We can all picture the micromanager hovering over a cubicle wall. But what does the remote micromanager look like? And now that so many of us are working from home, is micromanagement a bigger problem or a smaller one that when we were all in the office?

Sure, when you’re working from home you’re not going to have a random encounter at the coffee station which leads to a long and in-depth assessment of your project details. But you have to have some sympathy for the managers suddenly thrust into the virtual world. They’re still responsible for seeing that the job gets done, even though the whole world has become unimaginably unpredictable and chaotic. It’s no wonder that some of them have become intrusive and frustrating as they try to oversee their team’s work.

As understandable as the motivations may be, micromanagement is usually a disastrous leadership approach. It interferes with people’s learning and development. It undermines team morale. It can lead to increased absenteeism and staff turnover. It’s inefficient. It decreases motivation. It is disrespectful. Micromanagement reduces managers’ effectiveness by shifting their focus from their important strategic and administrative tasks to the work of lower-level employees. At its worst, micromanagement leads to physical and psychological symptoms in the employees, resulting in increased health care costs for the organization.

What are some signs of a remote micromanager?

  • Requiring constant reporting
    More than once a day is almost always too much. It interferes with getting the work done and communicates mistrust.
  • Over-scheduling
    Most employees don’t need detailed daily schedules. They can pace their own work.
  • Taking up all the airspace
    When the only voice on a Zoom meeting is the manager, there’s a problem.
  • Intrusive decision-making
    Micromanagers insist that every decision has to go through them, which is inefficient and annoying.
  • Unnecessary monitoring
    Monitoring software can be useful when it helps companies understand how the work gets done. But used for surveillance, it’s an invasion of privacy and a distraction for managers.
  • Back-to-back meetings
    Unnecessary meetings are exhausting and, once again, interfere with getting the work done.
  • Unreasonable response time expectations
  • Fostering dependency
    When managers invite employees to “call me any time,” they’re failing to develop their team members’ independent problem-solving skills.
  • Measuring productivity by time spent rather than results

How to be a great remote manager

Great remote management relies on the same practices as great in-person management: clear goals, clear expectations for engagement and behavior, and regular support on both sides. That means:

  • Clearly showing you trust your people and have confidence they will get the job done.
  • Demonstrating flexibility and patience. It takes time for people to adjust to all the changes.
  • Setting clear guidelines about topics like professional behavior in virtual meetings and when you expect team members to be available online.
  • Being reasonable. When people are working from home, their phone is going to ring, the dog is going to bark, and the kids may wander through the room. Chill.
  • Modeling and teaching meeting etiquette, such as punctuality and when to mute yourself. Expect technical glitches early on, but also expect people to master the technology over time.
  • Utilizing both synchronous and asynchronous communication. While synchronous communication is great for personal connection, asynchronous communication allows group collaboration even though people may come and go at different times. Letting people structure their own schedules will optimize productivity as they accommodate their home/work environments and personal daily rhythms. Not everything needs to be communicated in a meeting.

Remember, the opposite of micromanagement is not abandonment. Your team members do need to check in with you regularly. And they do need to know that you are concerned not only with whether the work is getting done, but also with how they are doing and what they need. This time is really tough, and we are all in it together.

For more advice on how to adapt your management style to remote work, contact me at ggolden@gailgoldenconsulting.com. And if you want to know the characteristics for a traditional micromanaging boss, read my article.

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