Has remote work turned you into a micromanager?


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The pandemic-induced transition to remote work over the last several months has been difficult for many teams. Some were forced to make the transition before they were truly ready to maintain business as usual productivity from remote workers. The proliferation of “spy software” is perhaps the clearest indicator that this transition has generated a real crisis of trust between employees working remotely and management. In fact, some “bossware” companies are reporting upwards of 300 percent increases in sales during the first few weeks of the outbreak.

Unfortunately, while managers may have avoided the dreaded “micromanager” title while working physically alongside their colleagues in their offices, many have resorted to ineffective, micromanaging tactics to lead their teams in this new environment.

The reality, though, is that micromanagement is extremely detrimental to employees in a remote working context, especially when you consider how many employees are juggling new challenges and responsibilities, such as child care. As a manager, it’s your job to recognize potentially harmful patterns and course-correct right away.

What is micromanagement, and why is it harmful?

Micromanaging occurs when managers try to exert an excessive amount of control over the employees that report to them. It’s not necessarily malicious. It may in fact come from a place of good intentions, but it’s harmful nonetheless.

Micromanaging has been proven to have a dramatic impact on employee satisfaction. In Harry E. Chambers’ book My Way or the Highway: The Micromanagement Survival Guide, 85 percent of survey respondents said their morale was worsened by the effects of micromanagement.

As Yuki Noguchi, reporter at NPR, described it, “Micromanagement can kill motivation, employee creativity and job satisfaction, and yet it remains the biggest beef workers have about their boss… Studies show lack of autonomy at work elevates stress hormones and can have other negative health effects, potentially even hastening mortality.”

Micromanagement is also harmful to the business.

While a manager may feel like exerting control will position their team for more success in the short-term, in the long-term it slows down the team’s performance. Micromanagement also leads to attrition. Retention issues are costly to companies of all sizes and stages, but are particularly detrimental to companies going through rapid growth – a fast-paced, stressful time when micromanagement is even more likely to rear its ugly head – because it prevents the company from hitting growth targets.

What does remote work have to do with this?

Let’s face it, in the remote context it can feel like you have no idea what your team members are doing if you’re not checking on them all the time. But overcompensating with draconian policies that require excessive updates is not doing you or your team any favors. In fact, chances are you’re killing their productivity and morale.

Instead of turning to a “command and control” style, consider setting clear, fair communication expectations and trusting your team members until there is an issue.

If you’re a micromanager, making sure you don’t violate those expectations with additional “check-ins” and random pings may be harder than holding your team accountable to them.

Three ways to know if you’re micromanaging

What follows are three clear indicators that you’re creeping into micromanagement territory, as well as important steps you can take to address the issue.

1. You’ve transitioned from Enabler to Doer.

Are you doing a lot more yourself these days than you were before? Are you failing to delegate? Maybe you feel like the circumstances just require you to work a little harder, but what’s happening is that you’re preventing your team from doing their best work.

This helpful chart decodes the messages you’ve been sending to your team by failing to enable them:

Stop holding your team back by trusting them to do great work:

Examine: What have I started doing that I wasn’t doing before?

Assess: What activities can I start enabling my team to do instead of doing myself?

Act: Trust! If you don’t think your team members are doing good work, it’s your job as a manager to empower them to do so. You also need to consider how to increase your leverage. Are you “teaching your team to fish” through great documentation and training?

2. You’re in a lot of meetings.

When we transitioned to remote work, a lot of us were surprised by how our calendars suddenly filled up with meetings. At first, it might have been helpful to make sure everyone was transitioning successfully. But at this point, your team should be into a rhythm – and your rhythm shouldn’t include checking up on them every couple of hours. That’s micromanaging.

The solution starts with a calendar audit, and ends with a new and improved operating rhythm:

Examine: What are the specific meetings I’m holding? What is taking up so much time?

Assess: What meetings are truly necessary? Which of these meetings is accomplishing something valuable, like sharing mission-critical updates, facilitating cross-functional collaboration or problem-solving, or team-building?

Act: It’s time to start canceling meetings, taking yourself off of meetings where your presence is not needed, and removing team members from meetings they don’t get value from. Consider replacing regular updates with emails – you may get higher-quality, more thoughtful updates this way anyway. (Note: be careful not to just replace all your meetings with emails: requiring tons of email updates is another form of micromanagement.)

3. You feel like things are out of control all the time.

There’s no doubt the new normal has introduced new stresses, both in your work life and your home life. You’re not alone if you’re feeling overwhelmed. However, if you feel like you are constantly fighting fires at work, it’s probably time to take a step back to examine why.

How does this help you know if you’re a micromanager? Chances are, if you feel like things are out of control all the time, you are failing to trust and delegate to your team. This may include coping through harmful habits like requiring too much oversight or approval. Address this issue in the following ways:

Examine: What specifically is leading to this sense of being overwhelmed? What are the specific projects, processes, or expectations causing it?

Assess: Are there legitimate issues here to be concerned about? Or does the problem lie with me?

Act: After taking a step back to understand, holistically, what is making you feel out of control, establish the steps needed to address the underlying issue. Perhaps there is someone on your team who is performing below expectations – how will you empower them to do better? Perhaps you’re involving yourself in too many processes – how can you project trust to your team by limiting unnecessary involvement?

Some employees feel that their managers do not understand how much work they are doing at home. Many are working longer hours and don’t feel this is recognized. That’s why it’s so important to continually recognize the hard work and results your team is producing during this challenging time. A steady flow of communication – within reason, of course – will keep your team’s morale high and keep them highly engaged with the business.

In fact, our data shows that highly engaged teams have better customer satisfaction, better retention (on average, our customers see attrition decrease by 22 percent for every one-point increase in their Peakon engagement scores) and higher profitability. And, according to the Workplace Research Foundation, highly engaged employees are 38 percent more likely to have above-average productivity. If working from home is going to work for employers and employees, organizations need to foster a spirit of trust.

During these challenging times, take a step back and evaluate your management style and approach to dealing with remote workers. Don’t allow yourself to become what many employees consider to be their worst nightmare – a dreaded micromanager. By taking the steps we have outlined above, you can avoid this no win situation.

Alex Kvamme
Alex Kvamme is the CEO of Pathlight, the only team management platform that brings data and people together to power team performance. Pathlight empowers large, customer-facing teams to achieve their goals by bringing performance intelligence, coaching, and communications tools together in one place, thereby increasing transparency and creating accountability at all levels.


  1. Remote job is something you should get used to. It’s the 5th year for me since I work remotely and there are more pros for me than cons. I don’t have to wake up very early every day and spend hours on the way to work. Usually, I have more weekends during the week or month. I can travel and work remotely from every country I want.
    Of course, it also depends on the work you have. I’m a PR manager so it was quite easy to communicate with my team via Skype or Zoom. Actually, tools are very important for remote work. Additionally to the typical Gmail tools, I use Asana to optimize my work time and some apps for meditation.


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