Being a Better Boss in the Age of Remote Work

Being a Better Boss in the Age of Remote Work

Bryan Hanson

Since the winddown of COVID-19 restrictions, a growing number of people continue to work from home. It is also common these days to manage a group of people that either work from home or work in other satellite offices. Whatever the specifics, having a group of employees who report to you, all working in different locations, is now the norm.

The rise of a remote workforce places new challenges on managers. One common example is that managers are now tasked with getting workers with disparate interests − and residing in different physical locations during the workday − to achieve a common goal. For these reasons, many business management experts believe that the following skills are important in leveraging better results from the team you are managing in the new age of remote work.

Assure Technical Connections

Whether it is home-based or a satellite office, ensure that each staff member has everything they need to seamlessly log into your preferred on-line meeting service. This includes a stable Wi-Fi connection, capable internet browser and a laptop with high quality sound and video camera. The need for solid information technology (IT), including people on staff who know how to evaluate and troubleshoot this valuable component of infrastructure, is fundamental to managing a remote work force.

Instill a Sense of Purpose

Of course, everyone needs to have a sense of purpose when they come to work each day, but for those that work at home or alone in a satellite office, it is doubly important they are instilled with a strong sense of purpose. It’s the responsibility of the manager to ensure that staff has this sense of purpose. Employees need to be consistently reminded they are making a positive difference in the lives of customers. Here is why: When you are working alone, say in a small satellite office where one or two people are responsible for all daily operations, it is easy to become bogged down in the minutiae of the daily grind. It’s the role of the manager to periodically ensure employees of their value to the customers who they serve. Given the quality-of-life improvements that come from better hearing and balance, instilling a sense of purpose in the staff of an audiology-related business (a true helping profession) might be easy, but it still requires a manager methodically remind employees that they are making a difference.

During monthly or quarterly business review meetings, when the manager is reviewing financial statements and other operational variables – you know, information that has a lot of dollar signs in it – make a deliberate effort to discuss the number of people that your business has helped or served over that timeframe.

Manage and Maintain the Organization’s Culture

Culture, perhaps best defined as “the way our organization gets things done,” is relatively easy to maintain when people work together in person. In contrast, when your team is scattered in many different places, establishing and keeping a sense of office culture is extremely challenging. One simple tactic to use with a remote work force is to simply talk about your office culture and what you want your clinic or business to be known for in your community. Even if you are managing people in multiple locations, everyone is still accountable for the reputation of the organization. Let people know about the importance of reputation and how managers expect work to be done. More importantly, especially in a healthcare business, make sure you are constantly talking about how you expect patients to be treated. Outstanding patient care – expecting staff to deliver it, each and every day – is a cornerstone of a healthy culture.

Go Out of Your Way to Foster Collaboration

One of the challenges of managing a group of people who all work in separate locations is encouraging collaboration. This should be a surprise to no one. Each person is working independently and it’s understandable for staff to feel disconnected from one another. Managers must make a deliberate effort to find projects or activities that foster a sense of teamwork. This can be as simple as working together during a weekly Zoom call to organize an annual department party or as complex as developing a strategic plan.

Know Your Financial Numbers and Teach Others About Them

You don’t have to manage a team of remote employees to appreciate this point. We live in a world where most employees are at least curious about the business side of their job. That is, they want to know a little something about how dollars are generated, or costs are managed. Regardless of role, each employee on your team is entitled to know how their daily tasks contribute to the financial success of the entire organization. For employees who interact directly with customers (e.g., clinical audiologists), the discussion can center on the amount of revenue that can be generated through assessments and dispensing of hearing aids. For employees on your team that may not directly interact with customers (e.g., custodians or accountants), the conversation needs to focus on how their expertise frees up time for the manager or clinicians to focus on their own expertise more effectively. The bottom line is everyone on the team needs to know how their role synchs with others on the team, so that financial success has a better shot at being optimized. When staff understand their financial contribution to the business, either on the top-line revenue line or bottom-line cost and profit lines, they often take a more active, vested interest in daily operations.

Overcommunicate but Avoid Micromanaging

It should not be a surprise that a critical component to being a successful boss is knowing how to effectively communicate. After all, as a boss, you need to hire and fire people, develop people, articulate expectations and strategies, and oversee both financial and clinical success. In short, as a boss, your plate is really full, and because of that, it is easy to be perceived as a micromanager. In fact, one of the biggest pitfalls associated with clinicians who get promoted to manager is they live in fear they will be perceived by their direct reports as the “dreaded micromanager.” This often leads to timid, passive-aggressive managers who are uncomfortable sharing feedback – critiques, opinions and comments that are intended to improve workplace performance or solve a problem. The irony is that the more authentically you communicate, the less likely you are to be perceived as a micromanager. Authenticity starts with your ability to understand and personally connect with each member of your team, and then sharing a common interest in the striving to continually fine-tune the reputation of your clinic.

No one likes to feel like they are being monitored all the time. Everyone likes to have a sense of autonomy as to how they perform their job. To avoid the reputation of a micromanager, it can help to reframe your style as overcommunication. When you inform your team that you like overcommunication, it invites them to be more open with you. This is why weekly one-on-one meetings and other informal chats with staff are so essential. Assuming you have developed a sense of trust, getting your team to overcommunicate with you, has many benefits. It keeps you in the loop on important developments that ordinarily fly under the radar, and it empowers your team to maintain an open line of communication with you.

Being a good boss takes a lot of patience. And even more patience when many people on your team work remotely. At the heart of being good boss, regardless of where staff might be working, is the ability to effectively communicate about good and bad news. With some attention to some of the details outlined here, you can hone some foundational skills that will help you be a better boss to those who work remotely.

To quote the cattle rancher, cyberlibertarian and Grateful Dead lyricist – a true Renaissance man, the late John Perry Barlow, “Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Define your mission and purpose and pursue that.” There is no better place to pursue that ideal than as a manager who is leading a team, helping them all row in the same direction – even for those on your team who are in a satellite office or work from home. We can make the world a better place – even if we must rely on Zoom. ■

Bryan Hanson is a senior recruiter for Jell-Tech, Brookfield, WI. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.