Maintaining Good Communications, Relationships are Essential to Managing a Remote Office

By: Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division

Guest contribution to ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership’s March 2013 newsletter.

They told me I would wear many hats if I oversaw the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) only division in Washington, D.C., but I did not realize that in addition to managing the association’s outreach to Capitol Hill and the executive branch that I would also learn how to operate video teleconference equipment, show employees how to fill in their payroll, and manage all maintenance issues with our row house office. It really gives new meaning to “Other Duties As Assigned” in my job description.

While the distance between the D.C. and Schaumburg, Ill., offices, where AVMA’s headquarters is located, is 725 miles, we view the situation as a challenge, not an obstacle. Whether we have questions on AVMA’s policies, human resources issues, or any of the myriad of issues that come with running an offsite division, such as building management, we cannot do our jobs without their support and work hard to develop close working relationships with our colleagues.

To facilitate open communications between the offices and better collaborate on projects, we use a variety of communications tools, including: texts, email, teleconference, Skype, video conference, webinars, and in-person meetings. Using the proper communications channels helps to minimize the distance between the two offices and create a sense of camaraderie that might not otherwise be there without face-to-face contact. Building and fostering these relationships through the various channels, coupled with visits to and from Schaumburg when necessary helps to create personal bonds and ensures that we are coordinating on projects being led there or here. As the division director, I have to be flexible and willing to learn new communications tools, but sometimes I realize that the old fashioned “get on a plane” for meetings is the best way to achieve the desired outcome, and I offer this option to my employees when necessary.

In a small, remote office, it is also very important to have a staff that gets along well with one another and is open and honest. We have become very tight knit, which helps because I trust my staff and can hold them accountable, even when I am away from the office on travel. When hiring, I look for candidates who would thrive in this kind of working environment and who are willing to work hard to establish good relationships with our staff at headquarters.

Being separate from our H.R. and IT divisions, I also have the challenge of ensuring that all of my employees’ needs are being met. This means that oftentimes I am here on the weekends helping to do repairs on the building, working with the IT department to set up new equipment or troubleshoot issues, and enforcing all safety protocols—such as emergency procedures—for my staff. I also participate in a weekly call with the other division directors at headquarters to ensure that I can communicate any changes in AVMA’s policies or procedures back to my group and so that the organization’s annual priorities are clearly understood among my staff.

Though the job does present some challenges, I find it to be a very rewarding experience for both me and my staff.

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