As everyone has rapidly adjusted to remote work over the past two years, I’ve noticed another pandemic spreading through companies across the world: the rise of accidental micromanagement.
You probably already know that micromanagement is detrimental to workplace culture. Studies show that it causes low employee morale, a reduction in productivity, and even higher staff turnover–something businesses can’t afford given the great resignation we’re already facing.
Despite the fact that most of us know we should avoid this leadership style, more than half of U.S. employees report feeling micromanaged when working remotely. And it’s not surprising: According to a Microsoft study , 61% of managers feel they haven’t effectively learned how to delegate to and empower virtual teams. We’ve shifted to remote work without being given the tools and training to be effective managers from afar.
Today, I’m hoping to give you some of those tools. If you’re wondering how to keep tabs on what your remote team is up to without slipping into micromanaging ways, try these five simple yet effective tactics.
1. Get Everyone in the Same Project Management Tool
This may seem basic, but I’m always surprised how many companies aren’t taking advantage of the incredible project management and collaboration tools available. Apps like Jira, Trello, Asana, or Basecamp do more than keep complex projects organized–they give you an eagle-eye view of the status of everything your team is working on.
When setting up a project management tool for your team, make sure it’s capturing any information that you may otherwise have to check in with employees about. Want to know when you can expect deliverables for a long-term client engagement? Ask employees to break down timelines within the app. Want a gut check on how a project is going? Include a color-coded system where employees can mark whether it’s green (going well), yellow (a little iffy), or red (in bad shape). Then, you quickly know where it’s helpful to step in, rather than feel like you’re stepping on toes. This has been instrumental in making sure our team is aligned.
2. Create Simple Structures for Checking In
So much micromanagement happens because of uncertainty about when you’ll hear from your employees–especially when you’re not working alongside them. Without clear guidelines for communicating updates, it can feel tempting to constantly check in.
Instead, create simple ways for employees to keep you updated. While daily standup meetings were common in the past, many remote companies have shifted to asynchronous methods to reduce virtual meeting time. For example, employees can send daily progress reports with the to-dos they accomplished, the challenges they faced, and what they’ll be tackling next. (Employees are told to keep these updates under 100 words to prevent it from becoming an arduous task.) Basecamp automatically pings employees at the end of every day to ask what they worked on, and at the start of every week asking what they plan to work on. They find it’s just as valuable for self-accountability as keeping others in the loop. At my company BarBend, we allow our managers to choose whether their respective teams should send daily or weekly updates
Whatever system you choose, creating norms around this will give you peace of mind and empower employees to share updates on their terms.
3. Set Smaller Project Milestones
I’m not suggesting you have to let your employees work completely without supervision until a project launches. Instead, break big initiatives into smaller milestones where you agree you’ll check in.
The big initiative my team has been working on is the launching of a bodybuilding-focused email, The Ripped Report. We all knew what the end goal was, but with such a big initiative, we saw early team motivation stalling because of the enormity of the task. That’s when we broke the launch into three discrete milestones, with the first being achievable after just a few weeks. Immediately the enthusiasm and productivity of the group skyrocketed.
By setting these expectations upfront, your team is less likely to feel like these touchpoints are overbearing. It gives them space to try things and fail on their own–without tanking an entire project since you’ll have opportunities to step in and course correct if needed. Plus, it can help with motivation and productivity since your employees will have regular markers of progress and better manage expectations.
4. Share When You’ll Be Available
A common symptom of remote work micromanagement is employees feeling like their boss is always noting when they’re online–and thinking less of them when they’re not.
One way to solve this is to choose ” work windows ” each day when you expect everyone to be online, and then be more lenient about when your employees prefer to work the rest of the day. An even better approach is to simply make it known when you’ll be available. Rather than feeling forced to work certain hours, employees will feel empowered to come to you during that time if they need support.
For instance, you could hold “office hours” where anyone can show up if they need you, or virtual working sessions where folks can work together on challenges they’re facing. Whatever works for your team, create the option for your team to work together, without forcing anything.
5. Treat Employees Like Adults
Ultimately, not micromanaging your employees comes down to a mindset shift. I really like how health-tech company Levels frames this: Treat your people like adults . By building a culture of trust and autonomy, your employees are more likely to bring their best work to the table, and more likely to feel comfortable coming to you when they do need input.
Or, as Wade Foster , CEO and co-founder of Zapier says, “Good managers don’t actually care what folks do with their time. They care if they get their job done or not.”
Hire good people, build the systems you need to effectively manage the work, and pay attention to the big picture results rather than the day-to-day details. The work your team produces–and their feelings about you as a manager–will be better because of it.