MANAGING FROM A DISTANCE:
DIRECTING THE ACTIVITIES OF A DISPERSED WORKFORCE
PURPOSE OF THE WORKSHOP
This course was originally designed for people who manage telecommuters. It still serves
that purpose for many firms.
But it has evolved today into a set of management practices for people who manage in a
similar but much more common kind of contemporary work arrangement. This
arrangement has come to be known loosely as the “Virtual Organization”.
Virtual Organizations consist of business groups who are joined in an active alliance with
their consultants, contractors, and outsourced vendors, and who combine their
complementary skills in the focused pursuit of a common strategic purpose.
People in such a virtual organization rarely work under the same roof, or even in the same
community or national culture. They bridge their physical separation through the creative
use of electronic tools and a different way of managing work activities.
This dramatic change in how many of us work raises two challenges in managing that
• The first managerial challenge is making the transition from managing time
(activity-based) to managing projects (results based).
• The second managerial challenge is figuring out a way to in fact produce those
results when most of the involved players operate remotely from each other and
from their managers.
This workshop teaches managers how to grasp and interpret those challenges, and then to
adopt a fresh set of practices to meet them successfully.
To meet the objectives described on the previous page, this course covers the following
1. MANAGEMENT PRACTICES: For distance management to be effective, peoples’
tasks and responsibilities must be absolutely clear. We begin the course, therefore, by
showing participants how to take their present management style and adapt it to
handle the following things:
• Establishing common mission, goals, and a sense of collective purpose.
• Creating a sense of group interdependence leading ultimately to larger degrees of
• Giving members a sense of the value of group problem-solving and decision-
making in getting things done.
• Establishing accountability, both personally and as an operating unit, as a
function of how assigned work gets done.
• Introducing the use of several Project Management techniques to distance
management, particularly the “up-front” ones of early work definition and
performance contracting, and the “back-end” ones of task allocation, time-lining,
and periodic monitoring and corrective action-taking.
• Establishing membership management, by seeing to it that the group continues to
attract and retain high quality contributors.
• Fashioning shared cultural and operating values, so that people at a distance can
increase the range of issues in which they can make decisions on their own.
2. COMMUNICATION TOOLS & TECHNIQUES: For distance management to be
effective, there must be in place a management system where people can have ready
access to one another, and to their knowledge. In this portion of the course, therefore,
we focus on these things:
• We start with a quick review of how managers identify others social styles from a
distance, and how the application of that works in a distance environment.
• We show how managers establish protocols for how information can quickly be exchanged.
• We urge managers to adopt as broad an array as possible of communications
media, and avoid an over-reliance on e-mail
• We illustrate the four circumstances when face-to-face communication is
• We set guidelines that specify how quickly offsite people are expected to respond
to phone calls, e-mail, and the like.
• We help establish information flow systems, which deal with what people should
communicate about, with whom, through what media, and we cover document
references everyone should have, such as schedules, action plans, decisions,
assignments, and the ways people keep abreast of progress and changes.
• We cover the creation of working documents, how diverse ideas are ideally
solicited, summarized, exchanged for editing, and put together in a timely final
• We describe how team members engage in ordinary socialization from a distance:
how they disclose appropriate personal information, solicit and supply
comfortable feedback, express appreciation, apologize for mistakes, volunteer
for jobs, acknowledge assignments, and so on.
• We address cross-cultural issues in firms where that is an issue by offering sensible ground rules that are generic to all cultural encounters, and how one
learns to navigate them.
3. STAFFING & SELECTION ISSUES: There is extensive research which strongly
suggests that there is a recognizable profile for both managers and team members who
are likely to succeed in a distance working relationship. This section of the course
covers these issues:
• The characteristics and behaviors of people who do best in a results-oriented
• The talents, skills and knowledges to look for, encourage, and develop in people
who are members of a distance team.
• Supports and services to provide team members working at a distance, to
maximize the chances of their producing superior work.
• Training, coaching, and performance feedback for the distance worker.
4. PERFORMANCE STANDARDS: By far the largest challenge for the distance manager is performance management. We show participants how the following things
are handled in a distance work relationship:
• How to set and communicate clear performance expectations.
• How to create performance contracts that motivate members
• How to facilitate the delivery of performance by removing obstacles that inhibit
• How to maintain performance over time and over distance by tying it in to the
organization’s system of rewards.
5 DAILY OPERATIONS: There are a variety of actions and choices that managers
make which do not fit neatly into the previous four categories, but which are critical in
the operational management of a distance work relationship. They include but are not
• Creating a very few policies, but stating them clearly and administering them
fairly and uniformly.
• Creating rules and procedures in such a way that members can adapt them readily
to local needs.
• Keeping on top of peoples’ work output that is not micromanaging
• Criteria for deciding on the number and frequency of field visits.
• Criteria for deciding on the number, character, and frequency of reports from the
• Getting into the habit of committing to writing anything that has to do with job
duties and expectations, performance standards, and measurable outcomes and
6. A SURVEY OF “BEST PRACTICES”: This final section of the program consists of a listing of Distance Management Best Practices as distilled from both Corporate
experience and University research.
WHO SHOULD ATTEND THIS COURSE?
Past participants who have reported the most benefit from this program are:
• Those who typically manage a workforce out in the field, usually in small offices or
scattered project teams dispersed over several states or even over a few countries
• Those who have responsibility for overseeing the activities of telecommuters, “road
warriors”, and other professionals who travel frequently and extensively;
• Those who manage activities that have been outsourced to a variety of consultants
COURSE LENGTH & LOGISTICS
This is a two-day workshop. It is highly interactive. Participants receive large amounts of
information on this topic, but the bulk of their learning comes from a variety of problem
discussions, role plays, case studies, and other simulations which they work on together in
small groups. We work very closely with client firms to make sure that we understand
their management and communications culture, to insure that the generic course above fits
that context. Participants complete two self-diagnostic instruments, and receive a variety
of handouts and references.
NOTE: We have successfully conducted this program in a one-day version that focuses on a few high-lights and key concepts. But the ideal and desirable length of the course is two