Having worked in a few distributed teams my experience has been that with large disparate time zones, with people either getting up very early or having to stay in very late, working together can be very painful.
From my perspective working on complex, emergent solutions that require a lot of communication and free expression being co-located is the most conductive and least inhibiting way to work. Sure, on paper there are technical solutions for pretty much everything, though there is one thing they did not solve: Human nature.
From what I know Humans are “designed” to work best in direct interaction. Expressing, finding, establishing and maintaining shared values and a unified vision is something that has shown, at least for me, to be very time-consuming and costly trying to do it remotely.
Especially if you’re working with a new team the issues of trust, prejudices, fear of looking stupid and general unease can take weeks and months to be resolved, if they can be resolved at all.
I’ve been working with people remotely and had – despite honest efforts – severe communication and alignment problems. Then we finally met for a week of working co-located. And suddenly it clicked. It was the actual closeness, the direct face-to-face communication that broke barriers and tore down (hidden) misunderstandings that had been existent for months.
I look at current efforts (at least in my division) to co-locate teams and break up distributed structures. I see Design Thinking Workshops that emphasize high-energy, low-friction direct face-to-face interaction. I see the difference in my daily work between remote and co-located teams.
For me this tells me co-location is not a luxury but a necessity to fully unleash teams and employees potential. Companies that are driven by innovation, not lowest-cost, should use co-location as an investment to stay competitive. And I welcome any efforts towards this goal.