Why telecommuting causes leadership problems

by L&D30 Aug 2016
If a supervisor is communicating virtually with the rest of the team who are physically together, there's a good chance it will result in leadership problems.

This includes power struggles, confusion and communication issues, which can be a pain in the neck for leaders when they're trying to get work done.

That’s according to new research conducted by Georgia Southern University and Brigham Young University.

"We found that people are biased toward the people they are physically located with," said Cody Reeves, assistant professor of Organisational Leadership and Strategy at BYU.

"People who are working remotely on a team can be at a disadvantage when it comes to being seen as a leader."

The answer to this predicament?

The researchers argue that if you want an effective leader when you have telecommuters on the team, then ensure the leader is either physically located with the majority of the group, or make sure everyone is telecommuting.

Reeves and colleagues tested their theories of leadership by setting up 84 four-person teams of college students, then randomly assigning them team configurations.

Some were physically together, some were partly co-located and partly virtual, while others were completely virtual (interaction only through technology).

The researchers then had the teams complete a decision-making activity.

For this situation, they acted as top management for a fictional Hollywood studio with the task of green-lighting the production of one or more screenplays.

They then answered a survey about the experience where they rated other team members.

"We learned that if you want to have a clear leader emerge, you are better off having them all located face to face or all working remotely," Reeves said.

"It's when you start mixing and matching -- some on site, some virtual -- that's when the real confusion comes into play."

Reeves argues that the research should give companies pause for thought when sizing up telecommuting policies.

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