Managing workers when they’re in the same building as you is tough enough. Managing them remotely is a whole other ball game.
This is timely stuff to think about. According to Global Workplace Analytics, the number of workers who telecommute grew by 79.7% between 2005 and 2012. (The number seems even more striking considering that it only includes employees, not self-employed people working from home).
There’s a lot of technology available to help organizations communicate with remote workers, including phone, email, videoconferencing, conference calls, texting and real-time chat. With more people working remotely and all those helpful tools, managers must be pretty hands-off these days, right?
Not necessarily. In a survey of workers by author Harry Chambers, 79% reported being micromanaged. The reality is that even from a distance, micromanaging can still happen. In some ways, technology makes it easier for a manager to check in (or check up on) remote workers too often.
Remote micromanagement: The symptoms
Does the manager require remote staff to cc her on every single project-related email? After team videoconferences or conference calls, does he needlessly follow up by individually calling everyone to clarify or emphasize certain points? Are group video- or conference calls getting unwieldy and excruciatingly long because workers who don’t really need to participate are forced to take part?
Do you dread the three voicemails and five texts waiting on your phone from the boss after a client meeting? Does your supervisor use the company’s enterprise social app to track all your calls and meetings? If you have projects saved in a shared collaboration drive, does your manager presumptively go in to ‘edit’ them before you’ve finished them? I think you get the picture of things to possibly avoid.
Even if a manager is careful not to check in too often, remote workers can still feel like they’re being micromanaged. That’s because communication can sometimes get muddled when it’s not face-to-face.
As shown in this infographic compiled from various research, only 7% of human communication is effectively relayed by the actual word content of a message.
– 58% is relayed via body language and facial expression
– 35% is conveyed through vocal tone, pitch and emphasis
– In a 2005 U.S. study, only 50% of people accurately interpreted the intended meaning of a statement communicated by email vs. almost 75% accuracy when it was communicated verbally.
No wonder 30% of CIOs surveyed by Robert Half last year cited communication as the biggest challenge of managing a remote workforce. The study’s researchers say there are ways, however, for managers to lessen the chances of miscommunication with geographically dispersed workers.
Remote micromanagement: The remedies
For example, set clear goals, objectives and benchmarks for remotely located staff; workers who meet targets don’t need to be supervised so closely. Don’t cut out face time entirely; create opportunities to connect in person at regular intervals to keep the sense of connection and teamwork going.
I found more tips in a Rand study on the impact of audioconferencing, videoconferencing and face-to-face interaction on remote workers.
– Summarize main points and objectives more often during remote communication sessions (aim for quality of communication vs. volume)
– Solicit and review remote workers’ feedback so communication isn’t always top-down
– Consider setting up face-to-face subcommittees to ensure not all management interactions occur remotely
Refining your remote communication practices does pay off. A 2013 Gallup study of 350,000 workers discovered that 32% of remote workers felt engaged by their jobs vs. just 28% of on-site employees. In a Wrike survey of remote team members, 41% said the most important benefit of their remote setup was the amount of time saved; 29% named increased productivity.
This should serve as proof that it’s possible – and worth it – to be on the same page as your staff, even if you’re not in the same location.