The Three A’s of Remote Work and CSCW

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At MIT I was fortunate to have Hiroshi Ishii as one of my most esteemed colleagues at the Media Lab. Professor Ishii is a giant in a field called CSCW, or “Computer Supported Cooperative Work” which has existed as a subfield of the Computer Human Interface (CHI) world since the 80s. There’s a great overview over on Wikipedia of CSCW that I’ve adapted below.

Let’s start with the 3 As:

  • Awareness: Knowing what others are doing.
    On Slack that might be a status message.
  • Articulation: Partitioning the work to be done.
    On Trello that might be a discrete card.
  • Appropriation: How a technology gets used/reused.
    I have 6 tips for distributed teamwork here.

Another way to look at it distributed work is with the CSCW (“Timespace Groupware”) Matrix :

Same Time
SYNC
Different Time
ASYNC
Same Place
COLOCATED
Face to face
interaction
Continuous
task
Different Place
DISTRIBUTED
Remote
interaction
Communicate +
coordination

Note that when you consider the high-speed and ubiquitous videoconference tech available to us today, our experiences today are blurred with respect to the SYNC axis wrt distributed vs colocated. And there’s a gazillion ways to address ASYNC communication ranging from whiteboards to messaging apps that let us work across all timezones with fluidity.

I’ll refer back to this table in future posts because it is so useful. The research field (where I originally came from) is chock full of these kinds of tools that we’ve easily forgotten in the tech industry.  —JM


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