Job Doc

My boss micromanages remote employees—why doesn’t he trust us? Elaine Varelas offers solutions to navigate the situation

When it feels like a boss is micromanaging their virtual team, does it mean they don't trust them to complete their tasks? How can managers and team members find an agreeable compromise that meets everyone's needs and preferred work styles? Elaine Varelas offers insight on what might drive micromanaging behavior and how to find a solution.

Ask the Job Doc.

Q: Whenever anyone on my team works from home, my boss asks us for a list of things we worked on that day. It makes me feel like he doesn’t trust us. Should I address this with him? Talk to his manager? Or just keep sending a list of tasks to prove I’m earning my paycheck?

A: Many companies consider working from home to be a privilege, so you’re likely already in a position of trust within the organization. Having your manager ask for an overview of what you worked on during the day isn’t necessarily a matter of trust; it’s a matter of management. Closely tracking work in a given day isn’t a new phenomenon or even something that started with the rise of a remote workforce. Think of all the many high-level professionals who do this every day—lawyers and business consultants regularly track and measure their work time in strict time increments on a daily basis. And yes, this may be part of the process of developing a sense of trust between you and your manager, so he can know that you are self-managed, self-motivated, and highly productive on days when he is not in front of you.

Have a conversation about why your manager finds value in receiving a completed task list every day. If you understand what’s driving the need, you can likely find a solution that works for both of you. A number of motivations might be driving your manager’s request— he may be new at managing remote workers and trying to gain insight to how much people can complete in a day working remotely vs. working on site. Perhaps it’s a communication style that works best for him and rather than constantly asking for updates, a consolidated list at the end of the day might feel more respectful of your time to him. Maybe an employee’s compensation structure requires that their time be accounted for and attributed to the correct department to ensure equity for who pays for what time. This may also be a way to gather data of your accomplishments throughout the year to gain a full picture of your skills and contributions. When it’s time to do your review, if your manager is fully knowledgeable about the scope of your work and the kinds of projects you’ve been involved with, he can more accurately suggest options to change, enhance, or broaden your skill set or responsibilities. A lack of trust may not be what’s driving this at all, and changing your mindset to see this as opportunity to demonstrate your productivity and strengths will make it easier to bear.


It’s also possible that there may be a lack of trust. Do you work the requisite amount, not just as scheduled? Are you hard to get a hold of while you are remote? You need to be realistic about any concerns you may cause and be prepared for both sides of a conversation about accountability.

If your manager has been enforcing this policy for a long period of time and you’ve been successfully working from home for years, it’s worth reexamining what’s driving the need and what information is actually valuable for your manager to have. What level of detail is your manager asking for? Does he expect details of your calendar in 15-minute increments? This might be overkill and an unrealistic expectation. Perhaps a list of the three major projects you worked on that day would be a more reasonable compromise—this would be much more manageable for you, while still keeping your manager in the loop. There may also be collaboration or project management tools that can help you communicate with your manager without leaving you feeling scrutinized or micromanaged. Something like Wunderlist, Trello, or MeisterTask will allow you to share a task or project list with others to support collaboration or shared progress.

Studies have shown that people who work remotely actually spend more hours working, though it may not be during the same working hours that they would if they were in the office. Your manager may still be getting a grasp on this fact, leaving you feeling micromanaged in the process. Shifting your mindset to focus on the positive opportunities here and finding a compromise that works for both of you is your best way forward. Suddenly, it’s no longer about proving you’re worth your paycheck—it’s about demonstrating your worthiness for your next raise or bonus.