Driven by the spread of the Web and advances in Web capabilities over the past ten years, a new way of working in distributed teams has become commonplace for a broad range of project-based activities. In media and advertising, software development, construction, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing product design and financial services, it’s now routine to bring together individuals that work in different locations and timezones to collaborate closely on complex tasks.
This is stuff people used to do together in a single, open-plan office, and it’s been necessary to evolve completely new habits and processes to make it work. A blog post by Max Klein yesterday spells out how unsatisfactory some of that evolution has been:
“I am involved in about five different web based businesses … Each business has a different set of collaborators (people who work with me on them, partners, employees, freelancers) … I collaborated by email. When something needed to be done, I would send out an email. When I discovered something new I would send out an email … we would also send designs and screenshots by email — needless to say, things would get lost — hardly anything would get done on time, and the most common reply I would get back is that they missed the particular instruction in the mass of emails I would send. To compound my trouble, we were collaborating across multiple time zones — UK, US Pacific Time, Indian time and Singapore time. Emails would arrive in the night and it is depressing to wake up to 35 new emails from different people.”