In my first post about remote working I introduced the five ingredients for successful remote work. Today I cover the first one – the purple space. It is a concept invented by Line Jehle in her book Closeness at a Distance: Leading Virtual Groups to High Performance. You can also find a quick introduction in this article.
The three elements of the purple space
For me the purple space is one of the first and most important things to consider in a remote working context. I’ll walk you through this with an example of six co-workers in three locations (red, green, blue). There are three aspects of purple space:
- Purpose – Do you work together on building a product? Do you all work in the same function and want to share best practices? Do you support a customer by solving his problem? This is the „frame“ of the purple space. The clearer you are about the purpose, the better you can define the tools and techniques for working remotely.
- Location – Often you need team members that are dispersed over the country or even over the world. Historically you would have co-located them in one location. There are multiple reasons why this very expensive (travel costs, loss of time) or even impossible (e.g. one team member doesn’t get a visa). A virtual location (=space) is the solution.
- Cultures – In most of the cases different cultures come together. For sure this applies in a global context, where you could have team members from America, EMEA and Asia. But also when you work across three locations of a company in the same country, you might have different cultures (e.g. the blue location is more risk averse than the red). And even when a few random people come together for a discussion, you will see different personalities. Different cultures and personalities are often represented by colors. This is the reason for calling it purple space. You mix red and blue and a little bit of green.
The challenges of „purple space“
Although the concept of a „purple space“ sounds straightforward and easy to implement, I found it very challenging in practice. Let me give you three scenarios, where I’ve seen challenges.
Purpose is too wide or unclear
Maybe you experienced one of these situations as well. There’s a regular phone conference with 30+ participants about project updates. This is a case where the purpose is likely too wide. The consequence is that participants don’t feel a belonging to this space and don’t contribute with all their energy. Can you narrow the scope and number of participants? Maybe you need more than one purple space?
The purple space is in one location
I believe this is the case in many remote working setups around the world. Collaboration happens in one location (red) and the remote locations just dial in via a conference bridge. In this case co-workers do not have equal communication capabilities. The red location has face-2-face interaction and probably knows each other well, while the remote locations have a hard time to follow the conversation and can’t see body language and visual cues. Co-workers in remote locations don’t feel a belonging to the group. If you want to experience this feeling yourself, just dial into one of your regular face-2-face interactions. Or you go to a party, where you are not invited and try to join a group of people that know each other very well.
One location/culture/personality dominates
This challenge is more subtle and can’t be recognized as easy as the previous ones. In the picture the culture of the blue location is dominant. The co-workers from the blue location have a more formal attire, which could mean they have a more formal working style. The other four co-workers have a less formal working style, so they don’t feel equal and as a consequence not a strong belonging to the group. So in reality the purple space is a blue space. I’ll dedicate an extra post on the culture challenge, so stay tuned.
What colors does your co-working context have?
Now over to you. What are the colors of your co-working environment? Which locations/cultures/personalities do you have? Have you experienced the challenges above? Do you see other challenges? Love to hear from you in the comments or via social media.