working with a boss who’s in a different country

A reader writes:

Due to some restructuring, I have a new boss who is based in another location — a completely different country, to be exact. Do you have any tips for how to foster a relationship with someone who is not in your office? I have never had a boss who is not 5 feet away from where I work. Wasn’t sure if you had any advice on how to keep my manager in tune with what I’m doing without being a pest.

Also, I am at the point in my career where I still feel like I need some sort of a mentor. I’m a little concerned that this new structure won’t help me get to the next level. Should I seek out a local mentor? Sometimes I want to talk out situations with a manager and if he’s asleep (or off the clock) while I’m working, this could be difficult. I’m just a little unsure of how to make this situation work for the best.

Do you have any working hours that overlap? Or even any waking hours that overlap? The first thing I’d do is set up a regular weekly phone call, even if it means that you need to do it from home at 8 p.m. or something like that.

And then from there, this is really going to be about doing all the normal things a manager and managee should do, but being vigilant about doing them really well: agreeing on clear goals that will add up to a successful year for you, making sure that you’re checking with each other as your work progresses so that there aren’t surprises once it’s finished (surprises on her side if what you produced isn’t what she had in mind, and surprises on your side if she has major changes to the work), resolving not to use email to hash out complicated or sensitive situations (and instead getting on the phone), and having solid structures for communicating with each other when it comes to work updates, progress toward your goals, and feedback.

While you can sometimes get away with leaving this stuff informal when you’re working down the hall from each other, when you’re remote you will need to formalize systems for all of this. Otherwise it’s likely to start slipping through the cracks, and the next thing you know, you haven’t talked to your manager in three weeks and she has no idea what your priorities are.

It wouldn’t hurt to find a local mentor too, but I wouldn’t assume that you need one because you can’t have contact with your boss. I’d assume that you can have contact with your boss, and that it’s just about coming up with systems and structures that will make that easier.

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