Since the sudden shift to remote work for many organizations, leaders have had to overhaul their approach to leadership drastically. As such, years, if not decades, of best practices, processes, and routines have been entirely rewritten to suit the new ways of working. For many, this change was not just unforeseen; it was uncomfortable.
Reeling from the sudden loss of seeing their employees working every day, some leaders took to micromanaging to cope with a situation that felt out of their control. Simply put, they attempted to control the situation by controlling their employees.
While this is understandable to some extent, it’s essential to consider what this feels like as an employee. The experience may look something like what one person described on an Ask a Manager thread:
“We are required to check-in and send updates on our work three times a day. By 9AM, we must send our direct supervisor a list of what we plan on working on each day. We are then required to check-in at 12PM and 4PM with a report of all the work we have completed… If we miss a check-in, we receive a text message reminder. There have been times where I am busy with a project and have missed the 12PM check-in.”
According to Indeed, the reasons a leader might choose to put such demands in place and wander into the territory of micromanagement include:
- A loss of control
- Inexperience in people management
- Poor self-image and insecurities
- Unskilled employees on the team
- A belief that work deemed superior to their own may make them look inadequate
The employee from the above thread concludes by asking, “Is this reasonable?”
The honest and unsatisfying answer to this question is that it will be different for every leader and employee. While one employee may see the situation described as suffocating and a sign of trust issues, another may feel it is reasonable because they get a tremendous feeling of comfort and connection from the process.
Regardless of what management style you take in leading remote teams, here are a few tips and best practices that can be adopted to relieve the temptation to micromanage.
1. Identify Reasons You Can Trust Your Employees
While it might be a knee-jerk reaction to think of the reasons why you cannot fully trust your remote employees, start shifting this mindset by identifying reasons why you can trust your employees. What is their track record of success? Do they own their mistakes and correct them without being told? Have they shown sound judgment and decision-making skills? Are they highly accountable for the outcomes of their actions?
If the answers to these questions are positive, then you have good reason to trust your employees with the job you have assigned them and should avoid micromanaging them, unless, of course, they are doing something wrong or harmful.
In fact, if you focus on your employee’s strengths rather than weaknesses or flaws, Gallup research found it makes them “three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive and 15% less likely to quit their jobs.”
2. Set Expectations and Boundaries
If you have specific expectations or boundaries related to a task or project you are delegating to a remote employee, communicate them as soon as possible. It doesn’t do either of you any good to leave those left unsaid, as it can lead to undue stress, surveillance, and rework. If you’re unsure how to communicate expectations, boundaries, and delegate work, ask yourself the following questions and then share the answers with your employees when delegating.
- Is there a specific way I want this task/project done?
- How often do I want to receive progress updates?
- When do I want my employee to ask me for help or for my input?
- Is there something the employee should not do under any circumstances?
3. Schedule Recurring One-On-One Meetings
As this period of remote work continues, hosting recurring one-on-one meetings with employees can help you feel more connected, aligned, and in control of the situation at hand. That’s because one-on-one meetings provide an opportunity for you as the leader to offer clarification, feedback, and guidance to the employee and for your employee to offer updates and seek input. In addition, exchanging all this information at a set time reduces the need to chase employees for updates, which can often feel like hovering from the employee’s perspective.
4. Be Mindful of Your Insecurities
In some cases, the need to micromanage employees comes from a place of insecurity. As one Forbes article stated, “one would think that alienating team members would be an irrational path, but logic does not always take root with an insecure leader. Chronic fear - that is, a fear of failing, not living up to their executive’s standards, having their weaknesses exposed, competition, etc. - might drive behaviors that are counterintuitive to both the team’s and the leader’s success.”
In this case, the counterintuitive behavior is micromanaging employees to distract or shift attention from one’s self. As such, you can practice mindfulness to identify actions and behaviors rooted in insecurity rather than reality.
Conclusion: Training Can Give you the leadership skills you need to lead remote employees without micromanaging
According to a Gallup study, just over half of employees strongly agree that considering the recent impact of COVID-19 on their job, they feel well-prepared to do their work. Add this to the loss of control leaders have felt over the past year and you have the recipe for micromanagement.
Fortunately, you can reduce the feelings that fuel micromanagement and prepare yourself for the future by enrolling in a training program specifically adapted to the needs of leaders of remote teams. Doing so will not only make you feel like you have some control over your situation but will provide you with the understanding and tools you need to not only survive but thrive in the future.
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