5 Keys to Manage Up (Remotely)

Making your boss’s life easier is a critical part of every job—even if you can’t meet up.




It’s never listed under the “responsibilities” section of a job description. It’s also never overtly mentioned during a performance review. But experts say one of the biggest tasks required of any job is to make the boss look good—and in some cases it may be the overarching requirement.

“Managing up,” as this workplace dynamic is called, is something we all need to do. And it doesn’t matter if the pandemic has taken away your chance for face-to-face time, says Jacob Zabkowicz, vice president and general manager for Korn Ferry’s global recruitment process outsourcing business. “When we were all onsite, it was easy to swing by the office and share thoughts and opinions and build a relationship,” he says. 

Some firms are asking people to come back to the office, but the vast majority are still asking staffers to work—and deal with managers—remotely. Some tips to impress the person who decides your next raise and promotion:

Become Mr./Ms. Reliable.

Now more than ever, managers need people they can count on. But in a remote setting, this goes beyond just providing high-quality work on time, says David Ginchansky, a career coach with Korn Ferry Advance. He says it’s more about freeing up time for them by proactively providing updates on deadlines, project statuses, and all the other “to-dos” on their checklist. “The more information and updates you can provide before they ask, the more they trust you and are less likely to inquire and interfere,” Ginchansky says. 

Observe and decode. 

Understand that your manager may not behave the same in a remote setting as in the office. They may suddenly become a micromanager, for instance, checking in constantly to make up for the inability to just swing by your desk. Or they may prefer text updates rather than emails because they’re more mobile now while balancing professional and personal demands. Nancy Von Horn, a Korn Ferry Advance career coach, advises employees who notice changes in behavior to ask questions about how they can adjust their communication and working style to better meet new needs. “Observe and decode so you can better speak your boss’s language,” she says. 

Share positive feedback.

Letting your boss know about the kudos you are receiving reflects well on them as well, says Zabkowicz. One tactic he personally uses is to forward positive emails to the entire team, his boss, and his boss’s manager, with a brief note of congratulations to all. This not only establishes credit and recognition to everyone but also “manages up well in that there is visibility of the great work being accomplished,” Zabkowicz says. 

Bring solutions, not problems.

Talking through an issue with your boss is one thing. Expecting them to solve it is quite another. With time being a scarce commodity, bringing ideas or options for solving unresolved problems or issues will go a long way toward making your boss’s life easier. The last thing you want to do is catch your boss off guard with bad news, says Ginchansky. “When you provide business updates, don’t talk about problems, talk about how you are following up on or strategizing around how to solve them,” he says.

Manage yourself.

Von Horn says a big part of managing up is simply being open about your working style and aspirations. Discuss how you can align what you need to be successful with your boss’s expectations and objectives so that you can build a productive relationship together. She says this will help with assigning projects that fit you best while also achieving team goals. “Manage yourself in order to manage up,” says Von Horn.