So you’ve got a remote boss. Tricky…

We live in a super connected world where organizations span across geographies and cultures. Every day in the office we meet colleagues, partners and customers using technologies such a phone, email, video conferencing and we must learn how to work with them even if not sitting face to face. One of the most challenging situations is reporting to a remote manager. How do you make the most of such arrangement? How do you ensure you are really connected and you get job done? How do you ensure your boss understand what you are doing and can appreciate your efforts? In “So you’ve got a remote team. Tricky…” series of articles (Part I., Part II., Part III.) I talked about how to manage remote teams, and today I will look at the same problem from the other side – how to be managed remotely. It should be no surprise that it all boils down to good communication. What do you communicate about?

Keep him in the loop

If someone sits at the other side of the world it is obvious that he or she cannot really follow what you doing on daily basis. Your boss just cannot stop by couple of times a day to ask how you doing and help you out. You need to make sure that he gets the necessary information that he would have access to when sitting in the same location and provides the necessary guidance. What usually worked for me was to have an agreement with my boss (or my team when I’m in the manager role) that I will keep him in the loop on anything that is big enough that he might be interested in it, he may need or he may be asked about by other people. And the mantra here is “more is better than less”. I would keep him in cc: of my emails if the topic could be of interest to him and at the same time I make it pretty clear that I don’t really expect him to read it. The idea is that he will have the information available on short notice when he needs it even if it is in the middle of my night. This way he can also praise, provide feedback, and all that without the burden of micromanaging.

I used to have this agreement with my first manager at Siemens. I would keep him in cc: of the emails that could be relevant to him but he wouldn’t read it unless I flagged the email as important. For the rest, we would meet once a week and use his unread emails from me as a guideline of what has happened during the week and talk about it and answer questions. The advantage for him was that at any point he would have easy access to data when asked for it by his managers or business partners. Similar approach would be to use some collaboration website and keep the data there, though that means more conscious effort.

Ask for clarifications

When you get a task make sure you understand it. The most performance issues in global teams come from the fact that the goals and expectations are either not set at all or are set too vaguely and both parties have a bit different understanding of what the outcome should be. So when you get a task from your boss you can do two things to ensure you really got it right. First, ask “Why?” As I wrote in “What problem are you trying to solve?” by asking this question you will understand what is the motivation behind the task, what is the big picture and it helps tremendously to set the framework so the chances are that you will not do something that would go against it. Secondly, try to paraphrase how you understand the task. If you repeat the description of the task in your own works it will help you understand what is requested and at the same time it gives your boss a chance to react in case you are off the mark. If the task is critical enough you may even give your boss a high-level outline of what your steps will be. The idea here is not to seek permission but to ensure you understand the objectives.

Remind him that you exist

Out of sight, out of mind. If you are in a remote location and your boss don’t see you every day in your cubicle chances are you are not on top of his mind and you simply need to remind him that you exist. Even though it should be primarily his job to ensure he stays connected with his team you can always help him to achieve it. Don’t wait for your boss to setup regular meetings, just push yourself to his calendar. Don’t wait for him to ask questions, just pro-actively keep him informed. And there is nothing wrong with reminding him some of your successes in case he may not see them. Have you got kudos from your customer? Just forward it to your boss as FYI (For Your Information).

Ask for what you need

Never assumes that your boss knows what you need. Be very clear on what tools, budget or support you need to achieve your goals. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you don’t understand something or if you need help with getting cooperation from people in the team or other departments. Your boss has better leverage and will be able to help you with things that would otherwise seem difficult or impossible.

Educate on your culture

The chances are that in global teams your boss comes from different country, has different cultural and educational background and may not always understand how things work at your site. It is your responsibility to help him understand that. You should always strive to give him a glimpse into how are his comments, decisions and actions seen in your culture. Just make sure you do it the right way. Saying “this will never work in my country,” is definitely not the way to go about it. It is not constructive, it is not helpful. You should formulate your feedback in a way that will help to provide understanding of what the natural consequences might be. If you have examples from the past that would illustrate what you mean then even better. For example, in Czech culture there is this negative notion that bigger guys/countries would “decide things about us, without us.” It is an important cultural aspect that is good to be shared with your boss and explain that if the decision about the team will be done without getting them involved the natural consequence is that it will not be accepted and people will spent weeks being distracted by complaining about it.

Understand his perspective

Always try to understand why he is doing what he is doing. Why would he say such a thing? Why would he believe something? Why would he act this way? Try to understand the “why” and then act appropriately. And stay positive. If you want to have a healthy relationship and work with your boss as a team it is important to have the mindset that anything he does comes from a sincere believe that it is the best thing to do for everyone involved. You should always assume that there is a positive motivation behind his behavior. If you keep this mindset it will help you to understand why he acts in a certain way and it can help you to realize how you can help and what information you should communicate.

Help him achieve his objectives

If you understand his perspective you should be also able to provide him help to achieve his goals. Yes, your boss is here to help you achieve your objectives but if you understand what his goals are and align with them chances are it will help you both to perform at higher level. The natural consequences of this relationship are that both of you over-achieve, your work well together, both of you get more opportunities for growth and have a good mutually beneficial relationship.

Provide feedback

It is always difficult thing to provide feedback to your superior but nevertheless you should strive to build such a relationship that you can do it. And again, this is primarily responsibility of your boss since he acts from the side of power but you can always do at least something to help him create such environment. If your boss feels you are loyal, you care not just for yourself but also for the company and him, chances are he will be willing to listen and receive well intentioned and well formulated feedback.

Twitter type summary: “Any relationship is a two way street. Don’t just sit and wait for your boss to walk to you, but go and meet him in the middle.”

What are your tips and tricks when working with a remote manager? How do you ensure you have what you need to do your job and that you are successful?

2 thoughts on “So you’ve got a remote boss. Tricky…

  1. Pingback: Holiday Special – The Best Posts of 2013 | The Geeky Leader

  2. Pingback: How To Manage Your Manager – The Geeky Leader

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