Incessant email, unending strings of conference calls, talking with people half-way around the globe whom you have never met, wondering how to manage a workforce you don’t see…do these situations sound familiar?

In 2002, while leading the North American Division for a large IT and management consultancy, this state of affairs began to keep Dr. Karen Sobel Lojeski up at night. Day after day she read about how technology had transformed the workplace. And indeed it had. But was it all for the better or were there unintended consequences that we had not yet accounted for? For example:

  • Why, after more than a decade of technological communication were people in the workplace feeling increasingly displaced and isolated?
  • How could it be that with almost unlimited flexibility on where and when one worked, many people were feeling more stressed than ever?
  • What was causing her to believe that productivity was actually decreasing and not increasing, as the popular press would have people believe?

As she started to dig through the research on virtual work, Karen found to her surprise that nothing could explain these observations. Much of the research was based on student samples in situations that did not reflect the complex set of dynamics always active in organizations. Business models were outdated, many of the assumptions about management practices had become irrelevant and no new theory had been built around today’s circumstances.

After embarking on original research based on her assumptions, Karen uncovered a radical new way of understanding what was happening. While physical distances still posed challenges, it was social and emotional distances that were exponentially rising. Ironically — as the world shrank in terms of communication reach — huge cracks in human relations were shaking the very foundations of work.

What she discovered was Virtual Distance, which she describes as a psychological distance that begins to grow when we rely heavily on information and communication technologies. Karen developed a way to measure Virtual Distance quantitatively and to show how much it was impacting an organization’s critical success factors. Hence Virtual Distance International was born, providing a new leadership model for business and personal success in the 21st century.


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