In an increasingly globalized business environment in which organizational teams span states, countries and even continents, managers and leaders must be adept at distance management. However, according to a recent report by The Conference Board, distance managers are not as effective as they think.
“There are all these things like team collaboration and being a good listener that managers thought they were doing really well on, [but] employees didn’t necessarily [agree],” said Linda Barrington, research director and labor economist. “It’s a problem of perception.”
She believes one of the challenges of being a distance manager is ensuring your distant employees feel connected and integrated. According to The Conference Board, the most effective and successful managers are good at cultivating relationships, focusing on outcomes and developing employees.
“We don’t think about the perception [of] the distant worker,” Barrington said. “Dispersed workers tend to assume when they don’t know what’s going on, it’s because they’re distant. That means the manager has to work that much harder to explain those things.”
It’s important that managers do not penalize distant employees just because they’re not in the same office.
“It is everything we say about managing, just magnified,” Barrington said. “One of the biggest skills is finding the time as a manager to put in the extra effort to make sure everybody has the same opportunities [and] is experiencing the same amount of attention.”
This also means providing distant workers with the same development opportunities. However, according to The Conference Board’s study, distant employees actually receive fewer development experiences. The best modalities for developing them are coaching, developmental assignments and informal feedback — and managers need to improve on all three areas, the study said.
Because of the recession, businesses are seeking to eliminate inefficiencies, so it’s critical that managers become efficient at distance management, especially since it’s not going away.
“The forces that have driven us to widely dispersed workforces are long-run trends that aren’t going away,” Barrington said. “Nobody’s going to become insular and not be a global company anymore [because of] this recession.”