Skip to main content

What If Your Boss Will Only Speak With You In Cyberspace?

Like everyone else, I'm been following the war of words between Meryl Streep and our Twittering president-elect. For the record, I agree with Ms. Streep. We need empathy, and a lot more of it these days.

For my blog, however, this war of words raises a very 21st-Century kind of management question: What if your boss communicates with you solely in cyberspace, and never, ever face-to-face? And what if your boss likes it this way?

The Cyberboss Who Sits 50 Feet Away
To be clear, I'm not talking about teleworkers based 3,000 miles (or more) away from management. That's a whole different matter. No, I'm talking about the boss who works in the same office -- perhaps a mere 50-feet away behind closed doors! This manager inhabits the same office space as employees, but will only communicate via cyberspace. Email. Texting. Facebook. Twitter. Slack. Insert app here. It's gotten far too easy just to send a message.

But what message is management really sending here? This manager is very good at the cyber and seems to have built a fortified firewall to keep people at a virtual distance via electronic means. Talk to the handle, employees, and admire management's latest avatar. Don't worry; the boss will be back in touch -- just as soon as they hit another WiFi hotspot and are able to pick up where they left off.

At first, I thought, No modern-day manager would ever hide behind social media, texting, email and company intranet pages when they want to insult speak with employees! The very idea seems far-fetched, sort of like Yahoo! suddenly changing its name to Altaba. It will never work!

Then I came across this link, and that link, this other link and that other link. Some employees, it turns out, do work for bosses who only talk to them online!

It's tough, and more than a little disconcerting to be in this situation, because we humans need adequate in-person interaction to feel heard and valued. It's how we're wired. We want to read body language as much as we're opening the new app that pings us as soon as the president-elect says anything about a stock in our retirement portfolio.

How To "Talk" To the Boss Who Communicates Only Online
If you're an employee dealing with a manager who speaks with you only -- and I mean ONLY -- online, then there are a few things you can do. Here are five tips for working with managers who manage via cyberspace, all the time:

1. Request to meet in person with this manager. Simply say, "It would be nice to speak with you in person, when you have a few minutes" and see what happens. Of course, your boss may never have "a few minutes" for in-person interaction and ignore your request, but at least you've made it known that you would like for it to happen sometime.

2. Try to reset a few boundaries. Working with a manager who never communicates face-to-face requires you to think about what you need. Are there work matters -- sensitive and otherwise -- that you would prefer to discuss offline, for example? If so, then you might politely say that you'd rather take it offline. Alternately, you can say you've left a document in their inbox (the offline kind) detailing the matter at hand. Just hand it to Harry Potter at the front desk. He'll know which inbox it goes in.


3. Ignore the insults. What if your boss uses online communication to insult employees' work, intelligence, personal accomplishments or other attributes? Ah, now we get right down to it, don't we? Your boss won't change their insulting ways because such behavior is hard-wired into their system. Do your best to ignore the random insults and stay focused on the work-related details. Always be the adult in the chat room. Don't take the bait, and speak kindly of your hard-working co-workers who are trying their best. Look out for each other, and back each other up.

4. Ask for clarification. It's very easy to misinterpret tone online. Your manager wrote one thing in a text, and employees heard something completely different. Miscommunication could lead to staff confusion and mistakes, so don't be afraid to ask the manager to clarify. Your manager is the one who has set up the relationship be work entirely online despite your best efforts (see Tips #1 and #2), therefore your manager must make sure to explain things very clearly, all the time.

5. Decide if this is what you want. Can you spend the next few years working for a manager who won't communicate with you face-to-face? If it isn't working for you (and I can see why it is not), then this work environment might not be the best fit for you. There is no shame in craving real, direct, face-to-face discourse in the workplace! If something feels off about how your manager communicates -- or if you're the only one in the department the boss never speaks to in person -- then your gut is trying to tell you something. Don't ignore it.

Yes, we live in the internet age, where bits, bytes and devices rule the workplace roost. Still, there has to be a good balance between online and offline communication when you're in management. A little bit of good, old fashioned "management by walking around" never goes out of style. Feel free to share your stories and advice about working for the boss behind the virtual wall. Wow, that sounds like a good book title, doesn't it?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Seven tips for dealing with a jealous coworker

Look at you, doing so well at work! We're so happy for you. Well, most of us are happy for you and refuse to spend the entire work day talking behind your back. Let's talk about how to handle our jealous co-workers!Like every other professional, you've no doubt experienced your share of failures and successes. Lately, however, things seem to be going your way at work. And how! Perhaps you've managed to ace an important project this quarter, been instrumental in landing a huge client, earned some well-deserved rewards for this and that, or -- egads! -- been given a slight promotion or additional work responsibilities (e.g., the work responsibilities you actually want).You're quietly chuffed, but somehow your co-workers seem none too pleased with this rapid turn of events. Oh no, what should you do now?It's a workplace tale older than the disjointed last season of Mad Men. The playing field in the department was even, cozy and overall very friendly -- until so-an…

Employees Blame Technology For Slowing Them Down At Work

Do you feel like you're always working, but never getting very much done? If so, you're not alone. Too much technology, and too much red tape, keep slowing us down at work. But technology, and more of it, is supposed to make our lives easier! Too much technology, however, does not compute for employees. A new SAP/Knowledge@Wharton survey of almost 700 corporate employees finds a full 60% of respondents blame technology "for inhibiting their ability to meet strategic goals." Gee, anyone who has ever used the self-checkout line at the grocery store can tell you that. However, 40% surveyed said that looking for ways to simplify the technology has been "a low priority" for their company. Too much paperwork is an on-going problem for the workplace, too. A new ServiceNow survey of nearly 1,000 managers finds that 90% are doing too much administrative work, no matter the size of the company. This paperwork includes filling out forms, writing status updates, …

Is Your Co-worker Always Late For Work?

You've started the workday, but where is your co-worker? Oh, she's running late again, just like yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. Let's get an early start on solving her tardiness problem, shall we? Working with someone who is consistently late is one of the most annoying aspects of office life, and also one of the most common, unfortunately. It's a universal theme of the workplace that everyone will get to work on time (give or take a few minutes...) except for the employee who is egregiously late nearly every day. And the excuses can get pretty amazing. Employees became more punctual as the Great Recession lingered, at least according to surveys. Everyone, that is, except for your able-bodied but habitually-tardy co-worker. It's bad enough dealing with tardiness when you're a manager, but it can be even more frustrating when you're a rank-and-file peer without any magical "shape up or ship out" managerial powers. So you…