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Tips for Managing Multiple Locations

When employees work outside the main office, managing them successfully raises a unique set of challenges.

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Since the 1990s, many organizations have found themselves downsizing, rightsizing, capsizing, merging and acquiring. What often results is the creation of multiple worksites for various parts of a corporation.

If you find yourself wanting to expand to a multi-site business, life is more complicated than it looks. Generally speaking, the smaller sites tend not to have as formal an organizational structure or the clear reporting relationships of the main site. There are both positive and negative factors to consider, as well as inherent pitfalls every entrepreneur should avoid.

On the plus side, outside of the "corporate" or main office, the atmosphere is generally far more informal and more relaxed. Many employees feel an increased sense of autonomy and empowerment without having a specific manager or supervisor. Or perhaps management is on-site, but due to the smaller size of this new worksite, the working climate is more casual. Feeling more in charge of themselves, many employees become more motivated and productive. These workers also usually have more freedom to choose their own hours and work schedule. Even if the workday doesn't use flexible hours, workers tend to have more latitude. The combination of these factors-a relaxed atmosphere, self-motivated employees, positive interactions-often leads to increased creativity and productivity, things every entrepreneur wants.

On the other hand, a less formal structure carries some negatives as well. For instance, without the formal structure of a main office, some employees will slack off and feel too relaxed and informal. Non-self-directed people may not get the support and direction they need, when they need it. Frequently, without the oversight of management, employees will continue on a project, aiming in the wrong direction and unknowingly allowing errors or omissions to occur. Your employees in the field or off-site, meanwhile, can easily feel like poor orphans, with a "we" vs. "they" relationship. In this very common situation, the home-office employees make the big decisions and fail to include or communicate effectively or frequently enough with satellite offices.

Despite such challenges, you can succeed with a multi-site organization if you keep these suggestions in mind:

  1. Create a structure. It can be informal or formal-just make sure it clearly points out the reporting relationships.
  2. Specify formal and informal power relationships and lines of authority.
  3. State whether or not flexible hours, rigid or semi-rigid hours are in effect.
  4. Decide on mutually acceptable end points, productivity levels or outcomes.
  5. Identify clear, mutually owned goals, milestones and deadlines.
  6. Create both scheduled and impromptu on-site visits, videoconferencing or conference calls.
  7. Develop an atmosphere that allows off-site employees to communicate as soon and as often as possible with corporate.
  8. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Seek out opportunities for newsletters, phone calls, pictures, joint meetings, get-togethers and celebrations to encourage a positive atmosphere of camaraderie, cooperation and collaboration.

David G. Javitch, Ph.D., is an organizational psychologist and president of Javitch Associates, an organizational consulting firm in Newton, Massachusetts. With more than 20 years of experience working with executives among various industries, Javitch is an internationally recognized author, keynote speaker and consultant on key management and leadership issues.

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