Brown-Nose Your Virtual Boss Without Getting Dirty

By Garvin Thomas
|  Friday, Feb 27, 2009  |  Updated 9:04 AM PDT
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Virtual Smoozing

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Five tips to make a great relationship with your virtual boss.

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Virtual Smoozing

Advancing technology, plus a backsliding economy, mean more and more people are working from home or a coffee shop often hundreds of miles from the nearest supervisor. Companies love the trend because it saves on the overhead of maintaining office space for the worker.
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With apologies to his girlfriend and mother, the most important people in Blake Cohlan’s life are his bosses.

Is that really any different than the rest of us?

Keeping the boss happy keeps us employed, keeps us dry and keeps the Netflix coming each month.

Still, in Blake’s case, if one of those MIP’s (Most Important People) walked into his San Francisco apartment, introductions would be necessary.

Blake’s bosses are people he has never met.  They are men and women who, in many ways, rule his life yet he couldn’t pick one out of a line-up.

Blake is a remote employee; a 23-three-year-old working on marketing software from his “office” in the living room of the Sunset District apartment he shares with three roommates.

He may work alone, but he’s not alone. Advancing technology, plus a backsliding economy, mean more and more people are working from home or a coffee shop often hundreds of miles from the nearest supervisor. Companies love the trend because it saves on the overhead of maintaining office space for the worker.

"Pretty much you have to assume now you will likely be working in some sort of remote environment at some point in your career."

That is the assessment from Nancy Hayes, Dean of the College of Business at San Francisco State University.

Hayes points out that in remote employment face-to-face communication between employer and employee is rare, if not non-existent. All communication is handled by email, instant messaging, phone, Facebook and Twitter. It is a dramatic change to a centuries-old worker/boss dynamic.

"It's really important that people know how to work remotely," said Hayes.

With that in mind she shared a few tips to get ahead.

1. Ask the boss how he or she wants to communicate.

Does the boss hate email? Will the boss mind an after-hours call on his or her cell phone? Hayes says the first and most important thing a remote employee should establish is their manager's likes and dislikes when it comes to communicating. It can save, Hayes says, a lot of hassle down the road.

2. Don’t spam the boss.

"Many people fall into the trap of trying to show the boss that they are busy so they are sending emails all day all hours of the night. That's not always most welcome." Hayes says a remote worker should be judicious when communicating with the boss. If the boss is supervising many employees, a flood of email can be overwhelming. Remember, the quality of your finished work will speak for your effort.

3. Schedule regular "check-in-chats."

One type of communication that is often lost when the boss and employee don’t see each other is the brief "check-in." Those are those small, brief occasions where an employee feels comfortable bringing up issues not directly related to the work at hand. Sometimes they are issues that don’t seem important enough to warrant their own email of phone call. Hayes suggests making time, either weekly or monthly, for boss and employee to discuss those peripheral topics. Some of the issues, she says, may seem small at the time, but often grow into larger problems.

4. Pick up the phone.

New technology may be making it easier to communicate without ever speaking, but Hayes says there are situations where picking up a piece of old technology, the phone, may be best. When an email or IM discussion is getting heated is one of those times. "My recommendation is that if you've had two back-and-forth, terse communications with a boss, ask for a phone conversation or pick up the phone and call." Don’t forget, emails are easy to drop into in personnel file; phone calls, not so much.

5. Don’t give up on the relationship

Don’t think that just because you aren’t seeing each other at the coffee pot, doesn’t mean you can’t have a personal relationship with the boss. It may be a bit harder via email or IM, but make an effort to engage in now-work talk with the boss. An employee a boss feels like they "know" is one they are comfortable promoting to bigger tasks.

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