter 1) to project management (chapters 2, 7, 13, 16) to field engineering and support (chapter 15), to secretarial work (chapter 10) and scientific collaborations (chapters 6, 17, and 18). The authors report both positive and negative aspects of distributed work. However, to varying degrees, all of these domains are populated by professionals who can operate to a large extent locally and autonomously. Further, few empirical comparisons are made to collocated workers in the same domain, so it is difficult to determine the effect of distribution on different types of work. Some types of work may be more effective when distributed than when collocated. For example, in chapters 17 and 18, we find some evidence that distant scientific collaborations may be more productive than collocated collaborations. The reason for this difference is important to discern. We need to study more kinds of collaborations over time and observe more varieties of distributed work in context to know the answer to this question. A third question arising from this collection of work is whether social relationships in distributed work are as important as they are in collocated work. Early chapters in the book point to the virtues of collocated work, one of which is that it fosters social ties. To what extent do group activities, such as agreeing on goals and passing along information, depend on people’s social contacts and ties to each other or to the group, that is, to their social networks and group identities? Many organizations are successfully distributing workers who never meet face-to-face and have a limited social relationship with their colleagues. For example, the Linux community described by Moon and Sproull (chapter 16) is wonderfully productive, but many members have never met. We can expect advances in theory and practice in distributed work to come from research on the nature of social ties in electronic work groups and organizations, and on their role in the interactions and effectiveness of distributed workers. Finally, many authors in this book address the question of whether and how technology can support distributed work. The authors are not agreed on this question, and particularly on whether technology can make it possible for all kinds of work to be distributed successfully. However, many authors discuss the requirements of new technology to support distributed work and workers—for example, the kinds of awareness technology should help sustain (chapter 13), the varieties of social interaction that it should promote (chapter 4), and the infrastructure it should provide for social interaction and exchange, not simply instrumental exchanges of xviii Preface information (chapters 14, 16, and others). From the interest of the authors, their many citations to recent conferences and literature and the technologies represented in the studies, research and development of technologies to support distributed work seems to be thriving. Acknowledgments Through the support of the Computation and Social Systems Program of the National Science Foundation, 0000566, we were able to host a workshop for most of the authors represented in this book to present their work, review one another’s papers, and discuss directions for future work in this field. Suzanne Iacono provided many valuable suggestions and ideas. Lawrence M. Greene drew the cover illustration of picnickers discussing a project over lunch. Mark Mortensen handled workshop logistics. Jonathan Cummings designed and maintained the Web site for the workshop and volume. Mary Scott made all financial arrangements. P. N. wishes to thank Mark Diel for his support during the development of the book. Both of us wish to acknowledge the contributions of Larry, Moe, Pilar, Tai, and Mauser, especially to their persistent reminders of the value of collocation. References Brockhoff, K. (1998). Internationalization of research and development. New York: Springer. Carmel, A. (1999). Global software teams: Collaborating across borders and time zones. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Committee on Telecommuting and Technology. (1994). Research recommendations to facilitate distributed work. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Goodwin, Charles (1996). Transparent vision. In E. Ochs, E. A. Schegloff, and S. A. Thompson (eds.), Interaction and grammar (370–404). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Mayer, M. (1998). The virtual edge: Embracing technology for distributed project team success. Newton Square, PA: Project Management Institute. Pape, W. (1997). Group insurance. Inc, 19, 29–31. Sykes, R. E., Larntz, K., and Fox, J. C. (1976). Proximity and similarity effects on frequency of interaction in a class of naval recruits. Sociometry, 39, 263–269. Distributed Work © The New Yorker Collection 2001 Robert Weber from cartoonbank.com. All rights reserved. I History of Distributed Work When we embarked on this project, many colleagues reminded us that distributed work is not a new phenomenon. The two chapters in this part provide historical examples of distributed work in centuries when computers and modern transportation and communication technologies did not exist. These examples offer many lessons to us as we try to understand new forms of distributed work enabled and encouraged by technology. John King and Robert Frost, in chapter 1, argue that people in ancient times invented ways of stabilizing information and agreements—money, written contracts, and so forth—so that exchanges could be made without ongoing negotiation and surveillance. They address a major issue in understanding distributed work: the extent to which it requires clear, precise exchanges of information across distance. The authors present arguments for ambiguity. Institutions, names, and principles can provide a rubric under which local adaptations and flexible behaviors can take place. Michael O’Leary, Wanda Orlikowski, and JoAnne Yates, in chapter 2, present a fascinating case study of the Hudson Bay Company, which for a century and a half conducted trade across two continents. They show how the management practices and organization of the company created mechanisms for managing work despite the vast distances that stood between the headquarters offices in London and the traders in the New World. This chapter sets the stage for many of the chapters to come, in which issues of trust and control arise in distributed work. 1 Managing Distance over Time: The Evolution of Technologies of Dis/Ambiguation John Leslie King and Robert L. Frost The management of distance is as old as work itself. Successful management of distance requires a careful balancing of disambiguation and ambiguation in the construction of meaning among disparate parties in collaboration. We argue that current efforts to develop technology for improved management of distance concentrate almost exclusively on improving means of disambiguation. This strategy overlooks the subtle but crucial role of ambiguation in maintaining shared understanding while allowing local discretion. We explore four successful technologies of dis/ambiguation that have evolved over centuries: writing and money as examples of disambiguating technologies, the doctrinal traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, and the creation of constitutional government as examples of ambiguating technologies. The management of distance is an ancient art. Hunter-gatherers moved ever outward to forage what nature provided. Herders moved their flocks among pastures. Fixed agriculture eliminated the need to chase after food, and when done successfully, it created sufficient surplus to allow for more complex social orders of specialization. Growing the crops was only part of the necessity; getting them to market was the other. Trade in agricultural commodities and other goods dates back at least four thousand years, and trade hinges on the management of distance. The industrial revolution altered the management of distance yet again, moving people from their households to factories. Some, like the farm girls of New England who labored in the textile mills along the fall lines of rivers, literally moved from home to work. Countless others in cities commuted from their homes to the manufactories that employed them daily. The industrial revolution also spawned advances in transportation that enabled large-scale sourcing of raw materials for mass production and corollary systems of mass distribution. There has never been a time since humans became human when the management of distance was far from a daily concern. 4 History of Distributed Work New technologies are changing important aspects of how we live and work and, among them, the ways we manage distance. However, the management of distance has always required far more than technical artifacts. It has required as well techniques, social conventions and norms, folkways and mores, organizational structures, and institutions. All of these are technologies in the broad sense of methods or mechanisms of management. If contemporary efforts to reconceptualize the management of distance in the information age are to be fruitful, it pays to reflect on the underlying nature of past strategies for managing distance. In this chapter, we argue that approaches to the management of distance have been built largely around the need to handle ambiguity across temporal, geographic and social distance. Handling ambiguity is a complex and nuanced matter. Current research on the social aspects of technology (see, for example, chapters 5, 6, and 10) emphasizes disambiguation, making clear what is meant and intended across distance. Less attention has been paid to ambiguation—the effort to keep meaning and intent vague across distance. We use historical analysis to demonstrate that both facets of ambiguity management have been key challenges to managing distance. Our argument begins with the discussion of ambiguity—why in some cases it is a problem and why in others it is a solution. We then examine the mechanisms for managing ambiguity that enabled the first true collaborations over long distance— regional trade and empire. These show that careful handling of ambiguity is required to balance the local and the global. To illustrate technologies of disambiguation, we discuss the development of writing and the establishment of money. To illustrate technologies of ambiguation, we examine the doctrinal practices of the evangelical arm of the Roman Catholic Church and the creation of constitutional government. We close with some observations that might be of use to contemporary students of the problem of managing distance. The Construction of Ambiguity It is tempting to assume that the primary objective in improving the management of distance is to improve the precision and veracity of communication: to “get it right.” We acknowledge the importance getting it right in many cases, as when exchange students going to another country are coached to modify their behavior so as not to give offense in their host culture. Much trouble in work across distance could be avoided if simple mistakes in understanding and interpretation were
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