upside down people riding in a roller coaster
PHOTO: Anne Nygård

As organizations continue to work from home, some managers remain uneasy about their employees’ daily productivity levels. For some, this can lead to micromanagement, where employees receive constant check ins about project status and are bombard across multiple channels when an immediate response is not received.

Unsurprisingly, employees aren't big fans of micromanagement. It makes them feel like their manager doesn't trust them to do their job. When trust is wavering, conversations through virtual platforms can easily be taken out of context or misunderstood, potentially damaging relationships as a result.

Below are my top three tips for leaders to avoid micromanaging their people while working remotely, including setting attainable goals, recognizing potential burnout and remaining empathetic.

1. Establish Trust With Clear Goals and Attainable KPIs

Avoiding micromanagement starts with trust, which managers can achieve by implementing clear goals and objectives and then providing employees the autonomy to work towards those goals in the way they feel best.

Start by letting your employees know you are there for guidance when needed, but do not hover over and dictate the exact steps they take to accomplish these goals. Let them know what needs to be done and trust them to accomplish it.

For leadership, this means establishing metrics for teams to work towards. Once set, managers should connect with these teams to ensure they understand their individual responsibilities and how they will be measured. Managers should also assign employees to projects they will feel most passionate about and encourage them to innovate and try new approaches.  

By being transparent and up front with timelines and accountability, leaders will set their people up with the information and resources to do their best work, eliminating potential pain points down the road.

Related Article: Dealing With the 'Soft' Challenges of Remote Work

2. Keep Your Workforce Connected, but Recognize Burnout

With kitchen tables filling in for cubicles, coworkers are losing out on the natural, person-to-person conversations they had in the office. Managers, too, are feeling a heightened sense of unease as they cannot see their people working or check in with them in real-time.

To combat this, many companies took the natural step at the beginning of the pandemic to mandate video conferencing in an effort to maintain an interactive environment and culture. Whether an internal meeting, client discussion, board presentation or virtual happy hour, video calls have quickly become the source for employees to meet 'face to face.' But as the pandemic dragged on, video conferencing fatigue emerged. Being constantly required to be on video is causing employees to lose interest in discussions, disrupting and negatively impacting their workflow.

Managers have to understand that just because they cannot see their employees working doesn’t mean they aren't doing their jobs. As such, consider a more flexible video conferencing policy. Ask yourself:

  1. Does this warrant a full face-to-face meeting, or could I mix things up and present this information in a different way, like a PowerPoint, phone conversation or instant messaging thread?
  2. Is there a different channel, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, that my team could use to communicate today that would inspire deeper creativity?
  3. Am I requiring my employees to turn on their video? Can this be dial-in only to alleviate some pressure?
  4. What other video calls do my team members have on their plate today and this week? Should those take precedence?

By asking these questions, keeping video conferencing to a “need-to-have” minimum and keeping discussions casual where possible, leaders inspire employees to feel trusted and more excited to take part in group meetings when they do occur and feel more creative and less pressured to be always on.

Related Article: 8 Ways to Make Virtual Meetings More Engaging

3. It All Comes Down to Empathy 

It has never been more important for organizational leadership to show empathy towards employees and demonstrate their shared humanity. Whether it’s a parent juggling their kids and their 9-5, a new employee who onboarded remotely, or a seasoned professional struggling with the uncertainty of larger world issues, today’s workers are feeling stresses from all corners of life.

Great, effective leaders are those that authentically care, and who challenge and support their employees. At the end of the day, we’re all human, and the most effective leaders aren’t afraid to show it. As such, managers today should demonstrate seven traits:

  1. Listen to their people: Create open forums for employees to share their opinions. Keep your virtual door open. Let employees know you are there if they need to talk.
  2. Be communicative, but balanced: Understand the correct medium to share praise versus constructive criticism. Given the heightened stress everyone is under, an email with negative feedback could easily be misconstrued. Take the time to pick up the phone and walk someone through edits to monitor and maintain the correct tone.
  3. Not be a pest: Understand that everyone is busy and if your matter is not urgent, a structured, succinct email that can be addressed later might suffice.
  4. Serve as a guidepost: Inspire employees to bring new ideas to the table and help them feel comfortable in doing so.
  5. Not jump to conclusions: If someone is underperforming, don't jump to conclusions or lead with disappointment. Instead, start an open dialogue to get to the root of the issue. Listen and learn.
  6. Ask people how they're doing: We are all struggling through the year of 2020, so be transparent and ask employees how they are doing. Do not use this as an opportunity to “fix” them, but rather listen to their concerns and recognize their struggles. Bearing burdens with others is many times more effective than hollow and rote management advice.
  7. Have a sense of humor: Humor helps everyone keep their perspective. John Cleese of Monty Python once said “Laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter.”

During times of uncertainty, businesses need to maintain structure and normalcy for employees. Teams should always understand where the business is heading, have a clear vision of the goals they are working towards, and understand how those goals impact the overall business. Leadership teams should take this time, with ambiguity around office reopenings still looming, to evaluate how they are remaining inspirational, but not overbearing, and providing employees with the information they need to stay on track and succeed. Creating clear goals, staying connected and remaining empathetic are key.