Knowledge management fact – collaboration degrades when people are further apart

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —December 6, 2006
Filed in Strategy

Mark and I have been helping clients with knowledge strategies lately and as we write them up we would remember  knowledge management ‘facts’ like, “knowledge transfer significantly degrades when people are separated by more that 18 feet.” You know how it is, you remember something like this but where is the original research.

So I went looking and found the following:

“When employees work at locations more than approximately 30 meters apart, they have a much-reduced daily contact and less frequent informal communication. Physical separation from others in daily life drastically reduces the likelihood of voluntary work collaboration.” (Kiesler and Cummings 2004: 59)

The authors quote the following references in relation to these statements about proximity and collaboration.

Allen, T. J. (1977). Managing the Flow of Technology. Cambridge, MIT Press.

Kiesler, S. and J. N. Cummings (2002). What Do We Know about Proximity and Distance in Work Groups? A Legacy of Research. Distributed Work. P. J. Hinds and S. Kiesler. Cambridge, Massachusetts, The MIT Press.

Kraut, R. E., S. R. Fussell, et al. (2002). Understanding effects of proximity on collaboration: Implications for technologies to support remote collaborative work. Distributed Work. P. J. Hinds and S. Kiesler. Cambridge, Massachusetts, The MIT Press.

Kraut, R. E. and L. A. Streeter (1995). “Coordination in software development.” Communications of the ACM 38: 69-81.

Are you aware of any other research that support or contradict this idea of “out of sight, out of mind?”

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. My aggregator just showed the quote, so I was going to suggest these articles. There are two works from TJ Allen with similar names, the other came from his dissertation and also mentions this. As for amplifying or contradicting, the CREW research group at UMich did some interesting work looking at in groups and out groups when some researchers are co-located and others are distributed. There’s some mention of this, too, in the Walsh and Maloney in the volume you cite above edited by Hinds and Kiesler.
    Somewhat related is Quan-Haase, A., & Wellman, B. (2005). Local virtuality in an organization: Implications for community of practice. In P. v. d. Besselaar, G. d. Michelis, J. Preece & C. Simone (Eds.), Communities and technologies 2005: Proceedings of the second communities and technologies conference, Milano 2005 (pp. 215-238). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer. — kinds of turns it around a bit as physically proximate people actually communicate via computer.

  2. Thanks for the additional perspectives and references Christina. Much appreciated.

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