Researchers at the University of Michigan recently published a paper discussing the collaborative advantages to working in closer proximity to co-workers.
The paper, entitled ”A tale of two buildings: socio-spatial significance in innovation” includes a very interesting discussion about impromptu and face-to-face interactions, concluding that they appear to be advantageous for innovation. They describe “electronic interactions” as scripted, and I immediately wondered if people with a high investment in their social networks might be capable of mimicking impromptu and face-to face interactions without the benefit of physical proximity.
Great social collaborations
I thought about some great ideas whose inception and / or collaboration happened through technology-enabled social channels:
Buffer App, which queues social actions with unprecedented ease of use; created collaboratively by Joel Gascoigne and Leo Widrich.
Triberr, which allows web publishers to co-opt the social networks of other web publishers to increase their reach; created collaboratively by Dino Dogan and Dan Cristo.
Board My Biz, which allows businesses to find appropriate members for their advisory boards via an innovative integration with LinkedIn (and also allows people to volunteer to serve on advisory boards); created collaboratively by Bill Bubenicek and Kathy Murray.
…and that’s simply off the top of my head. (I caveat that by saying that I don’t know the extent of any of those folk’s involvement in their products, only that they’re the principals and that their products are phenomenal). It appears that some of the innovation and management of these tools necessarily occurs through technology and social media, presumably creating impromptu and face-to-face conversation without the benefit of proximity. The three companies that I mention are an infinitesimally small sample of innovation without colocation.
Can social networks substitute for proximity?
With tools like Twitter, Yammer, Skype, Hangouts, and other applications that facilitate real-time social interaction, I wonder if technologically-immersed company cultures (a la “social businesses” as described by Brian Solis in the End of Business as Usual) could realize the collaborative benefits described in this study without physical proximity of co-workers.
What do you think? Can social and technological tools mimic proximity, or is working in the same space the best opportunity for innovation? If technology can mimic proximity – which applications are best to facilitate impromptu and face-to face conversation?