When the world went remote, managers with a traditional background were affected in very unique ways. They went from a world of seeing their employees in person every day, to not seeing anyone for months at a time. For your average 45+ year-old manager, this was (and continues to be) quite the culture shock.
Unfortunately, this culture shock manifested itself through a variety of negative traits that their employees would feel directly. Traits like constant monitoring, breaching respectful boundaries, and busy work that destroys a day’s productivity.
If this sounds like you, don’t worry, this post is filled with some of these traits that have become commonplace in a remote work environment, as well as ways to start building good habits and avoid the bad ones when they start to show themselves.
Frequent Unscheduled Check-ins
There can be times that this is justified, a new employee or someone who may be struggling, for example. But in the case of remote helicopter managers, this is just a byproduct of an unorganized or indecisive manager. They often take on this “over the shoulder” presence, making sure to watch every move from their employees.
Like other items on this list, this creates a culture of distrust and invasiveness.
Fixes for this include:
1. Implement scheduled meetings. This could be shorter daily briefings or longer weekly meetings. Regardless of the frequency, the idea is for both parties (manager and employee) to get a better idea of where things are at now, and what things are directly ahead. It’s equally beneficial, but it requires both parties to be organized enough to predict questions that they will have in the immediate future.
2. Create redundancies in project management. A highly organized company that utilizes project management software well typically has very few tasks “fall through the cracks” in their day-to-day workflow. This is because of the natural transparency that exceptional documentation provides. Anyone can see progress, goals, as well as tasks associated with those goals. This will alleviate much of the need for constant check-ins with team members.
Expecting Immediate Responses to Messages at All Times
This is similar to contacting employees outside established work times (below). I don’t know about you, but when I ask my team a question, I would rather have the correct answer instead of an answer. Sometimes that’s going to take time. I also don’t feel that it’s acceptable or considerate to expect an answer after you have interrupted their work to ask it. Even though they’re “your” employees, you don’t have the right to demand their time whenever you feel like it.
Instead of constantly commandeering their workflow, make it known to your team that while you do need an answer to your message, it can mostly be at their convenience. Your team should feel comfortable getting messages from you, not dread them. Being respectful of their time will help keep the lines of communication open with you in the long run.
It’s going to be pretty rare for your team to want to make their Zoom background the company logo. It’s going to be a beach or pretty landscape. What’s wrong with that?
As long as the background that they have on video calls isn’t offensive or distracting, let this go. You can even set an example as to the kind of casual background is acceptable by joining in the trend!
Monitoring the Frequency of Keyboard Strokes or Mouse Movements
Talk about big brother…Unfortunately, this is disturbingly common in remote workplaces today. This is a classic example of managers focusing on the wrong things. You should want to monitor an employee with the objective of giving constructive criticisms so they can do things better, not micromanage every minute of their workday. What kind of feedback are you going to give someone that isn’t hitting enough keystrokes…type faster? Maybe you should also let them know that they aren’t thinking fast enough while you’re at it..
Be realistic and focus on their output instead. If someone isn’t producing completed work on a caliber that they were hired to do (and/or have done in the past), then you should be a good enough manager to see that and take the appropriate action. That’s literally your job.
Frequently Requesting Unnecessary Detailed Reports
I see this most often with two types of companies: (1) companies that are huge and have layers upon layers of unnecessary bureaucracy, and (2) companies with little-to-no standard operating procedures (SOP) in place.
Large companies are often disjointed so one hand (department) doesn’t know what the other is doing. This leads to inaccuracies in reports, no matter how unnecessary they are. Similarly, companies with no SOPs will breed weaker managers. These managers often have a harder time staying on top of things, and rely too heavily on employees to fill in the gaps of their confusion of a situation or task.
I personally believe that it’s more valuable to have reports that come at regular intervals, then hold the team accountable for the results of said reports. That way, your employee has plenty of opportunity to prepare whatever report you need without having to do it on the fly.
If what you’re needing truly is a one-off type of report, make sure you have all your needs written in your message. Meaning, don’t follow-up one request with 5 more, all 10 minutes apart. Think about all your reporting needs and ask for all of it…once.
In my opinion, this should always be optional. How “social” can a work event be if you’re basically assigning your employees to attend? In reality, that’s just another task that employees have to complete so they won’t get in trouble. There might be an argument for a mandatory event if it’s during the workday, but then what’s the difference between that and a meeting…?
Helicopter managers will sometimes make social events mandatory because they are trying to force “culture” down people’s throats. Unfortunately, this always has the opposite effect. Instead of fostering an environment of fun, the air will be filled with resentment.
Give your team the freedom to choose whether they attend an event or not. And in the meantime, do your part as a manager to make it a great event for your team. They will appreciate it in the long run, especially if this type of event happens regularly. The perfect scenario is that your team genuinely wants to be there because you’ve done your part to foster a thriving environment that your team enjoys, not tolerates.
Asking for Justifications for Every Task Taking Longer than Expected
Shit takes time, chill out. Expecting a task to take the same amount of time, every time, is unrealistic. Not to mention, hovering over your employees breathing down their neck to get something done isn’t going to work. You’re just going to stress them out and the end result isn’t going to be to their best ability. All you’ve done is increase burnout levels by creating an environment of fear, resulting in lower quality of work.
Take a step back and recognize that unexpected things come up. That could be with work, or even personal hurdles. This is especially true for remote teams. Keep that in mind. As a manager of a remote team, you should know more than most that problems of all sorts can come up, so you need to be empathetic to your team when they may fall short of a deadline. When this happens, give your employees a helpful nudge in the right direction, instead of a harsh whip.
Expecting Employees to be Available Outside of Their Stated Work Hours
Helicopter bosses will often operate on “their own schedule” and frequently disregard one of the most basic boundaries in the workplace: work hours. It is not ok to frequently contact your employees outside of work hours. Emergencies, sure. But if you’re calling at 8pm to ask a question about something that came up in a meeting that day, you’re crossing a line.
There can sometimes be exceptions to this depending on the employee’s role. I think an argument could be made for contacting a team member outside of work hours if they are in sales, or are very senior. But even in those situations there needs to be a relatively clear boundary of when it’s ok to expect them to be available.
My suggestion to avoid this (very) common helicopter boss characteristic is to promote an asynchronous workplace. At least to the best of your ability. Your employees will feel significantly less stressed, and you will inherently give them some added ownership over their tasks.
Not Allowing Autonomy in Setting Personal Work Goals or KPIs
The best employees that I’ve ever seen all had 2 or 3 common traits that naturally made them awesome. One of those traits was always the ability to take ownership of the decisions that they would make. But think about that for a second…for an employee to even be able to make an impact with their decisions, they have to have the autonomy to do so.
Not allowing your team to have reasonable autonomy over their tasks and goals takes all the oxygen out of their “productivity room” and only stifles their output. In extreme cases that drag on like this, the employee will feel reduced to a mindless drone that has zero accountability and personal investment in the overall objective of the company.
It can be scary letting your employees “roam free” and yes, sometimes they will fail. But that’s how we all learn. Failing can present lessons for learning, and it also has the added benefit of being a method of seeing which employees shine.
Not Delegating Tasks
I’ve seen this a lot with business owners of small companies, but it’s also very true when talking about middle management of larger organizations. As a company grows, delegation becomes increasingly more important. The point of hiring people is to let them help carry the load.
What the average helicopter manager doesn’t understand, is that their job IS delegation. It’s literally in their title: manager. Not delegating tasks is usually because of two very related factors:
1. Not wanting to relinquish control over tasks.
2. They want the tasks done their way only.
Unfortunately, both of these factors easily become toxic.
As a manager, instead of giving into the need to manage every minute detail, try and build up trust with the team that reports to you. This is why they’ve been hired, so give them the autonomy to help all of you move forward. Doing this has the added benefit of getting projects done faster, all while building trust with them. Start by delegating a small task, then as you start feeling comfortable giving away some of those small tasks, move onto bigger and bigger ones. The goal should be to “give away” a substantial portion of actual work to your team, as your job is likely at least 50% reporting to upper management.
Jared has worked remotely for 15 years in various marketing capacities, and has managed hundreds of marketing campaigns along the way. He has held freelance, agency, and in-house positions for companies large and small.