The Three A’s of Remote Work and CSCW

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.

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