Microprocessing

Remote Work Can Actually Flip the Power Dynamic With Your Boss

Video can break down hierarchies by bringing people into each other’s worlds more fully

Angela Lashbrook
OneZero
Published in
7 min readJul 22, 2020

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A photo of a Macbook in a Zoom call against a sky blue background.
Photo: Morning Brew/Unsplash

I recently had a frustrating phone call that was full of trial and error. I was calling a professor for this story, and I was already a bit nervous, as I usually am when chatting with accomplished experts in their fields. Then came a series of technological mishaps — a spotty connection, Zoom problems, and a Bluetooth nightmare.

Though we were eventually able to conduct our interview, I still worried that the bumpy beginning would lead my source to judge me negatively. Would he think that I wasn’t competent at my job?

It’s ironic that the episode itself was illustrative of the very topic we were discussing: how remote work impacts power dynamics and hierarchies in professional relationships. How do managers’ relationships with their underlings change when all communication has been relegated online? And does your relationship with your manager change when meetings become Zoom calls and feedback goes from a coffee meeting to a prolonged Slack conversation?

For one thing, just because your boss is effective in the office does not make them good at managing people online. “In remote working contexts, different forms of leadership are more successful,” says Emma Russell, senior lecturer in occupational and organizational psychology at the University of Sussex Business School. For instance, Russell suggests that highly successful digital teams designate project-specific managers rather than leaning into rigid hierarchies.“This indicates that virtual working has the capacity to generate flattened hierarchical structures.”

How do managers’ relationships with their underlings change when all communication has been relegated online?

Recent research also shows that managing digitally calls for different personality types. Unlike in person management, being a charismatic extrovert is not likely to help a manager in a virtual setting. Managers who are helpful, generous, organized, and give feedback freely are seen as better leaders, while…

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Angela Lashbrook
OneZero

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.