College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

Summer 8-17-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Suzanne Bell, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Alice Stuhlmacher, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Douglas Cellar, Ph.D.


The objectives of this research were to examine the growing organizational trends of distributed work, reliance on various media for communication, and increased diversity in the workforce. Napier and Ferris' (1993) theory of distance, which includes structural, functional, and psychological distance, served as a framework for much of this research. Leader-Member Exchange theory (LMX), which Napier and Ferris (1993) translated into the functional distance component of their theory, was used to inform hypotheses on supervisor-subordinate relationships and performance ratings. Communication theories of media richness and social presence were used as a basis for the hypotheses involving communication. Finally, the similarity-attraction paradigm, social identity/social categorization theory, and relational demography theory were used to formulate hypotheses involving diversity. One hundred and ninety-eight managers of remote and co-located subordinates from various organizations provided the following information via online survey: LMX quality, demographic information about both individuals, frequency and mode of communication, and subordinate in­ role and OCB performance. The proposed model was tested using SEM.

LMX was positively related to communication frequency/richness, IRB, OCBI, and OCBO performance ratings, lending support for the functional distance component of Napier and Ferris's (1993) theory. However, the structural distance component of their framework was not supported. Results indicated that physical distance did not impact communication frequency/richness and did not prevent high quality relationships from emerging. Supervisors who occasionally met face-to-face with their subordinates had higher LMX than those who never saw their subordinates in person. LMX was found to be higher in remote dyads than in co­ located ones. A reverse causality hypothesis was tested that supervisors allow their best subordinates to work remotely. Results were in the expected direction, but did not reach statistical significance.

LMX was positively related to communication frequency/richness. Communication frequency/richness was invariant across location and LMX seemed to act as a buffer and offset some of the negative effects of distance. Although communication frequency/richness was directly related to LMX, it was inversely related to performance ratings. This relationship may be better understood by examining the content of communications. Thus, communication valence and type should be examined in future research. MSEM indicated communication frequency/richness moderated the LMX and OCBO relationship. LMX and OCBO had a stronger, positive relationship when there was high communication and a weaker, positive relationship when there was low communication.

Little support was found for the psychological distance component ofNapier and Ferris's (1993) theory when examining age, race, and gender differences. Gender and age similarity were not related to communication frequency/richness. Racially homogeneous dyads had higher communication frequency/richness than heterogeneous dyads but this did not translate into increased LMX or performance ratings. Age and gender differences were not related to performance ratings. Racially different subordinates received higher IRB ratings than racially similar ones. Follow-up analyses indicated that this was not due to actual race of subordinates or supervisors. Physical distance was examined as a moderator of the demographic similarity and LMX relationships and demographic similarity and performance ratings relationships, but no support was found for the moderation.

Several implications can be drawn from the results. As organizations move to distributed work arrangements, they can have confidence that physical distance will not impact performance ratings. It is recommended that managers and subordinates have access to rich media and meet face-to-face occasionally to reinforce bonds and offset any potential negative effects of working remotely. Quality of the supervisor-subordinate dyad impacts both in-role and OCB performance ratings, regardless of physical location, and may act as a buffer to offset any potential negative effects of distance. In conclusion, high quality relationships and performance can be maintained regardless of physical distance and demographic differences.