By Wade Foster
In March, a viral leaked email from a Wall Street Journal manager instructed newly remote workers to keep managers informed if they’re “taking a break, conducting an interview, in a meeting, or will otherwise be unavailable for a while.”
This is how you ruin remote work.
Managers might as well ask to be informed every time an employee takes a bio break, eats a Snickers bar, ties their shoes, sneezes, scratches their elbow, or tidies their desk.
I understand where the impulse comes from. Millions of people are working remotely for the first time, and managers are trying to adjust. Most are used to seeing their direct reports in person throughout the day,and think this gives them an idea of what exactly folks are doing with their time. But here’s the thing. Good managers don’t actually care what folks do with their time. They care if they get their job done or not.
Micromanaging does not work remotely. Trust does.
Remote work stops working when you can’t trust the person on the other end of the line. This is why micromanaging how remote workers spend their time is toxic and counterproductive–you’re basically admitting that you don’t trust your people to get things done otherwise. And, even worse, instead of asking your team to report on their critical work, you go overboard and ask them to report on every little task, even the mundane and useless ones.
This lack of trust isn’t just bad for morale. The instinct to micromanage, to ask employees to let you know every time they’re not available, creates extra work for everyone. If you continually find yourself worrying about what someone is doing, then you’re spending brain cycles focusing on something other than the product or your customers. That’s wasteful, which is why remote managers need to build and earn trust.