When leadership goes virtual: What works, and what doesn't work

How do you effectively connect with your manager in a work environment that is remote and virtual? Senior business leaders share what works and what doesn't.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer

Karen Mangia, vice president of customer and market insights and a member of the Salesforce's Work From Home Task Force.

"The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity."  Tom Peters
What happens when conference calls replace coffee talk with your manager? When skip level meetings are replaced with all hands virtual meetings? And when the new normal of work from home gives way to the next normal of work from anywhere? We know how difficult it can be to work remotely, both physically and psychologically. 

Karen Mangia is vice president of customer and market insights and a member of the Salesforce's Work From Home Task Force. Karen and I have co-authored several articles on how you can reach your full potential and deliver peak performance while working from home. The path toward achieving high-performance work at home starts with how you design and architect your surroundings, followed by how you practice and refine the art and science of public speaking and presentation skills. 

We know that managing your time starts with the ability to pause, ponder and prioritize your time. Effectively managing your remote teams requires a new mindset and behaviors. To manage teams with high energy, leaders must cultivate healthy relationships for all stakeholders. So how can employees maintain a healthy and nurturing relationship with their managers in a remote and digital only setting? 


Elizabeth Walchuk, Sr. Director of Business Communications & Program Management at Salesforce


Bruce Richardson, Chief Enterprise Strategist at Salesforce (pictured here with another Boston Legend, David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox)

For employees craving connection and managers learning to lead in this new context, past patterns must be revisited to refresh relationships in service of what works now. Marshall Goldsmith penned the concept that 't="" get="" there.""=""> Which means even exceptional employees and leaders need new strategies to create deeper, more collaborative relationships that produce innovation and results now.

"Peter Drucker, who said, "Our mission in life should be to make a positive difference, not to prove how smart or right we are."Marshall Goldsmith
Want to know how to better connect with your manager but afraid to ask?
You're not alone. That's why we hosted a candid conversation with tenured virtual leaders to ask what works, what doesn't work and how to recover from a perceived setback within your reporting structure. What we discovered are surprising insights and timeless tips to prevent physical distance from giving way to appearing distant.

"Leaps of greatness require the combined problem-solving ability of people who trust each other."  ― Simon Sinek

What works

  • Revisit Communication Cadence: "Revisit how your manager prefers to communicate now, even if you established a routine that worked in the past," advises Elizabeth Walchuk, Sr. Director of Business Communications & Program Management at Salesforce. "Is it email, Instant Messenger, text or something else? Understanding is key sustaining rapport and to meeting your leaders where they are virtually."

    Aliza Hutchison, Sr. Manager of Product Management at Salesforce

  • Show Your Work: "Be proactive.  Show your manager what is happening behind the scenes from time to time," coaches Bruce Richardson, Chief Enterprise Strategist at Salesforce. "An FYI email as work is in progress gives your manager an opportunity to engage with you and to offer help when needed. And, never underestimate the power of a consistent weekly email to your manager to highlight three to five key accomplishments as well as a preview of what you're focused on next. Invite coaching and collaboration."
  • Check in on Your Boss, Too: "Everyone has a role to play in ensuring the health and well-being of others, even your manager," says Aliza Hutchison, Sr. Manager of Product Management at Salesforce. "Sometimes we forget to ask those in charge how they are, and they often need that check in more than you realize. Especially right now."
  • Focus On Aspiration Over Alignment: "I've come to distrust the term alignment. It's overused. It's a crutch, and it has oddly become a buzzword," John Taschek, SVP of Market Strategy at Salesforce, ponders aloud. "Imagine telling your family they need alignment on dinner. That said, the most important thing right now is to acknowledge that each person faces different issues. We should be looking at individual aspirations in the context of team goals. It's a unique time in history. Maybe no one has the answers, but I know any one person's aspirations can determine an entire team's goals. How do you set those goals when you don't see people on a regular basis? I never see people on a regular basis. But I know it's about trust and communication - two things you can never get enough of in any relationship."

John Taschek, SVP of Market Strategy at Salesforce (Photo of John and me at the Vatican, Italy, hosting and judging the first ever student hackathon at the Vatican)

  • Collaboration Is "Management:" "Most people - including me- prefer not to be 'managed,'" continues Taschek. "What I want to be is trusted and empowered and to be allowed to pursue my dreams my way. I find that most others want that as well. The stakes aren't higher or lower right now, but they are different. Context changes over time, but my attitude about the importance of collaboration and challenging each other to be our best has not."

"It is vital that we are equipped with the humility to understand that changing the world and keeping innovation alive require that we change ourselves." Whitney Johnson

What Doesn't Work

  • The Ultimate: "There's pretty much just one "don't' in my mind," advises Taschek. "Do not push down a person to try to elevate yourself."
  • Hiding Bad News: "Be responsive, even if you don't have good news," adds on Bruce Richardson. "That goes for conversations with your boss as well as with your employees. Build trust through transparency and consistency."
  • All Business: "Many of us are working longer hours and feeling more pressure," continues Richardson. "As a result, it's tempting to cut to the chase in meetings with people more senior than you. But, humor helps. Checking in on how things are going at home helps. Anything to stay connected as people and to change the channel on our current reality - even for a few minutes - makes a big difference. Every business is still a relationship business."

If you are feeling disconnected or in need of a fresh start with your leaders, try the Socratic method. Socrates, the Greek philosopher, discovered that asking open-ended questions is the best tool to uncover hidden assumptions, explore complex ideas, and to examine issues as they arise. Instead of quietly hypothesizing, ask. A great starting point is, "What's working and not working for you as we've both made adjustments to work from home full time?"
What are you discovering as you work from home? We welcome your insights here or by joining us on Twitter at @karenmangia and @ValaAfshar.

This article was co-authored by Karen Mangia, vice president, customer and market insights, at Salesforce

Karen engages customers globally to discover new ways of creating success and growth together. From Executive Advisory Boards to strategic consulting engagements, her insights are central to Go-to-Market strategy, product development, marketing, and branding. In addition, Karen influences industry thought leadership in her role as Chair of the Customer Experience Council for The Conference Board. Formerly responsible for Insight Innovation at Cisco Systems, she led a global team with oversight into Customer Satisfaction and Experience, Diversity Business Practices, and Global Offset and Countertrade. Karen is also the author of Success With Less and a TEDx speaker.

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