2Redefining Distance

Many people ask us why we named the phenomenon Virtual Distance. As we discussed in the last chapter, it seemed to us that many of our initial fieldwork findings pointed to a type of distance – one that was social and emotional in nature.

However, we were not the first researchers to use distance in this context. Therefore, much of this chapter is unchanged because we wanted to keep the background on how distance can be interpreted in a variety of business contexts.

Imagine a time traveler from the 1960s instantly transported to 2020. They would see some truly astonishing things going on: people working and collaborating across cities, time zones, and even continents; messages sent to anyone, anywhere, anytime without using the US mail; other people attending meetings virtually from their offices, hotels, or homes; and the ability to easily keep in touch with coworkers in the oddest places, like air terminals, trains, cars, and golf courses. The world of work in the twenty-first century is a very different place than it was 59 years ago.

It is technology that's enabled these different ways of working. Nobody, not even the best science fiction writers, envisioned how the way that we work would change as much as it has or how rapidly the changes would occur. In some respects, it may seem that we have eliminated distance as an impediment to working effectively. After all, we can text our colleague in China while we're all looking at the same PowerPoint slides. ...

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