Managing Your Boss When One of You Works in a Remote Location

Too often when people communicate primarily via telephone and e-mail, they neglect scheduling regular one-on-one conversations and, as a result, their communication tends to be disorganized, incomplete, and random.

Some bosses are harder to get ahold of than others. You or your boss might work from home, an office across town, or a client location across the world. I’ve heard countless stories from very determined boss-managers who’ve had to stalk their bosses from remote locations, calling every 15 minutes until the boss finally answers. Or texting. Or faxing. Or Facebook messaging. Scheduling two-way Web cam conferences. Even showing up on-site at the boss’s location to try to get some one-on-one time.

I hope you are not in that situation.

The best situation is for you and your boss to work out a protocol for a regular schedule of one-on-one meetings whenever you can. Here are some best practices you can apply if you don’t work in the same location as your boss:

  • Keep each other informed about when you’ll both be at a central location, such as the organization’s headquarters, so you can schedule in-person one-on-one time.
  • Schedule occasional in-person meetings when it is convenient for you to visit your boss in his or her remote location or when it is convenient for your boss to visit you where you work.
  • If you have access to Web cams, schedule a regular one-on-one meeting via the Web.

Phone and E-mail

In the absence of in-person meetings and Skype, make good use of regular telephone conferences and various forms of electronic mail, such as instant messaging and e-mail. Unfortunately, too often when people communicate primarily via telephone and e-mail, they neglect scheduling regular one-on-one conversations and, as a result, their communication tends to be disorganized, incomplete, and random. Here are some best practices for using telephone and electronic mail to communicate regularly with your boss:

  • Schedule regular one-on-one telephone calls, then honor them.
  • Prepare in advance of the one-on-one call. Send your boss an e-mail recapping what you’ve done since your last one-on-one and the steps you followed to get those things done, and any lingering questions or issues you have about those actions. Then outline what you plan to accomplish next, the steps you plan to follow, and any questions you may have about these upcoming actions.
  • Ask your boss to respond to your e-mail in advance of your one-on-one conversation to help you prepare even further, for example, by including any other items in the agenda he or she would like to cover.
  • Send your boss a reminder via e-mail or text message 30 or 60 minutes before the scheduled call.
  • Immediately following the call, send your boss an e-mail recapping what you both agreed on in your conversation: the actions you need to take, the steps you plan to follow, the date and time of your next scheduled phone call, and the promise to send an agenda prior to the next meeting.

Nearby but Still Remote

Sometimes when I teach these best practices in my seminars, someone will raise a hand and ask, “My boss works across the hall from me, but our entire relationship is conducted by telephone and e-mail. What should I do about that?” My personal view is that conducting face-to-face conversations—at least once in a while—is much better than conducting your management conversations solely by telephone and e-mail. I suggest following the same best practices I offer for employees and bosses who work in a different location. And maybe once in a while, walk across the hall and try for a face-to-face meeting. You can poke your head in and ask, “Did you get that e-mail I just sent you?”

But if most of your communication is through telephone and e-mail, well, that’s better than nothing. And there is an advantage: When you and your boss are communicating by e-mail, you are creating a paper (or electronic) trail. Save those e-mails and you’ll have record of your ongoing dialogue with your boss about your work. If the e-mails are organized and thorough, then you might be able to print them and use them as checklists, or use them as the basis for crafting work plans, schedules, to-do lists, and other tools to help guide you in your work.

When All Else Fails

If after attempting all these techniques, your boss just won’t give you any time whatsoever and remains absent, and unavailable, then he or she is a boss in name only. That boss is AWOL and negligent, and you only have three options:

  1. Look for a new boss or job inside or outside your current organization.
  2. Identify a worthy deputy of your AWOL boss—someone who is on the same team, with a little more experience, skill, or wisdom than you or someone with more power or influence. Turn that worthy deputy into your de facto boss. Try building a routine of regular one-on-one meetings with him or her. Try reporting to the worthy deputy. Try clarifying expectations and getting support and guidance from the worthy deputy. You’d be amazed at how many worthy deputies take on de facto management relationships with good people who have been abandoned by AWOL bosses.
  3. Sink or swim, but document and communicate your efforts every step of the way. Keep track in writing of every step you are planning to take each day and how you are planning to do it. Report your plans to your AWOL boss. Monitor and measure your progress in writing and give a regular written account of your performance to your AWOL boss. Finally, offer often, in writing, to make yourself available for in-person one-on-ones with your AWOL boss. What else can you do?

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Tulgan is the best-selling author of numerous books, including “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy” (revised and updated, 2016), “Bridging the Soft Skills Gap” (2015), “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” (2014), and “It’s Okay to be the Boss” (revised and updated, 2014). He has written for The New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training magazine, and the Huffington Post. Tulgan can be reached by e-mail at; followed on Twitter @BruceTulgan; or via his Website,




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