The 20-person staff she would manage is all located in Philadelphia; she is the only team member in New York (close to many of the key clients). Would it work to manage the team virtually? Would the organization accept such an arrangement?
It's certainly becoming more common to have virtual teams. According to The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance in the Changing World of Work by Cathleen Benko and Molly Anderson there are more than 13 million people in the U.S. (about 9 percent of employees) who work outside a traditional office space and another 10 million that telecommute at least one day per week. Worldwide, the authors note, the number of remote workers is expected to reach 1 billion in 2011. Many companies are adapting to this new workplace of virtual teams, utilizing Web 2.0 and social technologies to foster collaboration. But is the world of work ready for arrangements where the only virtual person in a department is the boss?
A Google search on the term "virtual boss" returned millions of results. The top ones were mostly software products designed to help with scheduling. There was an article or two about reporting to a virtual boss and how to stay connected to them. But the subject of how to manage a staff when they are at headquarters and you are in the field didn't crop up at the top of the results.
The Corporate Lattice examines many subjects about new ways to work and provides material on a lattice model of work (as opposed to the traditional corporate ladder model) that changes how careers are built, how work is done and how collaboration is encouraged. But while careers may be moving off the linear model of success to a flatter, multidirectional path, the book didn't address the specific problem my friend is grappling with-namely should she pursue this position on her terms, tailoring it to her career-life needs?
The book did say that career strategies on this latticed world should focus on mutual benefit. "Lopsided arrangements are usually short-lived, so maintain a spirit of collaboration and compromise. Sustainable options benefit both you and your employer."
That passage suggests to me that if she plans on moving forward with this opportunity she needs to sell the benefits of this organizational structure to her employer. She has to address how this new arrangement could provide benefits to the organization they don't currently enjoy; sell them on her leadership capabilities and her ability to lead from afar; and have a plan for how to manage the problems that virtual distance can cause.
Has anyone encountered a similar structure? If so, how did it work out?