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Don't Micromanage During the Coronavirus

A man sitting at a desk looking at his laptop.

​With the workplace in turmoil amid the coronavirus pandemic, company leaders may feel the urge to over-manage telecommuting staffers.

The message from management experts? Resist the urge to hover virtually.

When employees work from home—as many are doing during the coronavirus crisis—supervisors have a tendency to micromanage, said Lior Ohayon, chief executive officer at Hush Blankets a weighted blanket manufacturer North York, Ontario.

"It's a mindset that stems from a feeling of lack of control," he said. "When a traditionally in-office workplace goes remote, company managers often feel … powerless and disconnected with their employees, and these feelings sometimes cause them to micromanage."

But doing so may result in negative consequences, according to Justin Hale, a productivity expert and researcher at VitalSmarts, a Provo, Utah-based corporate training company. "If leaders aren't prepared to manage remote teams, or if these teams don't have good communication and collaboration habits in place, the effects of this virus could disrupt team connectivity, morale and accountability—not to mention results," he said.

Does Micromanaging Hinder Productivity?

In this coronavirus environment, managers—many of whom are now working remotely—may have more free time on their hands, and that may lead to over-managing.

"With the rise of the coronavirus, bosses are probably finding that they have more time available to them," said Gary Stevens, founder of Hosting Canada, an online startup business platform in Ottowa, Ontario, Canada. "This extra time possibly makes them want to focus on aspects of the business which they didn't quite focus on before, with potentially negative results."

And sudden micromanaging may put undue pressure on staff who are already experiencing enough pressure thanks to the virus.

"Micromanagement is not often the right course of action, and this time is no different," Stevens said. "Putting pressure on staff may sometimes have positive results, but, in most cases, you will probably find that the stress could cause productivity to slow down."

The Way Forward

In many cases, micromanagement happens when supervisors don't realize precisely what their roles and jobs are. A good manager need only tell employees what they need to deliver, how they should deliver it and when they should deliver it, said Orin C. Davis, Ph.D., a human capital strategies specialist and principal investigator at the Quality of Life Laboratory in New York City.

"Other than that, a manager's role is to answer questions, help coordinate and provide resources," he added. "Having that perspective helps managers to step back and let employees do what they do best—which is their jobs."

To adapt to the new normal, managers can do several things, advised Andrew Osterday, a former Coca-Cola executive and chief strategy officer at Local Industries, a business change marketing company in Atlanta, Ga.:

*Trust your people. This requires that you express confidence in your workers. Your team will likely step up to the challenge if you give them the chance. 

*Be flexible and patient. The virus may have required sudden workplace changes, so remember that it will take time for people to adjust to and grow comfortable with those changes, which may include unfamiliar technology and communication methods.

*Set clear guidelines. Be transparent about how people should behave, from how to maintain professionalism during virtual meetings to when they should be online during working hours.

*Adjust your expectations. Don't apply the same expectations that you would in the office. Casual attire during a videoconference? Video call from the porch or a dimly lit room? Dogs barking and kids yelling in the background? Get over it.

*Over-communicate. Especially at the beginning, keep workers updated on all company happenings related to the virus and what it means for them.

*Use video calls. Seeing everyone's face on a regular basis goes a long way toward building community and a team spirit. 

*Brush up on meeting etiquette. Get familiar with virtual meeting technology. Build visual presentations. Don't forget to use your mute button.

*Practice empathy and understanding. The virus will affect some more intimately than others. Make your workers' health and safety a priority.

Brian O'Connell is a freelance writer based in Bucks County, Pa. A former Wall Street trader, he is the author of the books CNBC's Creating Wealth (Wiley, 2001) and The Career Survival Guide (McGraw Hill, 2002)

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