My working-life has been spent mostly within the context of a team, and mostly working within the same location (room, area, …) perhaps separated by mere meters away (or the occasional wall or staircase).
I had never paid much attention to it but now I believe it deserves some reflection. The consciousness spark came from a really short experience of tele-commuting.
I had to work from home for one day and we are at a phase of the project where a lot of communication is required (and which phase isn’t). That made me realize how important intra-team communication has become to my way of working.
Even though I had all the possible digital channels available (instant messaging, IP-telephony, video-conference, shared-desktops, old-fashion telephony,…), I really missed getting up from my chair and pointing with my finger to a given line of code of a given file. What’s more, I doubt very much I would have gotten the same experience and effectiveness with any other channel. I found instant messaging clumsy, slow and I had to revert to a good old phone call to say what I meant and for the other party to understand it.
I know of some projects that were run with no co-located teams and I can only imagine the amount of juggling the team members and managers had to go through to make it work (it if did at all). I think I would have finally managed if I had been a member of one of those projects, I would have learnt how to use the tools available, how to batch the number of questions, plan further ahead not to stall and… Hey! Wait! I have been a member of one of those projects! And you know what? It was killed. And now I realize that one of the causes of death was, amongst others, the happy idea of having the team span 3 parts of the world and use daily conference calls as the one and only channel.
And it is not that I think tele-commuting is a bad idea. On the contrary, I am very aware of the multiple benefits it brings onto the table. Heck! I would have killed for saving those 3-odd hours of my day wasted either inside my car or in public transport and having the work environment I consider the right one (and no, a basement with no direct sunlight, wooden chairs and conference table full of laptops does not make a good working environment now that you ask me). But I believe tele-working would definitely narrow the channel of communication, and that would take me time to digest and change my habits.