There can be moments of clarity in the midst of a project when lessons learned make a lasting impression — and have the potential to positively guide future projects.

I lived this scenario a few years back, experiencing the value of co-located teams. In this case, cows threatened to interfere with the construction of a client’s transmission line. 

It seemed that a farmer had put a herd of cattle out to pasture near the construction site. Immediately, the on-site team got in touch with some key contacts for a quick resolution, rather than stopping work to determine who the cattle belonged to or how to get them back where they belonged.

Long story short: With the benefit of being in close proximity, our team was able to get in contact with the landowner, and within hours, a potential bovine emergency had been averted.

While not exactly typical, this situation is precisely the kind that a co-located team can be suited to address.

What Is Co-Location?

Co-location is a practice employed by companies when internal staff resources are tight. With co-location, these companies share their workspace with a core team from a third-party firm that is retained to fill in the gaps.

In addition to solving immediate staffing needs, this embedded approach makes it possible for the host company to achieve greater efficiency, speed problem-solving and improve communication and information sharing. While co-location assignments typically last six to 12 months, many stretch into years.

Co-location is an option that makes more sense for some situations than others. It tends to work best on projects and tasks that require substantial collaboration and quick response time. As the cattle example illustrates, community relations and landowner issues management are prime candidates for co-location. In those cases, the contract team can act as a buffer for the host company, taking care of sensitive issues so the remainder of the project team can stay focused on their work. Construction and real estate documentation issues can be handled in real time with co-located staff.

Onboarding and offboarding speed is another reason understaffed companies might prefer a co-location approach. 

Contractors experienced in co-location — especially those with large, global staffs to draw from — can typically ramp up quickly and provide a core team with the skillsets and environmental fit needed to make the project successful.

When a project needs change, the co-located team can add or subtract members to and from the team to meet current needs. When the work is complete and the co-location team is disbanded, the host company avoids the costly and time-consuming offboarding requirements required in a typical employee-employer relationship.  

From someone who has been there and done that, I would add that among the biggest fans of co-location are the people who make up these teams. The ability to walk over to another person’s desk to collaborate on a solution to a problem that has just popped up can be invaluable. In my experience, co-located teams do great work — and often get more done.

Joab Ortiz is a project manager providing stakeholder management services at Burns & McDonnell. In his role, he supports clients on engagement and outreach strategies.