The Problem with Monitoring Remote Employees

Can you monitor your employees too much for their own good?

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Remote work has become a hot topic as companies are deciding whether or not employees should return to the office. Regardless of whether employees remain remote full-time, working from home (at least part-time) is here to stay. And, with that, research on the remote work environment is expanding. One recent study explored the impact of supervisory monitoring on remote employees’ feelings of being trusted and employee well-being. Understanding how to manage remote employees is crucial for company long-term success!

What is Supervisory Monitoring?

Managers need to monitor their employees to understand work progress, performance, and any potential roadblocks that may hinder both. This is a key component of a manager’s job. However, the amount of monitoring can vary wildly from manager to manager. We’ve all seen micro-managers at work! On the other hand, some managers are very hands-off and do much less monitoring than their peers. And, of course, there are managers along the full spectrum.

Supervisory monitoring can feel like your manager is constantly looking over your shoulder.

Managers also differ in their monitoring variability. Supervisory monitoring variability is all about consistency. Managers that have a highly variable style are unpredictable in how much they monitor their employees. In other words, they may be super high touch one day and then leave you fully alone the next. On the other end of the spectrum, managers with low monitoring variability are consistent in how much they monitor. They either monitor a lot or a little every single day. And the amount of monitoring doesn’t change day to day. In this case, employees can predict how much contact they will have with their manager each day.

Impact on Remote Employees

Managers of remote employees may feel more inclined to monitor work frequently due to the physical distance from their team members. So, how does supervisory monitoring behavior impact remote employees? The answer is actually fairly intuitive. No one likes a micro-manager, including remote employees!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop with just disliking micro-managers. When an employee feels overly monitored in a day, they also feel like their manager doesn’t trust them. This lack of feeling trusted causes them to feel more exhausted at the end of the day. In addition, if the environment is particularly stressful (i.e., a big change happened recently), employees fair even worse if their manager has high monitoring variability. In other words, under major stress, employees struggle even more with being monitored if they can’t predict when their manager will monitor them.

Micro-managing can hurt the employee-manager relationship. Monitoring work effectively is much better!

To summarize, too much monitoring of remote employees:

  • Can hurt the manager-employee relationship, as the employee feels less trusted, and
  • Can reduce employee well-being through increased exhaustion.

What Leaders Can Do

This new research confirms that micro-managing in all settings is bad! The key takeaway tip for managers is to not be a micro-manager. Ensure you are monitoring your team’s work in meaningful ways while giving them space to do the good work you know they can do! Autonomy is an important need for all employees – regardless of where they physically sit.

Organizations can also help by providing training on how to manage in a remote environment. Many managers don’t have a lot of experience with remote employees. Help them be their best by providing them resources and guidance on how to monitor work effectively and reasonably.

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