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Many companies have pivoted to a partial or full work-from-home scheme in recent years, and it’s no wonder — the benefits have been expanded on in myriad studies. Remote work cuts increasingly exorbitant office rent costs, saves workers time and money spent on often tedious commutes, and offers the possibility of recruiting from a wider pool of international talent. And though the wave of remote work has been steadily gaining traction for years now, the current global pandemic has forced it upon even the most traditional workplaces, and many were ill-prepared.
It’s worth stating that the sudden shift to remote which many managers and employees are experiencing under these dire circumstances is not representative of an ideal work-from-home scenario. People are understandably stressed, dealing with roommates or partners scrambling to tend to their own businesses, household chores piling up, in some cases, children needing to be homeschooled, not to mention the emotional toll of consuming round-the-clock news of the crisis. On top of all that, many employees are contending with their boss’s Jekyll and Hyde-esque transformation into a micromanager. People have reported being asked to attend daily meetings first thing in the mornings (with the sole purpose of ensuring they’re awake), to have their webcams on at all times during their shifts, and even to inform their supervisors of bathroom breaks.
It’s unsurprising that the pandemic has left many managers feeling unprepared, powerless, and disconnected from their teams. But monitoring every minute of their employees working hours is not only ineffective in guaranteeing productivity — it actually obstructs it. An environment of scrutiny harms office morale by creating a “me-vs.-them” mentality in workers. It also makes management less productive; by spending their days surveilling the work they hired someone else to do, they’re left with less time to allot to bigger-picture matters. Basically, it’s a lose-lose scenario.
Leaders who were previously less hands-on should be wary of letting their newfound anxieties turn them into helicopter bosses, even if they’re convinced it’ll be temporary. The detrimental effects of micromanaging are not so micro, and can cause permanent damage to the relationship between leaders and their teams, as well as to the company’s general corporate culture. It’s important to remember that everyone is currently undergoing an unprecedented period of stress and uncertainty, and by failing to make workers feel trusted to continue carrying out their responsibilities, managers can come across as lacking empathy and understanding.
Ideally, there’s a thorough planning process behind a company’s decision to take the plunge and go remote. This means that, under normal circumstances, measures should be taken before the switch is made to ensure that workers will have everything they need to thrive in the comfort of their own homes. Proper supplies and equipment are an obvious example, and perks such as routinely delivered snacks or virtual yoga sessions are doubtlessly great morale boosters, but a carefully considered communication strategy is just as — if not more — important.
Despite the unfortunate circumstances, this round of forced remote work could prove to be a valuable trial run for many companies. Innovative leaders will seize the opportunity to pay close attention to the true needs — instead of the minute-by-minute tasks — of their workforce, and perhaps move forward having become all the stronger for it.