How to deal with a remote micromanager

Photograph: James Fitzgerald/Unsplash

A micromanager at the workplace is bad enough, dealing with one during the lockdown can be another matter altogether. Here's how to do it.

Working from home is a concept that’s fairly alien to most Indian companies. Even Indian multi-nationals used to insist on employees coming into office. Some companies would go to the extent of insisting on employee presence even on days when it’s been pouring incessantly and it is difficult to get to work. All of that changed when the country and indeed the world went into lockdown. Suddenly, companies realised that they couldn’t function the way they used to – employees coming into office wasn’t just difficult; it was impossible and punishable by law.

For most part, companies that follow such archaic rules tend to do so because they don’t trust their employees enough. Sure there are some roles that require you to work from the office but even the most liberal managers will secretly confess that WFH makes keeping tabs on employees difficult. But then there are micromanagers. These bosses, who genuinely believe that a task doesn’t get done if they’re not watching over it, are no doubt difficult to deal with and when you’re reporting to them remotely, things can get even more difficult. Which is why here are some tips for you to follow if your boss is a remote micromanager:

1. Understand why they are micromanagers to begin with

This doesn’t mean you become a suck-up or a boss’ stooge. When you genuinely try to understand what makes them want to micromanage you can address the real issue. Micromanaging is usually a symptom of something else – it could be the fear of losing reputation, missing a deadline or just being unable to control what they can’t see. Once you identify the reason behind their micromanaging behaviour, you can address the cause instead of the behaviour. Seek to assure them that you are indeed responsible, that you respect their authority and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise the project or their reputation. And gently slide in the fact that their constant texts and emails tend to take you away from the real task that’s on your hand – doing your job.

2. Keep them updated

Merely telling them that you’re on their side may not help. It’s important to show it to them. Keep them updated about what you’ve been doing, maybe not on an hourly basis but on a daily basis. You could also consider doing it twice a day, depending on how your boss is – start your day by outlining what you’re planning on achieving through the day and end it by listing all the boxes you’ve checked.

3. If you have to address a sensitive issue, reach out via video call

Emails are perhaps the most impersonal way to address sensitive issues. They may be convenient because you’ve listed out all your issues and you can avoid the awkward face-to-face interactions. But it’s also where things tend to go wrong. For instance, if you want to raise concerns about your boss’ micromanaging behaviour, an email may come across as a complaint which is likely to make your boss either resent you or clam up. Instead, consider doing this over a video call so your boss knows that the issue is important but also that you’re smart enough to not address it over email where it becomes official.

4. Be fair to your boss

After you’ve addressed the issue, if you’ve seen a change in your boss’ behaviour, do ensure to let them know that you appreciate them giving you the freedom and going easy on you. This way they know they’ve done right by you. But it is also crucial to phrase your appreciation correctly. It shouldn’t make them come across as tyrants and you, as a rebel who stood up to them. While thanking them, say something like: “Thank you for trusting me with this!” That way you are letting them know that they’ve taken into consideration your conversation and also that you’re thankful to them.

5. Finally, don’t take the newfound freedom for granted

That’s a no-brainer, right? Except that you’d be surprised at how many times you may be tempted to take your newfound freedom for granted. This doesn’t mean that you’re lazy or incompetent; it’s the natural reaction when someone lets you off the hook. Avoid that instinct and don’t be that person.