When the Boss Is Away: Manager–Worker Separation and Worker Performance in a Multisite Software Maintenance Organization

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.2016.1107

Distributed work is ubiquitous in modern organizations, as are situations where managers and workers interact remotely. Past research postulates the existence of costs of manager–worker separation, but empirical evidence is scant and inconclusive. Building on the literature on manager–worker separation and distributed work we claim that the effect of manager–worker separation on worker performance varies depending on three factors: task complexity, collocation of the worker with experienced peers, and manager supervisory experience. We investigate our arguments by developing hypotheses in the context of a multisite IT services organization, where we collected data encompassing 13,435 software maintenance tasks executed within a two years period. We find that the hypothesized interaction effects are significant and can give rise to costs of manager–worker separation. However, our results also pinpoint the existence of situations where benefits of manager–worker separation are present, that is, where remote supervision leads to superior worker performance. In practice, our findings suggest that organizations should consider task, work configuration, and manager characteristics when deciding whether workers and managers should be collocated.

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