Open Thread: Can Technology Ever Bridge the Gap for Remote Teams?

Entrepreneur and VC Mark Suster believes that “in-person” teams are much more effective than those that collaborate remotely. Suster says that it’s hard for distributed teams to communicate effectively when so much communication is non-verbal, and notes how difficult it is to develop company norms, beliefs and, ultimately, culture, without office chatter. Suster is talking from his experiences with startup companies, but many of his points would also apply to more established businesses, too.

Having worked in both dysfunctional “in-person” teams and distributed teams that were highly effective, I’d say that Suster’s opinion is probably not always true, though it is hard to argue with his point that building a startup is easier if everyone works from one location, particularly because it is so difficult to establish a company culture within a distributed team. I also agree with Suster that it’s more important for certain team members to be present and available in the office — such as the CEO and CTO — than others.

However, thanks to the Internet, working in a distributed team is easier now than it ever was before. Technologies such as video conferencing, IRC and IM, and collaboration software, like Yammer and Socialtext, are helping to bring distributed teams closer together. And not only are the tools that that we use getting better by the day, but our knowledge of how best to use them to work effectively is improving, too.

So, given that many of our readers have personal experience of working in distributed teams I thought I would post an open thread asking for your opinion: Do you agree with Mark Suster’s view that “in-person” teams are more effective than distributed teams? If so, can technology (such as collaboration apps, VoIP and video chat) ever bridge that gap for distributed teams?

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Report: The Real-Time Enterprise