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The question

I joined a new company about a year ago, but everyone works remotely, including my manager. We chat on the phone every few days but we’ve only met in person twice. And that was just for company events. He doesn’t make the time to join my customer meetings or events and I’m finding it difficult to get guidance and leadership from him. He’s extremely hands-off and redirects me to other team members when I’m in need of assistance. How can I get support from my manager and stay motivated when everyone on my team is working remotely?

The first answer

Heather Faire, president, Faire Practices, expat, Atlanta: Remote working provides freedom and flexibility. You can avoid dress codes, traffic and commute times. Less obvious are the challenges of finding adequate substitutes for spontaneous feedback, experiential learning and coachable moments.

Your manager may be new and still learning how to lead and motivate productively. Or he may be seasoned but has forgotten that different employees often require different management approaches.

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Sometimes the best solution is the simplest one. Talk about it. Tell your manager how you feel. He may be unaware of your desire for more guidance. Tell him what motivates you and what will help you grow professionally. Request a day to shadow with your manager and learn from him through observation. Ask him to give you more feedback and coaching. Suggest the occasional coffee or lunch together. Invite your manager to customer events. Offer to organize a team social event.

Like all employees, managers need to be made aware of their opportunities for improvement. If your manager is a good one, he will listen and learn to do better at giving the support and tools you need to be successful. If not, you can try to find guidance and support elsewhere, either through high-performing peers or a mentor. Either way, use this experience to learn about the kind of manager you some day might want to work for or the type of manager you might some day want to be.

The second answer

Peter Caven, managing director, Launched, Toronto: Working remotely presents a unique set of challenges. In your case, these challenges are complicated by the fact that you have a “non-manager manager” – the opposite of the overly aggressive, controlling or micromanaging boss – he manages by not managing; he leads by not leading.

The fact that you have tolerated this situation for a year may make change difficult as behaviour patterns have been established. However, it is worth trying.

The first step is to tell your manager how you feel – do not criticize his behaviours; propose solutions. Ask him about his goals and those of the team. There are some who argue that your job is to help your manager succeed and understanding his “success” is the first step.

Clarify your boundaries and authorities – ensure that you and he agree when he needs to be involved.

Over-communicate. Be strategic and hyper-organized – do not waste his time. Keep him informed on what you accomplished last week and your goals for next week. Tell him where you need his assistance – propose solutions, not problems. Set up a regular video meeting: 70 per cent of communication is non-verbal – you need to be able to read his body language, and he yours, to the extent that it can be done via video. Send him an agenda the day before the meeting.

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Match the communications medium to the specific situation; video, e-mail, telephone conversation, text, etc. Hone your communication skills; be succinct and paraphrase his guidance back to him to ensure that you are clear on what he wants.

If it is not already happening, suggest a regular team video conference to discuss business developments, successes and share hints, tips and insights. If you want him to come to customer meetings tell him why you need him there. Organize the meetings to use his time most effectively.

Have a question for our experts? Send an e-mail to NineToFive@globeandmail.com

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