This month’s Harvard Business Review (HBR) features a series of fascinating articles on the 21st – Century Workspace. In a sidebar to one of them, Workspaces That Move People, reference is made to the 1977 book, entitled Managing the Flow of Technology, by Thomas J Allen.

Allen was the first to measure the strong negative correlation between physical distance and frequency of communication. His ‘Allen Curve’ estimates that we are four times as likely to communicate regularly with someone sitting six feet away as with someone 60 feet away, and that we almost never communicate with colleagues on separate floors or in different buildings.

Since then, of course, there has been a revolution in communication and the configuration of businesses. The office is no longer just a physical space and surely distance-shrinking technologies like email and video conferencing must have broken the Allen curve, removing the correlation between communication and distance?

Well, no. In a triumph for common sense, underpinned by scientific studies, it appears that as technology which enables remote working accelerates, so does the importance of proximity. The Allen curve can actually hold its own in the modern era.

As cited in the HBR, work by Ben Waber, president and CEO of Sociometric Solutions, shows that both face-to-face and digital communications follow the Allen curve. For example, engineers who shared a physical office were 20% more likely to stay in touch digitally than those who worked elsewhere. So, as the piece concludes, “Out of sight, out of sync.”

At the heart of this lies the importance of relationships. Data continue to indicate that digital communication can’t replace face-to-face interaction. Whatever technology permits, we still want to do business with people we know and trust and there is no better method for establishing and nurturing this essential rapport than spending time together.

One enduring phenomenon from 1977 leads to another; this was the year which saw the arrival of Abbott Mead Vickers, the UK’s largest advertising agency, a position which, as AMV BBDO, it has held since 1995.

Peter Mead, one of AMV’s co-founders, and someone whom I respect to the point of distraction, launched his new book this week, When in Doubt, Be Nice. Lessons from a Lifetime in Business. Peter describes the work as a ‘buffet book’, “something that can be dipped in and out of and read very selectively.” So in I dipped, hoping and expecting to find a bite-size treat to support my belief in the power, now more than ever, of fully-functioning, long-term, mutually valuable relationships.

Disguised under a slightly worrying heading, A Lesson I Learnt from an Estate Agent, this is what I found, quoted in full:

When estate agents are buying or selling property, they often say that there are only three things that are important in the process: location, location, location. I absolutely believe that in a similar vein in business, and probably in life, there are only three things that are important: relationships, relationships, relationships. It doesn’t matter how smart, how bright or how good you are, if you can’t develop relationships you will make little progress either personally or professionally.

Peter’s book is true to its billing, packed with charm and smarts, and a timely reminder that doing the right thing and making money, while not easy, can be combined successfully.

And as if to make the point, as an invitee to the launch event, I paid the same amount for the book as if I had bought it on Amazon. So, when in doubt, be nice but when not in doubt (and the book is worth it), charge full price!