Managing Your Boss in a Remote Location

Some bosses are harder to stay engaged with than others. You or your boss might  work from home, an office across town, or a client location across the world. I’ve heard countless stories from very determined boss-managers who’ve had to stalk their bosses from remote locations, calling every fifteen minutes until the boss finally answers. Or texting. Or faxing. Or Facebook-messaging. Scheduling two-way web-cam conferences. Even showing up on-site at the boss’s location to try to get some one-on-one time.

I hope you are not in that situation.

The best situation is for you and your boss to work out a protocol for a regular schedule of one-on-one meetings whenever you can. Here are some best practices that you can apply if you don’t work in the same location as your boss:

Keep each other informed about when you’ll both be at a central location, such as the organization’s headquarters, so you can schedule in-person one-on-one time. Schedule occasional in-person meetings when it is convenient for you to visit your boss in his or her remote location or when it is convenient for your boss to visit you where you work. If you have access to web-cams, schedule a regular one-on-one meeting via the web.

In the absence of in-person meetings and two-way web-cams, make good use of regular telephone conferences and various forms of electronic mail, such as instant messaging and email. Unfortunately, too often when people communicate primarily via telephone and e-mail, they neglect scheduling regular one-on-one conversations and, as a result, their communications tend to be disorganized, incomplete, and random. Here are some best practices for using telephone and e-mail to communicate regularly with your boss:

  • Schedule regular one-on-one telephone calls, then honor them
  • Prepare in advance of the one-on-one call. Send your boss an email recapping what you’ve done since your last one-on-one and the steps that you followed to get those things done, and any lingering questions or issues you have about those actions. Then outline what you plan to accomplish next, the steps you plan to follow, and any questions you may have about these upcoming actions
  • Ask your boss to respond your email in advance of your one-on-one conversation to help you prepare even further, for example, by including any other items in the agenda that he or she would like to cover
  • Send your boss a reminder via e-mail or text message 30 or 60 minutes before the scheduled time
  • Immediately following the call, send your boss an email recapping what you both agreed on in your conversation: the actions you need to take, the steps you plan to follow, the date and time of your next scheduled phone call, and the promise to send an agenda prior to the next meeting

Sometimes when I teach these best-practices in my seminars, someone will raise a hand and ask, “My boss works across the hall from me, but our entire relationship is conducted by telephone and e-mail. What should I do about that?” My personal view is that conducting face-to-face conversations–at least once in a while–is much better than conducting your management conversations solely by telephone and e-mail. I suggest following the same best practices I offer for employees and bosses who work in a different location. And maybe once in a while, walk across the hall and try for a face-to-face meeting. You can poke your head in and ask, “Did you get that e-mail I just sent you?”

But if most of your communication is through telephone and e-mail, well, that’s better than nothing. And there is an advantage: When you and your boss are communicating by e-mail, you are creating a paper (or electronic) trail. Save those e-mails and you’ll have record of your ongoing dialogue with your boss about your work. If the e-mails are organized and thorough, then you might be able to print them and use them as check-lists, or use them as the bases for crafting work-plans, schedules, to-do lists, and other tools to help guide you in your work.

Always remember, whether you are working across the hall from or across the globe from your boss, the fundamental goal of one-on-one meetings is communicating with your boss about the work you are doing for him or her. Over time, you and your boss will use your growing knowledge of each other to guide YOU during each conversation. But in general, you’ll talk about the work that is going well, poorly, or just fine. Maintain an ongoing dialogue with every boss about the four management basics:  What is expected of you. The resources you need to meet those expectations. Honest feedback of your performance and guidance on how to adjust it as necessary. What credit and reward you will earn for your hard work.

With each boss, you will have to decide what to focus on and discuss at each one-on-one. Before your meetings, you should ask yourself the following: Are there problems that haven’t been spotted yet? Problems that need to be solved? Resources that need to be obtained? Are there any instructions or goals that are not clear? Has anything happened since we last talked that the boss should know about? Are there questions that need to be answered by your boss?

At the very least, in these one-one-ones, you need to receive updates on your progress. Get input from your boss while you have the chance. And think about what input you should be providing to the boss based on what you are learning on the front line. Strategize together. Try to get a
little advice, support, motivation, and, yes, even inspiration once in a while.

Bruce Tulgan is founder of Rainmaker Thinking, a management training firm. Bruce is the author of the classic Managing Generation X as well as the best seller It’s Okay to be the Boss, and many other books. Bruce is reachable brucet@rainmakerthinking.com and his free weekly workplace video is available at www.rainmakerthinking.com.