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Assessing physical distance

The most comprehensive article thus far on different forms of distance was published by Antonakis and Atwater in 2002. Since then, authors have directed their interest in leader-follower relations stronger to the impact of physical distance. Acknowledging the differences in measurement tools, a wide variance of outcomes exist. Andressen et al. (2012) declare virtuality to be moderating the effect between transformational leadership and self-leadership. The researchers measure virtuality as the combination of physical distance and communication frequency. In their study, computer-mediated interaction frequency was assessed in relation to the overall interaction frequency between followers and team leader while an index by O’Leary and Cummings (2007) represented physical distance. Study outcomes revealed that virtuality moderated the influence of transformational leadership on follower self-leadership. In addition, virtuality was discovered to moderate the relation between team empowerment and process improvement (Kirkman et al., 2004). The impact of transformational, contingent reward, active and passive management-by-exception on follower performance was found to be moderated by physical distance in a study by Howell and Hall-Merenda (1999). Research by Howell and colleagues (2005) suggests that physical distance moderates the effect of transformational and contingent reward leadership on business unit performance.

O’Leary and Cummings (2007, p. 434) view geographical dispersion as a composition not of two elements, but of three: (1) spatial; the average spatial distance, (2) temporal; the extent to which working hours overlap in different time zones, and (3) configurational distance; the number of sites at which individuals are located, their isolation from each other, and the balance between subgroups. The single dimensions however are not mutually exclusive and overlap in many cases. In contrast, absence of temporal dispersion can still pose challenges to leader-subordinate or intra-team collaboration as geographical distance might still be high (e.g., one party in Germany and the other in South Africa). Howell and Hall-Merenda (1999) and Howell and colleagues (2005) measure physical distance adapting an instrument by Klauss and Bass (1982). Respondents are asked to indicate how close to or how distant they work from their leaders. Neufeld and colleagues (2010) assess physical distance with three items used by Kerr and Jermier (1978). Golden and Veiga (2008) used a method by Wiesenfeld, Raghuram and Garud (1999) to determine the degree of virtual work by asking respondents to indicate their average amount of a work week spent working in virtual mode. Antonakis and Atwater (2002) suggest to measure physical distance as per objective geographical distance between leader and follower.

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