an angry young woman about to pull her hair out

5 Steps to Avoid Micromanagement in Remote Work

September 07, 2021 Digital Workplace
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

There's nothing new about micromanagers at work. For some bosses, keeping close tabs on employees is a way to show their dedication to getting the job done right. But in reality, it's often about control. The fact that they don't think employees will perform unless they keep a close eye on how they do the job is an age-old management problem. What is new is remote work.

For many managers, remote work was supposed to be a short term solution to the spread of COVID-19. It has since turned into a long-term, possibly permanent, reality. Some have struggled to adapt when they don't have the ability to walk over to an employee and check in. The result can be an uptick in micromanagement.

The cost is steep. Micromanagers are actually hurting themselves, the company and their workers more than they realize. So what are the best practices for managing remote work and successfully leading a team? It starts with realizing why micromanagement starts in the first place, and then focusing on steps to engage and motivate employees around shared goals and objectives.

Why Do Remote Managers Micromanage?

Managers often micromanage out of lack of faith in their own abilities and their workers' skills. To add to the challenge, COVID-19 and the massive push into remote work strained their confidence further and forced them to change their style, oftentimes without training. The result was predictable.

According to a 2020 study cited in the Harvard Business Review, about 40% of 215 supervisors and managers surveyed expressed low confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely. With such a low level of self-confidence, it isn't a surprise that managers turn to micromanagement in an effort to get things done in an uncertain environment. 

Managers have a tendency to micromanage remote employees they do not entirely trust, said Nick Drewe, founder at Melbourne, Australia-based WeThrift, an online shopping coupon site.

"As a result, managers supervising remote workers tend to be more controlling and demanding," he said. "Some even go as far as to force their employees to use screen recorders during work hours." 

While maintaining productivity is crucial, especially in remote work, micromanaging at that level can create a toxic work environment that hampers creativity and suffocates workers. Here are a few other signs of a micromanager: 

  • Lack of focus on the customer.
  • Accepts less-than-best work. 
  • Every conversation with an employee feels like a performance review.
  • Wants to approve every decision.
  • Gate-keeping and required meetings are derailing project schedules.
  • Employees are afraid to share their opinions.

Related Article: 3 Ways to Put More Control in the Hands of Remote Employees

5 Steps to Better Management of Remote Workers

1. Offer Trust

"Trust is the key to making the whole remote setup work," said Ed Cravo, head of marketing at Chicago-based Groundbreaker, a provider of online investor software. 

"It is important to make remote workers feel that they are trusted rather than being controlled. Too many rules will stifle remote worker performance as they might feel micromanaged, which could hurt their work creativity."

2. Give Employees Autonomy 

Micromanagement is amplified when it's done remotely because of technology, making it even more bothersome for employees than when they worked in the office. Giving employees autonomy shows that leaders trust them to do their work without needing to intervene. It also allows managers to focus on the most important tasks at hand, rather than monitoring employees.

Assuming a company hires the right people, they should give those workers breathing room and trust that they will get the job done, Cravo said.

Related Article: 3 Management Tips for Topsy Turvy Times

3. Lead by Example

"One of the greatest traits of a good manager is the ability to lead by example," said Job van der Voort, CEO at San Francisco-based Remote, an HR technology platform for global payroll, tax, benefits and compliance. "It is not enough to establish a structure of flexible hours and unlimited PTO policies. Managers must take time off and be public about it when they do."

Keep in mind that the work-life balance of leaders trickles down to every member of the organization, so it is important they model the example they want others to follow. 

4. Create a System for Check-ins

Too much contact is stifling, but not enough is a problem, too. Managers should set up a check-in schedule to spend time with workers every couple of weeks or so. This gives them the time to bring up any non-pressing issues and as well as raise their own concerns. This routine check-in allows managers to keep tabs on employees without micromanaging them. 

5. Use Project Management Tools

"Instead of requiring workers to send records of their shifts, use an efficient project management software program," Drewe said. The project management platform should contain team tasks, so employees can categorize which tasks fall under which projects and which projects fall under which portfolios.

As an extra benefit, project management tools can also stimulate team communication. Most employees would rather provide casual yet accurate updates to teammates than their immediate supervisors.

While these steps can help manage micromanagement, it is important to note that being in the office creates mental separation between work and personal life by default. Working from home makes that compartmentalization more difficult.

True remote work empowers individual employees, giving them the flexibility to decide when and where they want to work. That can mean working at home during the day, at a coffee shop during the evening, or even working during a month-long stay in another country. True remote work eliminates limitations on work-life balance instead of enforcing them. Micromanagers, take note.


Featured Research

Related Stories

jumper cables isolated on white background

Digital Workplace

How Mobile Apps Can Power Up Your Internal Communications

isolated house on stilts in the woods surrounded by snow

Digital Workplace

Can Work-From-Anywhere Really Work?

woman peeking through cut outs in a wall

Digital Workplace

Is Responsible Employee Surveillance Possible?

Join Top Industry Leaders at the Most Impactful Employee Experience and Digital Workplace Conference of 2023

Reworked Connect