As presented in my previous blog Remote Teams (Part 1): Distance is the new workplace challenge you really need to be ambitious in reducing distance in your daily workplace wherever possible. But where should you start? Do you exactly know where the problems are? To solve them we first have to locate them. Therefore, let us use a Distance Map as recommended by Lojeski and Reilly (Uniting the Virtual Workforce: Transforming Leadership and Innovation in the Globally Integrated Enterprise).
Creating a Distance Map
The first step is to visualize the social network you are interested in:
The next step is to take a closer look at the relationships within your network. Do this by assigning scores for physical, operational and affinity distance:
Finally, we have to identify those paths that are most critical for project success in the network. You can see these as the paths colored red.
Why should we use Distance Maps?
Such mapping helps tremendously to understand the big picture. It not only helps us to understand the different information flow between individuals, but also to get to know their quality. It lets us know where we have to find solutions by identifying the source of the problem. By focusing these most critical paths you can see where distance brings the most risk. Once the map is created you can keep referring back to it to see if the potential solutions you implement are already making a difference.
Important: Try to avoid perfectionism and keep it simple. You do not have to map your entire network. You won’t get an award by mapping an overall and precise mapping. It is rather to think carefully about the different distance areas (physical, operational and affinity distance) and to detect where solutions are most needed.
When should we use Distance Maps?
You can also use this tool collaboratively with your fellow team members. This is only realistic however, if you have gained trust with one another. Otherwise it would be kind of strange if you do not know someone really well and your first step would be to offer creating a Distance Map! Please avoid doing that. However, if you believe it is sensible and the affinity distance of your team is already scored with “medium” you can go ahead and ask your team mates to join the mapping workshop. You can then discuss where distance can be further reduced and how the team can influence this process.
For example, in my actual team we also work with teams from other organizations. Such a map can help them by visualizing their network and deciding for which relationships it is worthwhile to pay more attention to.
You may ask “what about friendship?”. In my opinion, we should not mix this process up with the natural way of making friends. If you like someone or enjoy working with a particular colleague, don’t stop this just because your map tells you to focus on the critical paths. You should use this map to better understand a network and relationships to other teams or individuals in their daily business. That’s it.
Now it is time to have a look at how we can manage distance.