How To Deal With A Boss Who Micromanages Your Work From Home

There's a strategic way to push back against your remote manager's hyper-surveillance during the coronavirus pandemic.
Open-ended questions can help you figure out why your boss has become so controlling about how you do your job.
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Open-ended questions can help you figure out why your boss has become so controlling about how you do your job.

The coronavirus pandemic is causing people to feel understandably stressed about their job security, health and safety. Some employees also have to contend with the stress of their boss suddenly turning into a remote micromanager when they transitioned to working from home.

Such bosses are “monitoring instead of managing,” said Alison Green, founder of the workplace advice website Ask A Manager. “Because they don’t know how to effectively manage people who are remote, they don’t feel like they have enough control, and they’re getting very anxious about accountability, and whether people are taking advantage of them, and they’re micromanaging.“

Green said she has heard from trusted high performers who have worked for their managers for years but are now suddenly dealing with their boss’s extra scrutiny. Others have complained of being told to stay on video calls all day as they work.

Newly remote bosses often want reassurance that their employees are being productive at home, but some are even turning to digital surveillance tools. Software makers like ActivTrak are seeing increased sales from employers seeking screen monitoring and productivity metrics, Bloomberg News reported. Others have demanded that their employees now keep them informed of every single break they take:

Here’s advice from career experts on what you can do to fight back against the demands for constant check-ins and the stress of increased micromanaging.

First, try to understand why your boss is now a micromanager.

There are many reasons why your boss is behaving irrationally and is monitoring your performance more right now, said Lara Hogan, author of “Resilient Management” and former vice president of engineering at Kickstarter.

“They might be worried about their reputation and so they want to make sure their team is delivering; they might be worried about a deadline because they so crave certainty right now,” Hogan said, noting that neither scenario is a good reason for this behaviour.

“Most managers are running on fear that they can’t control what’s going on, so they are trying to control productivity,” said Elaine Varelas, managing partner of human capital consulting firm Keystone Partners.

Accusing your boss of being a micromanager can put them on the defensive and make your conversation less productive, but open-ended questions can help you find out the source of your boss’ change in behaviour. Hogan suggested what/why questions that don’t assume an answer, such as, “What, if anything, are you especially worried about right now?”

Once you understand their reasoning, frame your response in the language that they care about. Hogan said that could be like, “Hey, I know you really care about this deadline. Checking in this often is taking away my focus on the project, which is not going to help me hit this deadline. Maybe instead we can ... ”

Try to suggest a new way of reporting to them.

How to discuss your manager’s micromanaging tendencies depends on your track record and your relationship. But if you can afford to be straightforward, Green said you can suggest what you want in a matter-of-fact way, like, “‘I know that working from home has been new for all of us, but now that we’ve been doing this for a few weeks, can we go back to more of the autonomy that we had when we were in the office, because I think I work more effectively that way ... Can we say for the next week, we are going to change the ... reporting system that we’re using? If it doesn’t work, we can address that.’”

Suggesting what you want as an experiment, rather than saying you want to change a system forever, may make it more likely to get your “yes,” Green said.

Coming in with a proposal to your manager, Green said, is also a good idea “because clearly their ideas and solutions have failed them so far.” The goal is to frame your concern as something that is taking away from your ability to do your job well.

Varelas said employees should also be proactive about keeping their micromanager informed. That could take the form of a written report that says “Here are the things I’ve done this week, here are the things I’ve brought forward, and maybe even here are a list of things I’d appreciate talking about in our one-on-one,” Vareals said.

If you have a shared calendar with your manager, keep it filled with your projects, so you can give your manager insight into what it is that you do and how they can help, Varelas said.

“Someone who asks for something as ridiculous as wanting to see you on video all day long, that is someone who is telling you they do not know how to manage.”

- Alison Green, founder of Ask A Manager website

And if your boss is still asking to see you on video at all times even after you discuss your request, use WiFi issues as an excuse.

“I don’t think that there’s an ethical issue with just saying, ‘My data plan is not supporting that,’” Green said.

How you tell your manager about this matters, too.

Consider the medium of how you usually bring up sensitive issues to your boss. That’s the medium you want to use with this. Green says people often hope these kinds of conversations can be done in an email, but she suggests a real-time conversation in which you can clarify what you are saying and have the context of tone.

“If you get an email from someone saying they feel micromanaged, it’s hard to not feel defensive by that, even if you’re pretty well-intentioned,” Green said. “A conversation is warmer and doesn’t feel quite as chilly.”

Don’t let their check-ins get under your skin.

Often the reason your boss has become a micromanager has nothing to do with your performance, so don’t let their unwanted check-ins change how you see your capabilities.

When you are feeling annoyed and frustrated by a micromanager’s surveillance, it can help to know that their actions are not usually about you, but are a poor reflection of their ability to manage.

“It’s not about you being untrustworthy or needing that intense management,” Green said. “Someone who micromanages, someone who asks for something as ridiculous as wanting to see you on video all day long, that is someone who is telling you they do not know how to manage. And that’s about them. That has nothing do with you.”