Insights / Article

Micromanaging Your Remote Workers? Own It, Then Fix It.

February 21, 2022

Contributor: Jackie Wiles

Ask these five questions to determine whether you’re guilty. If you are, do this instead. Your employees will thank you.

As remote work becomes the norm for many employees, some leaders are falling into the trap of micromanaging employees, a practice which ultimately drives down engagement, motivation, productivity and trust. Don’t despair: You can still stop yourself with these actions.

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“Whether they admit it or not, micromanagers usually feel that they can’t trust employees to perform their jobs away from the physical office environment,” says Daniel Sanchez Reina, Gartner VP Analyst. “Employees who don’t feel trusted lose self-confidence and contribute less. Micromanagers stifle creativity and growth, and need to take action and work on both their own behaviors and the norms they set for their teams.”

Effects of Micromanagement on Your Team

5 questions to determine if you are a micromanager

Not sure whether you’re prone to micromanaging in the world of remote work? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I often have concerns about or question (outspokenly or silently) employees’ productivity?
  2. Do I find myself constantly wanting to be informed of every bit of progress made?
  3. Do I peek into systems records to check that someone actually did what I asked?
  4. Do I find myself limiting others’ authority to keep myself engaged with initiatives?
  5. Do I find it difficult to delegate tasks because I don’t trust they will get done?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you’re likely a micromanager. 

Actions to curb micromanaging

To avoid crossing the line from supervision into micromanagement with remote workers, take two types of actions:

  • “Me” actions. What you have to work on by yourself to tame your micromanagement tendencies.
  • “Them” actions. What you have to work on with your team members to build trust and engage in the right ways at the right times

If you believe they may also be micromanaging, make sure to redirect these actions toward managers on your leadership team.

Tame your inner micromanager

When it comes to “me” actions, adopt new approaches to stop micromanaging. For example:

  • Reflect on some key questions to identify what you are failing to do. Ask yourself: “Do I really add value to the business with the amount of time I spend supervising today? Could I be dedicating that time to more strategic activities? Think through what you could achieve if you redirected your attention. Block out time in your schedule to devote to working on these questions regularly.
  • Set a perfection scale of 1 to 10 (perfection can refer to the amount of functionality of a project or a product, for example). Ask yourself whether you’re pushing for a 10 when an 8 is enough.
  • Repeat: “My way is not the only way.” Apply the 80/20 rule: In 80% of cases, leave an employee to approach an activity in their own way. In 20% of cases, guide the employee to do it your way. 

Trust more, engage less

And for “them” actions, first follow the golden rule of leading remote workers: default to trust. Let your team members work through challenges autonomously. Reduce the amount of checkpoints (control meetings). Ask how your team will benefit from your engagement, not how you will benefit from engaging with your team.

Set guardrails for before, during and after initiatives to keep yourself from micromanaging. For example:

  • Empower team members. Make sure team members all understand the impact and scope of what is expected of them, articulate how their activities are crucial to meeting enterprise goals and provide each with the resources they need to get the job done. 
  • Focus on outcomes. Don’t waste time obsessing over the time the team dedicates to getting the job done or how they do it. What matters is that they get results in the agreed-upon time frame.
  • Be flexible. Give people the opportunity to work when, where and how they can be most creative and productive.
  • Plan for the worst case. This makes people feel trusted and confident in their ability to handle problems. 
  • Do not blame. Blame instantly crushes self-esteem and spoils the bonds of trust with your employees. Focus on lessons learned from failures. Let your team come up with the answer of what to do better next time.

Just remember: Executive leaders who make a concerted effort not to micromanage their remote workers will have more successful teams in the end. Who doesn’t want that?

In short:

  • Remote work is the new norm for many employees, but some leaders remain concerned about achieving the same productivity they once saw on-site.
  • Leaders’ perceived lack of control compels many of them to micromanage, but doing so just makes employees less engaged, motivated and productive.
  • Gut check if you’re micromanaging, and then apply these leadership techniques to stop yourself and introduce more productive, trust-building behaviors.

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