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Whatever Happened to Far-Flung Work Teams?

Network technology and digital communications were supposed to have profound implications for how business is conducted. They have, of course—just not in the ways people expected.

Among the predictions were that business travel would reduce or disappear; that startups would be able to, well, start up in depressed and less-expensive regions, thus benefiting both the nascent company and the region; and that workers would be able to shun expensive cities in favor of logging into their jobs from healthier, cheaper locales.

But as Tim Harford argues, the more wired and wireless we become, the more likely we want to stay where the action is in dirty, expensive cities.

Harford makes some good points. Though airlines continue to fail and Blackberries continue to improve, business travel doesn't seem to be abating any time soon. And in my IM-enabled office, people are just as likely to follow up a message by going over to their coworker's cubicle to talk.

I'm not certain if Harford is right—that technology built to enable remote, isolated communication actually forces us into more face-to-face contact. A study would have to be designed to measure the true effects. However, I wouldn't be surprised if he were right. Clustering is a common phenomenon in business.

Ever notice how major cities have merchant districts, such as a diamond district or a textile district, which seems to run counter to every assumption about direct competition? And let's not forget the clustering instinct of immigrants. Perhaps colleagues who share common goals and complaints under the banner of their company similarly need to stick together.

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