Working Smoothly with a Virtual Boss

The realities of doing business today often require that employees and their managers work from different locations. When you’re not co-located with your boss — often separated by large distances and time zones — a different set of considerations comes into play, as you’ll never casually run into each other in the office hallway or by the water cooler. You’ve got to change your approach to work with and adapt to the realities of having a virtual boss.

Here’s the good news: As long as you and your virtual boss can develop trust, keep the communication channels open, and establish clear lines of accountability, there’s a good chance that you can work smoothly together. According to researchfrom our Greenlight Research Institute, the following best practices will help you successfully manage the relationship with your virtual boss:

1. Create a virtual contract. First, acknowledge that making your interactions with each other as productive and efficient as possible is going to require a proactive approach. You need to establish the ground rules. How? Start with an email to your boss. Try something like this: “I’ve attached an article that describes how virtual teams can work best together. Can we discuss it in our upcoming call to see if it’s how we want to work together?” What you’re doing is setting up a virtual contract that you can both agree on.

2. Establish rules for communication. People on virtual teams misguidedly assume that connecting more often — via more teleconferences, WebEx meetings, emails and the like — is the answer to the problems of distance. But the result is usually an acute case of information overload. The real key to managing the relationship with your boss is setting an appropriate cadence of communications so you’re aligned on outcomes. Is it a daily call, or a weekly call? Set the frequency that works best for you and your boss, and have your boss confirm that cadence, keeping these two rules in mind:

  • Specify how quickly you both need to respond to emails and calls
  • Determine what follow-up steps should be taken so you never let important issues slip through the cracks

There are other rules to consider as well. Michael Watkins, professor, author and cofounder of Genesis Advisers, conducted research that found that having regular meetings helped set a rhythm in virtual team work. Here’s what also worked:

  • Sharing meeting agendas ahead of time
  • Starting and finishing meetings on schedule
  • Rotating meeting times so people in different time zones could share the load fairly

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Keith Ferrazzi

Keith Ferrazzi


New York Times best-selling author, speaker

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