Expanding the Digital Radius of Action Instead of Worshipping Physical Presence

Instead of call­ing for pres­ence again after this long phase of forced dis­trib­uted work, now would be the per­fect time to decou­ple the employ­ees’ radius of action from their phys­i­cal pres­ence and to con­sis­tent­ly expand it into vir­tu­al space.

A cap­tain needs his crew on board just as much as the chess mas­ter needs his chess pieces on the board. Now, after the first wave of the pan­dem­ic has abat­ed, these nar­ra­tives of cult of pres­ence are lead­ing to a con­sid­er­able amount of per­sua­sion to lure employ­ees from the home office into the open-plan office. There is one argu­ment that is par­tic­u­lar­ly pop­u­lar: ran­dom encoun­ters allow for hap­py coin­ci­dences, short con­sul­ta­tions and per­haps even new ideas.

Of course, humans are social beings and like to inter­act in groups. In this respect, the office also ful­fills this func­tion and quite a few employ­ees are drawn to it pre­cise­ly for this rea­son. Whether this makes the work eas­i­er, the employ­ees more cre­ative and the com­pa­ny more inno­v­a­tive is of course anoth­er question.

Luck is what hap­pens when prepa­ra­tion meets opportunity.


An undis­put­ed advan­tage of phys­i­cal pres­ence seems to be the abil­i­ty to run into each oth­er, to start a con­ver­sa­tion, from which a good idea or a new solu­tion is born. I hope we all have seen that hap­pen. And we have often expe­ri­enced lone­li­ness in the home office, espe­cial­ly in recent weeks and months. Time spent togeth­er in the office cre­ates the oppor­tu­ni­ty for a hap­py coin­ci­dence. So far, so good.

But our phys­i­cal pres­ence is also always lim­it­ed to our very lim­it­ed radius of action in the form of one floor in an office build­ing. So it is always the same peo­ple who phys­i­cal­ly meet. This is also an effect of humans as social beings with a strong desire to belong to a group. Phys­i­cal pres­ence thus rein­forces the silos or at least does not com­bat the silo think­ing that is harm­ful to dig­i­tal and agile trans­for­ma­tion.

One can also cross paths in vir­tu­al space. Many peo­ple expe­ri­ence this every day in social media. Although this vir­tu­al space is exist­ing in many com­pa­nies in the form of an enter­prise social net­work, it is often either orphaned or, accord­ing to Con­way’s Law, a repli­ca of the large and small silos of the organization.

Any orga­ni­za­tion that designs a sys­tem (defined broad­ly) will pro­duce a design whose struc­ture is a copy of the organization’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion structure.

Conway’s Law

The cri­sis would now also offer the chance not to fall back into the famil­iar pat­tern best described as cult of pres­ence, but to con­scious­ly expand the radius of action of the indi­vid­ual into the vir­tu­al space of the Enter­prise Social Net­work and oth­er plat­forms (Slack, MS Teams, etc.). In this way peo­ple from dif­fer­ent silos could meet each oth­er much bet­ter and come up with real­ly inno­v­a­tive and over­ar­ch­ing ideas for digitalization.

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By Marcus Raitner

Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.

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