A small child is looking through binoculars on a pink background.
Image: © Krakenimages.com/Stock.adobe.com

Are you unknowingly micromanaging your remote employees?

9 Jul 2020

Are you treading the fine line between remote check-ins and employee surveillance? 15Five’s Shane Metcalf explains the crucial distinction.

Checking in with employees is an important part of any manager’s job. A regular check-in helps build a rapport, sheds light on any existing or potential issues and creates a reliable conduit for feedback.

Can you still check in with your team properly when you’re working remotely? I spoke to Shane Metcalf, chief culture officer at 15Five, to find out more.

‘To create a successful check-in, you need to care about the employee as a person just as much as you care about them as your employee’

Why do employers need to check in with their employees when they’re working remotely?

It’s vital for employers to check in with employees while working remote, but not for the reasons most think, like: are they actually working? Are we on track to hit our target goals for the quarter? Instead, it’s really important to check in on how people are feeling.

Are they feeling supported? Hitting roadblocks? Having a hard time with the transition? These elements are key to supporting high performance and happiness at work.

Supporting the ‘whole’ person is vital now more than ever with so much uncertainty in our day-to-day. Checking in with employees shows that the company is there to support them and wants to foster growth and development, even when times are tough.

What does a good check-in look like, do you think?

We start our check-ins with a pulse check: a Likert scale of one to five asking how the employee is feeling after that week of work. Following our pulse check, we dive into updating individual progress on our objectives and key results (OKRs) from the past week to keep employees focused and on track for the remainder of the quarter.

Following OKR progress, employees can list out priorities for the upcoming week to continue to move along. Then check-ins dive into the meat of things, like, ‘What challenges did you face this past week? How can we help you overcome challenges?’ or ‘list any wins for the past week’, along with another question from our catered question bank or a personalised question that senior leadership or an admin of 15Five would like an answer to, such as ‘how are you feeling about working from home?’.

Finally, we end the check-in with ‘high fives’ to share peer recognition across the company. High fives are a critical part of working remotely or in an office, as sharing appreciation to peers, and receiving it, helps employees feel connected.

How can managers strike a balance between micromanaging and checking in?

It’s extremely hard to strike the fine line between micromanaging and checking in with employees, especially while remote. Managers really need to establish trust in a relationship with their direct report to help clear the lines between wanting to actually help and check in versus micromanage.

One of the major issues with working remotely for employees is an increased amount of stress and strain. This needs to be addressed head on. So, in your check-ins, start off by asking how your direct report is really doing: ‘What’s going well? What’s not going well? What challenges are you facing?’.

This creates more space for human connection and engagement in a self-reflective dialogue between the employee and their manager. This will help direct reports feel like they’re in a safe space and not being micromanaged.

In terms of cadence, we believe that performing check-ins weekly is the best way to stay focused on the right priorities. Then as a manager or leader, you can help clear the roadblocks without coming from the suspicion that your employee is not doing their job.

What steps should a leader take to best approach a check-in remotely?

To create a successful check-in, you need to care about the employee as a person just as much as you care about them as your employee. We encourage using video for remote meetings to provide the human connection some miss while working dispersed. And starting out with a quick ‘how are you feeling?’ before jumping into the meeting helps everyone get grounded and present before diving in.

It’s also important that leaders model by example to set precedent for remote work rules. As business leaders, we need to encourage people to make boundaries between their work and personal lives and really encourage people to not be online 24/7 because it leads to burnout.

We need to let employees know that we, the leaders, are signing off. Simply saying ‘I’m taking time off starting at 5pm or 6pm’ can show our employees that we’re taking the time we need to rest and rejuvenate. People tend to work longer hours when they’re not working in the office because they feel the need to prove that they’re working hard, but we need to make it okay for people to set personal boundaries.

What are some mistakes managers should try to avoid?

Trust is key for a successful remote team. The biggest mistake that leaders need to avoid while checking in with employees, especially while working remotely, is operating off an earning-trust framework and mentality.

So many people are sceptical of the working-from-home concept and want to make sure their employees are doing their job, but this leads to more stress when working at home. We’ve seen some mentions of companies surveilling their employees with spyware and screenshots of what websites employees are on. All of this destroys trust and creates a horrible work environment.

What we need to do is grant trust and say: ‘I’m assuming that you’re going to do your job and do it well’. This will turn into much better results across the company.

Lisa Ardill
By Lisa Ardill

Lisa Ardill joined Silicon Republic as senior careers reporter in July 2019. She has a BA in neuroscience and a master’s degree in science communication. She is also a semi-published poet and a big fan of doggos. Lisa briefly served as Careers Editor at Silicon Republic before leaving the company in June 2021.

Loading now, one moment please! Loading