Proximity: How Much Does It Really Matter?

We are facing a great problem at work — growth.  With that, comes the whole notion of space planning to house new people joining the team.  And adding space and things like cubes, phones and so on do has cost.  As I enter into this space planning mode, I can’t help but wonder if it would be worth the effort to look at the whole team and assess their proximity to one another while I am doing the space planning.

So, the big question is that if I am going to make a facilities investment, what would be the improvement in productivity for our Agile software engineering teams if a vast majority of them have improved proximity to one another.  Right now, most people will travel to meetings on the same floor of the building.  I’m thinking they miss a lot of interesting and inciteful “drive-by meetings” (as I like to call them) because they lack close proximity.  So, how much is it worth?  Is it worth the effort to care about it?


Published by


I am a software lab manager in the Corporate Research Lab at 3M in St. Paul.

6 thoughts on “Proximity: How Much Does It Really Matter?”

  1. I think it really comes down to the individual employee. Good developers find ways to be more

    effective with each other. They find nooks and crannies to work together. They relocate temporarily

    and work in each other’s cubes if there is room. If they work at home, they use video-conferencing

    tools and instant messaging to make their presence nearly real-time.

    But, for the “average” employee, I think being removed from the rest of your team can fail

    miserably. Those employees may lack the desire to do what is best for the project or may not have the personal drive and desire to see the project succeed.

    If you can find the right people, then you can have a successful distributed team.

  2. As for remote employees who aren’t even in the same building or on the same campus – it’s even more important to have the right people. By “remote” I mean work at home 100% of the time. Employees with the wrong personality type who work remotely can hide mistakes and make excuses easily since they don’t have anybody stopping by their desk every once in a while. I realize this is a very pessimistic view to take of an employee – to think that someone would have such terrible integrity, but it’s something to consider.

    1. Thanks, Mike…I definitely agree that it takes the right person to be able to be effective remotely. I have only known one or two that can do it well. I have seen others try and fail. Personally, when I was doing project work I felt more effective when I had the social contact with others on the team. I don’t think I could pull off a 100% remote/telecommuting job for that reason.

      Managing telecommuters is even more challenging as it is hard to gauge the vibe, or non-verbal cues, that are so important to determine when and how to intervene into situations. The new tools such as webcams and the like help, but I prefer to have my team nearby.

      Appreciate the feedback!

  3. My opinion is that it does matter, but there is also a delicate balance to maintain. When working with remote teams, we try to make sure that there are full feature teams at the location and well-defined and frequent (at least daily) touch points back to headquarters and we always work to get those teams co-located in the same space.

    The trade-off is between team and personal productivity. I do think that most individuals are for periods of time more productive when they have privacy and seclusion, but that it always comes at the expense of the larger group being part of what they are doing. Taken to its extreme, it leads to documentation replacing human interaction – something we all know is counter to what we are trying to accomplish. I also think that seclusion leads to distraction – co-location tends to help keep everyone on the team focused on what the team needs now. Your teammates help keep you from following tangents that are unrelated to the current work in progress.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s