Many managers use the walk-by technique to help their employees stay engaged during the workday. Managers who lead groups that are not all in one location, however, can’t use the same techniques to keep tabs on employees. Successful long-distance managers have to learn to treat their employees like adults by setting clear expectations and then letting them alone to do their work. When an employee works, or how he or she gets the work done makes little difference. All that matters is that the results are delivered.
When managing from afar succeeds, there is a high level of trust between the manager and the employee. The manager believes the person is responsible enough to get the job done. This type of shift in style can be difficult as most managers are more used to a face-time oriented culture.
Telecommuting has become more common in the American workplace today. About 13 million corporate employees in the United State will telecommute more than eight hours a week in 2008, compared with six million in 2000.
Mastering the art of managing from afar can be tricky. Managers of dispersed staffs also must master the skill of communication. Some managers like to use instant messaging to keep everyone in touch. Others use virtual meetings, which can be tricky when people are in different time zones.
At the same time, other elements of management become easier. Performance reviews can be straight-forward when expectations are very clear. Also, employees who are allowed to telecommute are often happier and stay in their jobs longer than those who don’t. The reduction in turnover can save money, especially in the cost of recruiting and training new employees.
Best Buy is taking long-distance management to a new level with a project called results-only work environment, or ROWE. Participating employees are allowed to work virtually anywhere, anytime as long as their work is completed on time. By next March, about three-quarters of Best Buy’s employees will be using the program. Cindy Holker, the senior director for Best Buy’s online store says that the managers who do the best with the program are those who are good at setting clear expectations. The program has helped retain employees in an especially volatile environment.
Long-distance work arrangements are not suited to all jobs. Hewlett-Packard pioneered the telecommuting trend, yet, the company’s new CIO now wants more information technology workers in the office to increase brainstorming and teamwork.