This is a guest post by Cynthia Bell.
The workplace today is quite different from the workplace of 30, 20, and even 10 years ago. Open office designs, in-house baristas, and, for many organizations, bosses managing from across the country are now the norm. Between video conferencing, email, and instant messaging, physical proximity to the office is no longer a requirement. Companies are hiring based on talent and fit, not if someone can be in their chair 24/7. This change has led to entire teams being spread across time zones, states, and even countries. While it can be tricky to report to a remote manager, it is possible.
I work for a non-profit in Washington, DC, but my manager works from her home in southern California. I’ve been working with her remotely for over a year, and in that time have expanded the responsibilities of my role and received a raise. Here are the tips that have helped me succeed:
Communication: If you don’t have a scheduled weekly call or Skype session with your boss, set one up right away. My boss and I talk every Monday morning for about 45 minutes about my priorities for the week. I discuss what I finished from last week, what I have planned for the upcoming week, and also ask her if she has any projects or tasks that she would like me to work on.
While I personally think phone calls are the best if you can’t meet face to face, even a weekly update email could get the job done. The adage “out of sight, out of mind” rings true here: you don’t want to forget about each other just because you don’t see each other in the office every day. Another communication tip — send an email to your boss at the end of each week listing what you’ve completed. This is especially helpful if your relationship with your manager is new and you want to show them that you are effective. Be sure to ask your manager their preferred methods of communication–you certainly don’t want to annoy them!
Trust: Building off showing effectiveness, my relationship with my manager succeeds because she trusts me. My boss is not a micromanager at all. This is not to say that she doesn’t communicate with me during the week, she does, but she doesn’t constantly send emails asking me for status updates.
Once a project is assigned, she gives me the space to complete it. Building trust can take time, which is why communication is so important. In the beginning, you’ll probably want to err on the side of more frequent communication and taper off as you see trust being built. Also, just because you manager isn’t in-office with you doesn’t mean that you can’t come to them with problems or questions. Picking up the phone every 5 minutes is probably over the top, but go to your manager when you have issues with project prioritization or need help with a task. Showing your manager that you depend on them and view them as more than a person to take directions from will help build mutual trust. And being proactive when you have a problem or are stuck will show your manager that you tackle problems as they come–and are not too proud to ask for help.
Respect: It’s easy to feel like you don’t have a boss if your boss isn’t in your office every day but this doesn’t give you free reign to shirk responsibilities. I still ask my manager for permission on days I work from home, or if I plan to go meet a donor for lunch. It’s important to share your schedule and have transparency. Respecting your manager’s authority, even when they aren’t physically there, will help them respect you as an employee and ultimately lead to increased responsibilities and freedom.