How to avoid micromanaging your remote workers

two people sitting on stools having a meeting

Maybe your company has been fully remote for years. Maybe you didn’t let your first employee work from home until March 2020. Either way, the performance of your team depends on your ability to communicate expectations without overstepping boundaries.

In July, we conducted a study called the Global Workforce Revolution Report to learn more about how business leaders and employees expect remote work to evolve. Of our respondents in the U.S. and U.K., 66% of companies said they plan to offer more flexible work arrangements for team members. Further, 81% of workers indicated they would move if they could do so without harming their careers. Our research not only indicated that companies plan to invest more in remote work but that employees are highly eager to make a permanent switch to more flexible work arrangements. You can download the full Global Workforce Revolution Report on Wednesday August 12th. 

People have families, hobbies, and better things to do than sit in traffic for several hours a week to commute to an office. Businesses that fail to embrace remote work culture could see their best workers leave for more accommodating options.

Increased acceptance of remote work means managers and business owners must learn to manage remote teams more effectively. Right now, not many leaders have deep experience in distributed management, and those who do sometimes find bad habits hard to break. If you want your team to deliver the performance benefits for which remote work is famous, start by addressing the way you communicate expectations to your remote employees.

What your remote work program should look like

Remote-optional companies rarely offer a great experience for distributed teams. When you reluctantly allow remote work but fail to embrace it in your company culture, people who choose to work outside the office often feel disconnected from their peers and from advancement opportunities. To go properly remote, you must ensure that remote work feels less like a concession and more like an investment in the well-being of your workers.

Offer benefits that facilitate easier remote work, such as ergonomic office furniture, wellness stipends, and nicer electronics. Employees who carve out niches in their own homes to create home offices save their employers money on real estate. The least you can do is use some of those savings to ensure your remote team members have everything they need to do their jobs well.

Tools and perks don’t just apply to individuals. Your company also needs great remote work tools, including programs such as Notion and Slack to facilitate communication among teams. The more your teams (co-working and distributed) buy into your communication programs, the better your odds of developing a truly remote-first work culture.

Communicating expectations and remote best practices

With your infrastructure in place, set the groundwork for your remote communication strategy by embracing asynchronous workflows. Remote workplaces function efficiently because the people within them understand how to document everything they do, how to make clear handoffs, and how to assume the best of their colleagues.

At Remote, we follow asynchronous communication strategies to make it easier for our global team to collaborate on projects. If we held more unnecessary meetings or demanded that team members work on the same projects at the same time, our efficiency would take a significant tumble. Instead, we insist that our team members do all their work with asynchronous tactics in mind to ensure nothing slips between the cracks.

First-time remote team leaders and people who are not deeply familiar with remote work best practices may have some difficulty making the switch. Traditional offices have taught us to waste time in meetings and to judge the productivity of others by the hours they spend logged in. In a remote-first culture, those old-school expectations should give way to more progressive, more effective communication standards.

Costly remote micromanagement mistakes to avoid

You will get some things wrong as you communicate with your remote team. Don’t feel bad; everyone does sometimes. You may assign blame to the wrong person or get frustrated by the unfamiliar. Practice the art of self-forgiveness so you can better handle the unique challenges that come with remote team leadership. Communication is more an exercise in trust than a series of timelines for email follow-ups.

Challenge the assumptions you make about others’ motivations. When we can’t see people, we sometimes assume certain things about why they act the way they do. In a remote work environment, this can quickly create resentment if not held in check.

No one goes to work to do a bad job on purpose. Don’t install spyware or tracking programs on your team members’ computers. Either you trust your team or you don’t, and if you can’t trust the people on whom you depend to keep your company moving, you have bigger problems than simple communication.

Tracking mouse movements or screen sleep time only serves to make workers resent the leaders who enforce such draconian rules. If you insist on micromanagement, you will only succeed in learning which of your employees are creative enough to outsmart whatever barriers you put in place. Judge performance not by arbitrary metrics of hours worked but by productivity and effectiveness.

When you make commitments to your team members, keep those commitments. If you tell someone she has full control over her own hours, don’t be upset if her schedule doesn’t remain consistent with everyone else’s. You cannot offer conveniences you do not expect your employees to use. 

Eliminating micromanagement in remote-first businesses requires leaders to be more proactive in establishing replicable communication standards and in trusting team members to do things the right way. No amount of tracking software and no number of check-in meetings can replace goodwill and mutual respect. To avoid micromanaging your remote workers, you must view your team members as people worthy of respect and honesty.

Build your team,
anywhere in the world.