Stop Micromanaging Remote Workers

My Post (12).pngConnor worked as a full-time graphic designer for a large marketing agency based in Los Angeles, California. Throughout the day, his boss would send check-in messages every two or three hours to track his and his teammates’ productivity.

He would send an imposing and foreboding, “What are you working on now?” If he didn’t like Connor’s answer, responses ranged from criticizing slowness to downright personal insults on laziness. Within a year at the company, Connor was gone—the fourth employee on the team to leave that year.

We’ve all heard stories—or experienced ourselves—of colleagues and friends who worked for terrible bosses, and more often than not, micromanagement is to blame. There’s no greater way to demoralize a team than Big Brother incessantly checking on employees’ productivity at every opportunity, waiting to pounce on them for any signs of non-work related activities.

Recent events have led to a new form of micromanagement that goes beyond the office and is impacting remote employees around the world. Let’s understand this new era of work, and why eliminating micromanagement is essential to driving business success for every organization.

The rise of COVID-19 employee monitoring

When COVID-19 struck, remote work transformed from a generous employee perk to business necessity overnight. Employees everywhere suddenly had their traditional in-office work schedules turned upside down. A Gallup poll shows that 63% of Americans shifted from office environments to working from home, all in under two months.

You’d think that with the widespread adoption of remote work, employees would have significantly more freedom from their previously strict nine-to-five work schedules. After all, bosses aren’t several feet away breathing down their employees’ necks waiting for projects to finish. Employees could strategize their schedules and work when they feel most productive. It’s every employee’s dream work scenario, right?

Sadly, for many employees, this isn’t the case. Micromanagement has taken on a new form in the COVID-19 era of remote work. We see this in the unprecedented proliferation of employee surveillance software such as Time Doctor, ActivTrack, and Hubstaff as companies around the world purchased these tools in droves as they sent employees home.

These apps are installed on employee computers to actively track employee productivity at all times. Some simply collect and report usage habits that help managers adapt their work-from-home strategy. Some, however, allow managers to remotely view their employees’ screens, and evaluate parameters such as lines of code typed, emails sent. Some even go so far as to automatically clock employees out when they’ve been away for too long.

An anonymous worker in Minnesota told NPR:

“If you’re idle for a few minutes, if you go to the bathroom or whatever, a pop-up will come up and it’ll say, ‘You have 60 seconds to start working again or we’re going to pause your time.”

Newly remote bosses are to blame

So what’s behind the sudden interest in monitoring remote employees’ every move? The pre-COVID-19 remote work landscape gives us a clue. According to Gartner, only 30% of employees had ever worked remotely or flexibly before the pandemic. That means 70% of workers had never experienced a consistent remote-work arrangement.

Both employees and managers entered the COVID-19 uncharted territory without any prior experience, and naturally, this leads to a lack of trust. As Alison Green, founder of workplace advice website Ask A Manager, puts it:

“Because [bosses] don’t know how to effectively manage people who are remote, they don’t feel like they have enough control, and they’re getting very anxious about accountability, and whether people are taking advantage of them, and they’re micromanaging.” – Read More

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