Upward Management Strategies for Remote Employees

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Upward management – the concept of “managing” your boss – is most often talked about in an office context. Advice will range from how to crush your 1-on-1’s to looking productive when your boss walks by. But what about upward management for remote employees? When you don’t have the physical office space, you can’t use a lot of the best practices in most blog posts. Add into this that remote workers can often feel more ignored when compared to their in-office colleagues, according to research by WorkInsights, and upward management becomes all the more important for remote employees. 

In this article, we’re diving into the definition of upward management, explaining some of the basic upward management skills, and diving into strategies for remote employees. 

What is upward management?

Put simply, upward management is the concept that you have to help your boss see your potential and see the value you bring. In the working world, everyone’s got a lot on their plate. Whether that’s just trying to get some work done or managing multiple people full-time (sometimes with extra work on top of that!), it’s difficult to see everything that goes on. In particular, a busy manager might value an individual employee but still not have the chance to see everything that goes on. That’s where upward management comes in. 

In a remote setting, upward management is a bit more explicit because there are very few “passive” opportunities. In the office, it’s easy for your boss to walk by and see you diligently at work or notice that you’re brainstorming with a colleague from another department and showing initiative. Unfortunately, this kind of thing just doesn’t happen when you aren’t in the same physical space as your manager. 

While managers should also actively seek out their employees and try to understand what’s going on in their work lives, this isn’t always the case. Unfortunately, not all managers are versed in virtual team management. So upward management is how you as an employee can make sure that your hard work gets recognized. 

Upward management strategies for remote employees

As you look to beef up your upward management skills, consider these strategies to make sure your work is visible and your boss is paying attention.

Show your work 

One of the biggest challenges with remote work is the out of sight, out of mind problem. Tackle that immediately by showing your work. In an office, you’d show your work by showing up. Simply being present and active in meetings or on your laptop was an easy way to show that you were engaged. Things are a bit different when you’re remote.

In a remote setting, showing your work means leveraging the various digital tools at your disposal: 

  • Send frequent updates on progress to your manager or team. 
  • Whenever you ask for help on a problem, also write down what you’ve accomplished or tried already. 
  • In any team communications, include progress reports and tracking to goals. 

This might feel a bit weird at first, but it’s incredibly helpful to ensuring that your work is recognized. 

Digitally surround your manager

A big part of upward management skill building is having a good working relationship with your manager. But building trust and building relationships remotely can be very difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. A lot of the reason people struggle with this is because they take in-person relationship building concepts (like relying on body language) and try to make it remote (such as using video chat). The problem is that these methods don’t translate well. Instead, remote employees need to “digitally surround” their managers. 

When you digitally surround your manager, you’re using technology in the way it wants to be used, not trying to make in-person concepts work online. 

Consider things like: 

  • Comment in public threads, offering feedback, ideas, or simply agreeing and congratulating. 
  • Make use of any social channels your company has (sparingly, of course) to show that you’re engaged. 
  • Consider brief video chats or sending voice messages instead of always writing things out – real voices and faces help with trust building. 

The key here is presence. Be present, and you’ll be remembered. 

Work in public

In offices, people are encouraged to work privately. You sit quietly at your desk or book a private room if you need to have a conversation. This is usually done for space and noise reasons, but it typically doesn’t matter because people can see you – they know you’re “working in public.”

When you work remotely, working privately usually means that no one sees or hears from you all day. If you want to succeed in upward management, you have to make your work public. This means that you have to share your work everywhere it’s appropriate to do so.

Much like “showing your work,” working in public means looking at different:

  • Channels
  • Conversations
  • Other opportunities to share your work

You have to be careful here to not come across as bragging, but be sure to always take an opportunity to work in public (“public” meaning the public space of your virtual office) when you can. 

Champion other people

In short: no one likes someone who only brags about themselves. And a big part of upward management’s definition is showing your manager that you’re ready for new challenges, promotions, or taking the next step in your career. 

One of the best ways to show that you’re ready to take on more responsibility is to show that you’re a great team player. Being a team player means supporting your team. 

As you digitally surround people: 

  • Congratulate coworkers on their success when they share. 
  • Offer feedback or ideas when people ask for it in different channels. 
  • Be willing to have private conversations just to help people (it won’t be immediately visible, but your manager will almost always hear about you helping people in the end). 

If you become known as a champion for other people on the team, your manager will start to hear your name over and over as a helpful, kind person. That’s a win. 

Document your process 

An unfortunate part of upward management is that sometimes you’ll have to defend yourself. Or explain yourself. Or answer a tough question when something goes wrong. That’s where documentation comes in. If you’re working in public and showing your work, chances are you’re already documenting a lot of what you’re doing. But make sure you also keep a personal record of the things you don’t share – the little tests you ran, the ideas you had, etc. 

If someone questions your method or implies that you’ve done something wrong, documentation will be your best friend. You can calmly address the issue and share the facts, making sure that you’re professional but also standing up for yourself. 

In a remote setting, it’s very easy for someone to simply get the wrong idea – you can’t see people working and you can’t tap someone on the shoulder to ask a quick question as easily. Documenting your process is like a shield against those misunderstandings harming you or putting you in a bad light with your manager. 

Show up prepared

One of the best upward management skills you can develop is preparation. How you prepare for any kind of interaction with your manager sends a huge signal about the type of worker you are. Whether it’s a 1-on-1, a team meeting with your manager, a town hall, or something else, preparation is key. 

In particular, prepare: 

  • The agenda, so key topics are discussed. 
  • Your notes / process documentation, so you can explain how you’ve been working. 
  • Your goals and how your work ties to goals. 
  • Other people’s successes that you want to further champion. 
  • Questions for your manager or help you might need. 

The more prepared you are, the higher likelihood of your manager seeing you as a highly professional, prepared person. 

Find common ground

We all have different roles to play in our lives. At work we’re one person, but in the rest of our lives outside work we might have different interests, hobbies, or obligations. Managers are no different. So one big part of upward management will be finding common ground with your manager – see them as a whole person and help them see you as a whole person as well. 

Seek to learn more about them, looking for things like:

  • Family 
  • Hobbies
  • Goals outside of work
  • Passions and interests
  • Cool facts about them as a person

The key here is to not be pushy or creepy. However, you can do a bit of online stalking to check out what they share publicly on social media. Use that knowledge to form a bridge between you (and you can be honest if you found the fact from a social media post – it’s not creepy if you’re up front and honest about something they posted publicly). 

Remote upward management can be difficult

Shifting to remote work can be difficult for a lot of people, but that’s primarily because you can’t translate all in-person tactics remotely. There’s a whole mentality around remote relationship building and remote upward management that’s different from the office, since we’re so used to focusing on seeing people in the room and understanding body language. So as you grow remotely and as you learn more upward management skills, remember that remote is supposed to be different than the office. Use that to your advantage.