W o K     :     Ways of Knowing

A Virtual Seminar


Comments on "Virtual Distance" from 11/4 & 11/9

On Sunday, November 4th, Karen Sobel Lojeski presented a brief snapshot of Virtual Distance.  Virtual Distance is the perceived distance brought on by too much interaction with technology such as email, instant messaging, and other e-based communications.  Karen has developed a measure that includes three elements that add up to Virtual Distance. 
The first is Physical Distance.  This is defined as the real or fixed distance-related factors and they are: 
a)Geographic Distance - geographic separation, b)Temporal Distance - time-zone and/or schedule differences, and c)Organizational Distance - the extent to which the organizational affiliation is different, e.g. I work for company a and you work for company b therefore we are organizationally distant. 
2) Operational Distance - the things that get in the way of effective collaboration on a day-to-day basis.  They include
a) Communication Distance - the extent to which one uses a mix of modes like face-to-face communication versus other kinds of communications as well as the extent to which one can garner meaning from a conversation based on the right level of context, both physical as well as mental context.
b) Multitasking - the extent to which we are busy with other projects or deliverables in the same timeframes,
c) Readiness Distance - the extent to which technical environments go down - like QWAQ not being available or video-conferencing, internet connections etc. and
d) Distribution Asymmetry - the extent to which people are unequally distributed which leads to dysfunction in the form of isolation or "cocooning" in a Headquarter location.
3) Affinity Distance - the extent to which we lack relationships with others that are deep in nature - for example - one has an "affinity" for someone else.  Affinity trumps all other issues.  Therefore, if there is low Affinity Distance, the other two factors might still be in play but their effects will be far less destructive.  Affinity Distance is comprised of
a) Cultural Distance - the extent to which people's values and/or communication styles are not aligned,
b) Social Distance - the extent to which people feel there are gaps in the relationship caused by differences in formal or informal social status,
c) Relationship Distance - the extent to which people don't know one another from prior work or don't know any of the same people and
d) Interdependence Distance - the extent to which people do not feel as though their futures are connected or their success is dependent on others.
Virtual Distance has a direct effect on Trust, Goal and Role Clarity, Organizational Citizenship Behavior as well as Success (measured by on-time, on-budget delivery and customer satisfaction) and Innovation (measured by innovative behavior).  Trust, Clarity, and Organizational Citizenship Behavior also have direct effects on Success and Innovation.  Virtual Distance can be measured quantitatively using the Virtual Distance Index or can also be qualitatively estimated.  Virtual Distance can also be predicted based on "what-if" scenarios.  The statistical relationships are such that as more data is collected, relationships get stronger.  Virtual Distance has caused millions of dollars in damages to organizations.  It has also led to loss of innovation opportunities and has created reputation problems for some of the major financial institutions with regard to fraud and other credit card loss issues.
Virtual Distance Assessment of WoK Group
In my humble opinion, one of the reasons why our group works so well is because Virtual Distance is relatively low.  Therefore these kinds of presentations, like our Sunday talks, nightly meetings, etc., are highly effective.  We are especially low on Affinity Distance which as discussed earlier, trumps all other kinds of distance.  On the Cultural Values vector
- - Our values are clearly aligned and this can easily be seen in a self-selected group such as ours.  On the Social Distance vector - Social Distance is not at issue since we all believe that each of us has something valuable to contribute and therefore we assess each other, and our relationships to one another, based on "contributions" as opposed to formal status (at least most if not all of the time).  On the Relationship Distance vector - Relationship Distance is also on the lower side because we all know Piet I believe.  Groups that are based primarily on "weak ties" are often even stronger than those based on "strong ties".  So our group continues to meld together even though most of us do not know each other directly.
Interdependence Distance Vector - And finally Interdependence Distance is also low because we "internalize" our mutual success - without it, this kind of group would not be possible.  Because we are low on Affinity Distance, problems that create occasionally high Operational Distance, like Communications Distance, Readiness Distance, etc., as well as our high marks on Physical Distance, while they might have a temporary effect, have little effect on the group's goal - the Working Hypothesis and therefore, the group stays together and works ardently toward common interests.  This is the epitome of a group that is virtual and yet is low on Virtual Distance. 
Sample Comments
Bob Magrisso noted that he could see Virtual Distance rising in the hospitals as more time is spent on the computer.  Others felt that it was something they could relate to as well.  Other comments regarding corporate executive's acknowledgement of such issues were also discussed.  Doug asked what executives were doing about such problems.  Karen said that her experience has been such that executives care little for some of the more significant people issues beginning to surface however some, like her clients, are beginning to understand Virtual Distance problems and take some action.
Another discussion ran along the lines of machines taking over and the subjugation of humanity as being upon us.  This potential future is already here in some respects as humans get silicon chip implants and the research in many universities continues to head in a direction that would support other human-computer hybrids. 
Comments on the Experience
Regarding the experience - I was personally very comfortable with the presentation in Qwaq.  I had just given a talk in SecondLife and realized acutely how I needed to adjust my sensitivities in order to be genuinely involved in my presentation with the audience.  Being genuine in this case the other side of automaton-like is something that is difficult in so much as there are no facial expressions to react to and the presenter has no ideas as to whether the group is engaged.  Engagement calls for people to be emotionally as well as cognitively connected.  I could eventually tell by the questions that many people were interested in the topic and this fueled a sense of energy among the group as well as for me.  As I attend more of our sessions, I become more comfortable with the environment and I begin to feel that it is a "real" place in so much as we have created a shared space through our participation in it.  I also much prefer it to SecondLife where I also have spent some time.  To me the cartoon-nature of SecondLife is more distracting than that of Qwaq.  I was skeptical of Qwaq's approach at first but having now experienced it my initial concerns have been addressed.
I also wanted to thank everyone for their participation and look forward to our continued collaborations on the wh.

Karen Lojeski

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