When given the chance to work remotely, employees report being more productive and satisfied in their roles. But for many new and even experienced leaders, effectively managing virtual staff members is a balancing act that requires a combination of trust, clear expectations, and open communication—and it can be easy to overdo it.
While many of us successfully manage employees face-to-face, anxiety—stemming from a perceived lack of control—can lead to damaging behaviors when our position shifts to a work-from-home environment. Though unintentional, micromanaging has noteworthy drawbacks over the long-term. In fact, a 2015 survey cited by the International Business Times found that nearly 70% of respondents considered changing jobs after experiencing micromanagement, and more than a third actually did leave their positions.
But that doesn’t mean managers who want to keep tabs on their remote employees are doomed to fail. By stepping back and taking a more hands-off approach, remote team members will feel more empowered to their jobs—and do them well. Moreover, when you set the foundation for success from the start, your employees will often exceed your expectations.
Here are five steps to help you beat micromanaging while still ensuring your team members are meeting the mark:
1. Start by hiring the right people.
Nothing provides peace of mind more than having team members you can trust. When hiring remotely, managers can limit uncertainties by asking candidates to complete a brief test project. Such assignments help narrow your hiring pool to individuals who have shown they can work autonomously, meet hard deadlines, and take a genuine interest in the job.
When you begin the supervisor-employee relationship by hiring self-starting individuals you have confidence in, you’ll also feel more comfortable stepping aside and letting them fulfill their role.
2. Create a results-oriented work environment.
Rather than checking in with your remote team members every hour on the hour or invading their privacy with software that scans their activity every few minutes and snaps a photo, create a results-oriented atmosphere from the start. Provide clear expectations for each project, including setting quantifiable objectives and deadlines, and even breaking down larger tasks into milestones if necessary.
In addition to setting clear project expectations, make sure you develop and share reasonable remote work guidelines with your team. For example, you may want remote employees to respond to emails within 24 hours on business days, attend a weekly team video conference, or agree not to call other team members on nights and weekends.
3. Hold regularly scheduled check-ins.
When you aren’t working face-to-face with your team, regular virtual check-ins can help provide a space for questions, clarification, idea sharing, and even some of those water-cooler conversations that you might otherwise miss. Additionally, these weekly or monthly meetings, preferably done over video call, can give you as a manager a means of offering feedback to your team members.
Make the most of your time together by starting each meeting with a clear agenda—a list of all the points you want to hit—so you don’t forget to discuss anything or veer too far off topic. You should also allot time for your team members to speak about projects they’re working on or ask any questions they may have. This face-to-face time can help remote workers feel like they have more of a real relationship with you and the company.
4. Foster trust and empathy.
Trust is critical when working with remote teams—so make it clear to your employees that you trust them. This might mean empowering your team members to make decisions independently and check back in with you later, or even giving seasoned employees a chance to help train a new hire. Either way, you want your employees to know that you have confidence in their abilities to make the right choices.
Why does this matter? A study shared in Harvard Business Review in 2017 found that respondents who worked at organizations with high levels of trust among employees “indicated they had 106% more energy and were 76% more engaged at work than respondents whose firms were in the bottom quartile,” researcher Paul J. Zak wrote. Respondents at “high-trust” organizations were also more likely to feel engaged at work and less likely to experience burnout, Zak reported.
Of course, employees who are new to the digital workplace may need more hand-holding than more experienced remote professionals, and it’s OK to check in with them as needed as they get their feet wet. Allowing them to do their jobs independently whenever possible, however, shows that you’re confident in their skills—making them feel empowered to do their best.
You can also foster trust among your team by promoting empathy. Create spaces for team members to bond with one another socially, whether it’s a Slack channel to discuss kids, pets, and hobbies or just a quick personal check-in at the beginning of weekly video meetings. When your employees feel comfortable talking to one another and you, it’ll be easier for them to give and receive constructive feedback.
5. Embrace technology.
Embrace the communication and project management programs that help remote teams thrive. With tools like Basecamp, Asana, Trello, and others, managers can easily view a project’s status without overwhelming employees with constant requests for updates. Then, if you see a point that needs clarification or an issue that needs resolved, you can easily reach out to your team members without them feeling like you’re micromanaging.
Of course, even managers using the best tools will face challenges when it comes to determining how much oversight is too much—and remote work only makes it easier to fall into that trap. But by hiring people you trust, and giving them the support and resources they need to do the job, you’ll set your team—and your business—up for success.