The Boss’s Guide to Micromanaging Your Virtual Team

Dealing with a Micromanaging Boss

We’ve all dealt with bad managers and a shitty boss.  Heck, my career has been defined by craptastic managers.  I’ve worked with my share of horrible bosses, and it’s likely I learned more from them than I originally thought.  I learned what I didn’t like as an employee and the kind of  boss I didn’t want to be.  I learned how not to support  my team, the wrong way to communicate, and I learned how it feels to be micromanaged.  Looking back it was a horrible yet valuable experience, and I’m glad that it happened.

I’m always a bit surprised that people consider managing a virtual or remote team as a new thing.  For my entire career, I have only had one boss who actually worked with me in the office.  Working in retail human resources, you are typically responsible for the HR function of a group of stores or region, and my boss was always in another state.  His visits were usually planned or coincided with some other important corporate muckity muck visiting the office.  In retail HR, you travel to your stores to meet with employees, conduct employee investigations, train your management teams, or surprise visits.  Those surprise visits were always my favorite because they were a surprise and I got to see how the store and team operated in real life.

Managing and leading a virtual team whether your employees are in the field like I was or working from home or other location is one of the most challenging tasks.  I can attest whether its a simple project team or your staff leading someone remote is tough stuff.  You must provide support, communicate effectively and thoroughly, and trust your employees.  Except that many managers do none of the above.  For me, I was bombarded by emails and received accusatory phone calls at all hours.  My manager, Sam spent a ridiculous amount of time listening to the grapevine and over-reacted, and so I learned the art of managing up.

Working For a Toxic Boss

When it comes to working with a remote team, it’s a team effort.  Trust must happen and managers must communicate and trust their staff.  And your staff must do the same.  The problem lies in that many managers are promoted because they are good are meeting reporting goals and executing corporate programs, but have little experience motivating, managing, inspiring and leading a team.  There is no “I” in team afterall.  When it came to Sam, I learned that he liked a schedule and wanted to be in control.  I sent him a weekly recap by email at the end of the week giving him an update and broke it down by our company’s objectives.  This was a great map for our twice monthly calls which I referred to every chance I got.  And it worked for a while until the next HR and workplace crisis would erupt.  He was a toxic boss, and I did the best I could.

That’s why I was angry this week when I received a comment on my blog from a vendor who left a salesy comment promoting what they call their virtual team management solution.  They’re called Time Doctor.  Take a look for yourself and see.

Thoughts on Best Virtual Management Team Software

Software like the one listed above are the core of the micromanager’s guide to leading and managing a virtual team.  It’s 1984 but corporate style.  I don’t trust you, and you don’t trust me so instead of having a conversation or scheduling weekly calls or meetings, I’m sending a message that I don’t trust you to do the job I hired or promoted you to do.  The cost for this amazing software varies but it can be $9.99 per month per employee.  Installing software like this should be an insult to the manager and is a message from his supervisor that says, “I don’t trust your management style, and I haven’t given you the right training to lead this team.  In fact I’m afraid to, so I’m paying a ridiculous sum of money because it seems like the easiest and most comfortable solution.”

And personally, if my boss installed this software on my computer, I’d be applying for new jobs at a frantic pace.  I put in 60 plus hours a week at that job, and my opinion is that if I needed to shop online on Amazon for 20 minutes, I’d earned it.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think that’s the case.

Here’s the comment I left in response to the commenter mentioned above on Morgan Norman’s post last week on How to Manage In-House vs. Virtual Teams.  Am I wrong?  Is monitoring the best answer for managing and leading your virtual, remote, or in-house team or am I do I just expect too much out of managers who are put in charge of leading teams?

So let’s go all 1984 on their ass? I am against monitoring as I think it is a bad option. Most virtual employees are salaried so it doesn’t really matter how many hours they do or don’t work as long as they get their work done. Managing a virtual team is a serious challenge for managers forcing them to be very good at their job. Having worked in HR most of my life my boss has always been in another facility and not in my office. We scheduled weekly calls, I completed reports to show my progress and I copied him on important emails so he knew what was going on.  If a manager was going to monitor my activities from my virtual office, I would just set up a work around and that would be my ipad or other computer to do the “fun” and personal things I needed to do like check my Facebook or pay my bills online. I don’t need big brother breathing down my neck.

**I’m sure their product is great, but I think it only provides a micro solution to a much bigger problem. I’m also a fan of privacy and treating employees like adults.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. I agree with you Jessica! Management needs to build an environment of openness and trust. Installing a software program to “track” what employees are doing is so archaic! The best managers coach and inspire their team to their best performance- NOT micromanage!

    • And yet, I’m sure this won’t be the last time we see a company like this. Managers will struggle engaging and leading their virtual teams and they will think their sub-par leadership isn’t the reason. It’s those disruptive and unmanageable employees.

      Thanks for the comment.

      JMM

  2. OH MY! I have been a remote, full time, WAH HR professional for 6 + years for a major U.S. corporation, and would quit in a heart beat if I knew my manager used something like this. My VP knows what I am doing based upon my work product, meeting goals, attending meetings, presentations, reports and from … just plain old talking to her.

    And, knowing that working from home isn’t the norm for most people, I bust my butt even more so to prove that it was the right business decision (to let me work@home). And, quite frankly, I know of more people AT work that probably need a nanny cam more than the WAHs.

    Time Doctor = Losing Good Employees, in my humble opinion.

    • I’m glad you left a comment, Shannon because when I saw this video I immediately thought of you. Not because I think you slack around but because you’ve done the remote work thing for a while. Working from home is a learning and balancing process. Not everyone makes the right choices. They screw around, but guess what, they do that at the office too. Frankly, I get more focused work done at home than the office because I’m free of the gossip distractions.

      Thanks for the comment.

      JMM

  3. Your comment to that company was perfect. The entire concept is disturbing. If you don’t feel like you can trust your employees to get work done then you have a serious problem that spyware can’t solve. I’m 100% with you…if my company installed this on my computer I’d look for a new job immediately. I may be wrong, but everyone I know that works virtually clocks well over 40 hours a week…and like you said, they’re salary so as long as they get the work done, who cares? I would actually laugh at what this program would show my boss about my work habits. She already knows this, but I get my best work done from 11pm-3am. She knows how to support me as a virtual manager and gives me the ability to get my best work done with no distractions. That’s the thing about trust and competency…you can’t track it by the number of mouse clicks.

    • I do good work on the lateshift too, Breanne. It’s the time that there are no distractions like social media, emails, or good tv. I love what you wrote, “trust and competency…you can’t track it by the number of mouse clicks.” And yet people try anyway. They want the easy way so they spend all this time, money, and effort on a short term solution or something that can’t or won’t exist.

      Thanks for leaving a comment. I always appreciate your insights.

      JMM

  4. It’s human to want to control things – and there are plenty of reasons why bosses can be control freaks. I bet they’ll realize soon that their mantra won’t work this time, that trust is the biggest motivator of them all for your workers to drive themselves into countless hours of producing results – something that way exceeds your expectations. Unfortunately, they don’t read blogs about this topic.. or they would have changed their ways already..

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