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Don’t Ghost Your Boss: How to Manage Up in a Virtual World

Our bosses have enormous influence over our career trajectory, so the ability to work successfully with one’s boss is a critical element for achieving success in the workplace. This is called “managing up.” Those who successfully manage up, know how to intentionally cultivate a robust working relationship with their boss so that they can succeed, their boss can succeed, and the organization can succeed. While managing up has always been (and always will be) a critical element to achieving workplace success, the sudden shift into remote work means that millions of people must rethink not only how to manage their workload, but also how to manage their boss relationships.


Here are 7 tips to help you manage up in a virtual world:


  1. Stay connected and keep them in the loop.

It is critical to stay connected with your boss. Building trust requires consistent connection. Make a concerted effort to stay on your boss’s radar and you on theirs. Try to communicate with your boss on a daily basis. This could be a daily check-in, daily email, or phone call. Keep your boss updated about your projects, deadlines, and general workstream. Don’t assume your boss knows what you’ve accomplished or what you’re working on. Be proactive about keeping them abreast of your accomplishments and apprised on your workload, tasks, and priorities.


  1. Be transparent about your availability. Be transparent with your boss about your virtual work schedule, time boundaries, and constraints. Let your boss know when you are available to work and when you are not. This may require some negotiation as many people face childcare and other household issues that impact the traditional 9 to 5 framework. If this is the case for you, negotiate a flexible schedule that works for both of you. For example, if you have to take time out during the day for childcare, then be transparent about that and offer to be back online later in the evening. This also means, that you must be available when you say are available! Let your boss know the best way to reach you (e.g., email, text, phone, etc.) and then rigorously monitor that communication channel. Sadly, many managers are still distrustful of telework, so do what you can to reassure them that you are on the job by responding as promptly as possible.


  1. Align your communication styles. Effective communication is critical for managing virtual relationships. Find out how your boss prefers to communicate and do your best to align to their style. Does your boss prefer email? Text? Slack? Conference call? If your boss is an introvert, you may have to be more proactive in connecting with them, as introverts can easily disappear into their own little worlds. With introverted bosses, be proactive about scheduling meetings and check-ins. Get on their calendar. Use email or text to get their attention. If your boss is more of an extrovert, then make time to connect via phone or video, as extroverts tend to prefer more socially dynamic interactions. Extroverts are going to want to see you and hear from you. Bottom line: Work with your boss’s communication preferences and not against them.


  1. Seek feedback. Getting feedback is always a critical aspect to managing up, as it helps you learn what is important to your boss—and how your boss experiences you. Since the virtual environment adds an additional layer of complexity, it’s important to be proactive about seeking feedback. Check in frequently with your boss to get feedback on both your work product and your virtual engagement. Ask your boss what you can do more of, less of, or differently. Be specific about the feedback you are seeking. For example, instead of asking, “Do you have any feedback for me?” try asking for feedback on a specific project, task, or process, like this: “What suggestions do you have for me to improve the X project?” It’s much easier for managers to give feedback on specific topics.


  1. Take initiative. As with any challenging experience, this forced new reality is rife with opportunity for those willing to take initiative and embrace an entrepreneurial attitude. Stay on the lookout for ways to fill gaps, solve problems, and create better virtual processes and work products. Take the initiative to master the new virtual tools that your team is using. Look for ways to better serve customers, clients, team members, and stakeholders. Show your boss that you are ready, willing, and able to learn new skills and contribute to the organization’s success in new ways.


  1. Have the conversation. You don’t have to guess what your manager’s virtual workstyle, preferences, priorities or pet peeves may be—you can ask them! Schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss their wants, needs, and expectations. Ask them about their communication and engagement preferences and expectations. Ask them about their priorities, goals, concerns, and challenges. Learn as much as you can about what they care about the most and then align yourself accordingly. Here are some questions to consider:
  • What is your preferred mode of communication?
  • How often do you want to meet as a team and on a one-to-one basis?
  • How often do you like to be kept updated on projects? How do you like your updates?
  • What level of detail do you like to have?
  • What are your top priorities? What is highest priority to you?
  • What are lower priority items?
  • What are the biggest pressures on this team/you/department?
  • What are your biggest concerns right now, especially working virtually?
  • What are your pet peeves about working virtually?
  • What can I help with? How can I be of the most service to you?
  • What can I do more of? Less of? Or differently to work well with you?


  1. Be Supportive. Stay positive. For many bosses, managing a virtual team will be daunting. This is especially true for bosses who resisted teleworking in the past. My team recently surveyed 100 managers, and 43% said they were worried about their ability to succeed as a virtual leader. Be patient as your boss makes the shift and finds his or her virtual footing. The sudden virtual work environment can be stressful and difficult—for managers and employees alike. Don’t add to the stress with a negative mindset. While remote working may not be your cup of tea, it’s important to see it as an opportunity to not only to grow and learn, but to show your boss that you are a resilient, steadfast, and valuable employee.



About the Author

Mary Abbajay, author of the award-winning, best-selling Managing Up: How to Move Up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss is the president of Careerstone Group, LLC, a full service organizational and leadership development consultancy that delivers leading-edge talent and organizational development solutions to business and government. As a frequent expert contributor for television, radio and print publications where she provides practical leadership and career advice, Mary’s work and advice have appeared in the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Forbes, The Financial Times, Money Magazine, Southwest Airlines Magazine, Monster, and the BBC.

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