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Managing at a distance

Posted: 01 Nov 2005     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:matrix  distance  management  employee  employer 

There are many challenges to the act of managing and being managed. Not least is the question of how to deal with staff or managers based in distant locations.

Having one department in four or more—and sometimes, a great deal more—locations is not unusual. However, this fact requires not only appropriate management, but also people who can rise to the occasion and be comfortable with not having the boss in an office just down the corridor.

The matrix reporting line is one of the solutions to distant management. This means a firm reporting line to a remote functional or business head and a dotted line to the local general manager. The matrix reporting line does keep management tight and involved with as much contact as necessary, so goals can be set, processes planned, activities organized, staff motivated and events controlled—but with the sort of quasi or fuzzy matrix common in some organizations, close management involvement is not consistently present.

This apparent lack of immediate supervisory support is one of the reasons for a high staff turnover rate. The nature of such a structure imposes extra obligations on managers to maintain regular and frequent contact with all direct reports. We are not talking about a phone call whenever a crisis blows up, but a weekly conversation to check signals, steer and affirm. Will all managers who fail in this regard please put up their hands? I think we would all be guilty at some point of dropping below a perfect standard. And each time we do, an added burden of demotivation is placed unnecessarily on the shoulders of distant employees.

The best managers and supervisors in the organization are those that are constantly available, guiding, supporting and coaching. Constant management makes the staff feel sustained. The results, needless to say, are better employee retention and consequently, higher productivity.

Managing over a distance needs an even greater effort because we no longer can do it by walking about, but have to find the frequent time, in days of interruptions, to ensure that contacts are repeated and strong. Managers could also help themselves by screening hires for a degree of comfort with low maintenance when remote reporting goes with the job. Employees in turn are encouraged to develop a habit of self-motivation. Taken together, we can enhance the working environment across the organization.

- Philip Chatting

Global Sources

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