5 Types of Bad Remote Management (That You See Everywhere)
Building a Remote Workforce

5 Types of Bad Remote Management (That You See Everywhere)

by Crossover
5 Types of Bad Remote Management (That You See Everywhere)
  • 1) The Menacing Micromanager
  • 2) The Broken Telephone
  • 3) The Runaway Train
  • 4) The Decision Dawdler
  • 5) The Critical Overlord

Is bad remote management giving you hives? Since the meteoric rise of remote work, it’s become harder for toxic managers to hide their infuriating behaviors – and everyone is better off for it. But how do you identify these people, and how do you survive their chaos?

We’re going to diagnose 5 of the most symptomatic remote management styles, along with some top-notch industry advice that will help you cure them forever. 

With 81% of people fed up with bad bosses – here’s how to survive and thrive in your remote work job this year.  

Crossover’s entire workforce has been remote for decades. Long before COVID came along, we were grappling with the intricacies of working remotely as collaborative pros. 

With over 850+ remote teams distributed globally, we’ve seen our fair share of great and not-so-great management styles. 

<< Do you spot your bad remote manager here?

Let’s meet our first maladjusted remote manager.

1) The Menacing Micromanager 

Symptoms to look out for:

Often says: “Just checking in!”

Their energy: A mixture of fear and gut-juicing anxiety

Your energy: Harassed

Voted: Most likely to be passive aggressive

Bad remote management the menacing micromanager

Forbes says that 79% of people have experienced micromanagement.

We’ve all met one of these managers.

Someone who has real difficulty trusting their team. Who finds it hard to let go of control. They hover around, anxious and on the move. 

They believe that without their constant interference, nothing would ever get done. You believe that they’re the reason nothing ever gets done.

This style of management is stressful enough for teams in an office setting. 

It’s exponentially worse when it goes remote. The biggest concern for them now is: how can I check if people are working, if I can’t see them?

Here’s how this dementing management style manifests: 

  • They freak out at you if your Microsoft Teams green light isn’t on
  • They pounce on you if you’re a few minutes late logging into a workspace
  • They compulsively check on your social media time at work

This micromanagement style creates ongoing tension within a team, and eventually leads to employees quiet quitting instead of excelling at work.

Micromanaging is one of the most common remote management diagnoses we see. It’s also one of the most demoralizing for remote employees. Long-term micromanagement can cause depression, deteriorating confidence and fatigue in team members. 

The only way out is to turn bad remote management into something good. Here’s how to flip the script on your manager’s habits and set your remote team up to do their best work. 

Inspire a Daily Dose of Trust 

Remote managers that come from office environments often deeply rely on face-to-face communication. This translates into too many f2f video calls. They do this so much that every idea, instruction, or piece of feedback is a non-negotiable Zoom call.  

Many of these toxic managers are reluctant to step back. They don’t see how asynchronous systems and skills save time, and increase productivity for their team. 

And we get it. It’s hard to rely on a distributed team you’ve likely never met. It takes real trust to reach those deadlines, and goals - and to deliver exceptional work. 

Remote work is the perfect environment for unreliable employees to do less than their best. The thought of this happening keeps the menacing micromanager awake at night. 

While we believe in trusting people to work autonomously in a remote setting, we don’t believe that you should let people do whatever they want. That’s chaos magic. 

There’s a huge difference between creating a culture of autonomy and building systems that support and measure it.

Remaining productive while working remotely is a learned skill, and one that applies to both managers and employees. 

This is where implementing user activity tools like WorkSmart makes sense for meddling micromanagers. They hover less, and still know people are on track.

Suggest a Productivity Tool Like WorkSmart 

WorkSmart is a tool that records user activity data to identify patterns and measure the levels of productivity for each employee. Your manager can use the data collected to give feedback to their team on how to be more efficient. 

They can do this once a week (or month), instead of every 5 minutes like starved buzzards. 

While many employees would rather fling their laptop into the sun than have their workday activity monitored so closely, tools like these are designed to take a structured approach to measuring input and output. 

Many remote workers find their focus and productivity skyrockets as a result. 

Few tools alleviate the symptoms of bad remote management this well, especially when the manager has persistent trust concerns. 

Along with the practical side of this, user activity tracking creates the mental headspace your micromanager needs to help their teams navigate bigger problems. 

This is way better than constantly worrying if employees are wasting company time arguing with strangers on Twitter (or Threads).

Remote employees using WorkSmart don’t have to worry about justifying their social media use or downtime to managers. And your manager will always know that clear boundaries and expectations have been set around input and output. 

They’ll learn to trust their employees to connect the dots with everything else. The natural result is that you’re left to do your work. In peace and quiet!

2) The Broken Telephone 

Symptoms to look out for:

Often says: “I’ll circle back to that”

Their energy: Distracted and increasingly impatient

Your energy: Discouraged

Voted: Most likely to not be available or accountable

Bad remote manager the broken telephone

Did you ever play that game ‘broken telephone’ as a kid?

Two competing lines of kids pass a single message, person-to-person, at speed to the end of the line. The team with the most accurate message wins. What makes it fun is that the last person nearly always has a garbled version of the original. 

“Betty is a goodie two-shoes” becomes “Betty has a pair of gooey blue shoes.”  

If your bad manager goes out of their way to give you vague answers to direct questions, says they’ll get back to you but never does, and always has something better to do, you may have a broken telephone on your hands. 

Broken telephone managers can never seem to set clear directives.  

They communicate with one or two people and are largely absent for everyone else. The result is the adult equivalent of the child’s game: things make sense to the manager, but no-one else knows wtf is going on.

In traditional office settings, poor communication from bad managers will cause project bottlenecks and confusion among employees. 

In global remote settings, bad communication magnifies existing management problems. Adding different time zones, a lack of touch points, and limited face to face contact makes it worse, not better. 

Luckily, there are solutions for bad remote managers who struggle with unclear communication. They can choose from hundreds of tools that make sharing ideas clearer, faster, and improve team alignment.

Use Asynchronous Communication Tools

Asynchronous tools are fantastic for managers that need to share facts, progress, and information with their teams. These tools keep information in a centralized place that is accessible at any time.

The best thing about these tools is that all information can be saved and referenced if a team member needs clarification. 

For poor managers who struggle to communicate, or don’t do it often enough, these types of asynchronous apps will relieve some of the burden:

These tools make it easy for managers to communicate better, regardless of different employee time zones. And if anything is unclear, team members can quickly respond with any questions at a time that suits them. 

Asynchronous communication gives you a huge advantage because you don’t need to rely on the written word. So, if your manager struggles with writing, there’s a whole world of video, audio, and design tools out there to help them get their ideas and directions across.

Get your manager to pick the tools that best suit their style of connection. 

Read more: Here’s why synchronous isn’t ideal for remote work 

Keep Lines of Communication Open

Broken telephone managers are elusive, but there’s a virtual cure for that.

No matter which asynchronous tools your remote manager ends up using, it’s important to establish a clear line of communication with employees. They should set touch points for giving and receiving feedback, and for answering questions.

Your remote manager should also be easily accessible to global team members – responding and interacting with them regularly to avoid blockers. Otherwise, days (even weeks) will be lost, especially if time zone differences are added to the mix. 

Ensuring a clear, smooth flow of good communication between managers and employees means everyone stays aligned and productivity levels remain high.

Insist on a step-by-step communication process and fix your broken telephone! 

3) The Runaway Train  

Symptoms to look out for: 

Often says: “I want this done YESTERDAY.”

Their energy: Frantic and world-ending

Your energy: Panic

Voted: Most likely to ignore your sacred boundaries 

Bad remote manager The Runaway Train

Have you ever had a manager who lives in a constant state of crisis?

Working with this bad management style means never-ending emergencies. You’ll feel like you’re on a runaway train that never has enough track, no matter what you do. 

These are the people you dread working with, who always have a constant stream of demands that are all marked URGENT!

In the world of remote work, this manifests as constant emails, daily Zoom calls, hundreds of Slack pings, late night calls, and weekend cries for help. 

These frequent emergencies interrupt employees’ deep work, derailing tasks and timelines. And most critically, they disrupt time that should be spent with friends and family. Picking up slack for a hysterical manager heaps stress onto your day.

But these ‘managers on fire’ are the people who struggle to manage their own time effectively in a remote work environment. This bad management leads to delays, missed deadlines, and creates a tense environment for your team. 

How do you survive a runaway train?

Create Better Systems to Predict Bottlenecks

This traumatic management style needs serious treatment. Your bad remote manager should upskill and concentrate on their ability to plan, forecast timelines, and navigate roadblocks.

Remote managers should always look at the bigger picture, break this down into projects and tasks, and get better at predicting where the core priorities should fall for each month, week, and day. 

If your manager sets aside time to focus on upcoming work to flag potential problems in advance, they will ensure relevant team members are in the loop before anything becomes an issue.

This will eliminate the casualty ward of emergencies that typically arises from planning inefficiency. In other words, when the train driver can see the track up ahead – they’ll stay on it.

Treat Time Zone Differences as an Advantage 

There are 24 different time zones in the world. This is a big one for an unpleasant remote management style that struggles with constant emergencies.

Bad planning means it could be 12 hours before a team member on the other side of the world sees an urgent message. And if they send back a question instead of acting, it could be another 12 hours of waiting.

This results in massive delays for your team, which compounds if your team is large and spans multiple countries. What’s needed here is for your manager to reframe their panic about time zones as an advantage - to stay on track with their projects.

Once systems are in place and your manager can predict the ebbs and flows of projects, it will be easier to delegate respective tasks to employees – based on where they live. 

Work can happen around the clock 24/7, by a distributed team that works autonomously across various time zones. Managed well, they can accomplish way more than they would have in a traditional office setting.

4) The Decision Dawdler

Symptoms to look out for:

Often says: “I’m not sure that’s working.”

Their energy: Hesitant skepticism and wavering focus

Your energy: Pure frustration

Voted: Most likely to ‘wing-it’ and offer unhelpful direction

Bad remote manager The decision dawdler

Have you ever seen an indecisive manager in action

These are the gifs of people management, stuck in loops that never get anyone, anywhere. Ask them for direction and you’ll come away with pointless side quests. Raise a concern and send them on an existential spiral of doubt. These overly cautious managers can’t make up their minds. 

Indecisiveness is a bad management trait we see often.

In an office environment, having a manager who’s constantly changing direction and ho-humming about things eats up a busy team’s time. But for a remote team that needs absolute clarity and direction at every step - this style of management quickly becomes toxic quicksand. 

Luckily, there is a cure.

Get Them to Define Inputs and Outputs

Breaking down projects into work units with defined inputs and outputs will help your indecisive manager plot a clear course for success at the outset—and stick with it.

One input might be writing a video brief, in which case the output would be all the team members working together on the moving parts to deliver the fully formed video. 

Creating work units will help dawdling remote managers communicate with clarity, by breaking projects down into structured chunks for their team. This establishes a strong direction for everyone involved, and will prevent uncertainty and changes in direction.

Think of it as an assembly line - where each person on the team ends up with exactly what they need to begin their part of each task, ensuring processes and timelines don’t break down along the way. This interdependent work is highly collaborative and relies on managerial direction.

It’s especially important if team members work across multiple time zones, as one missing detail can cause hours of unnecessary delays. These inputs and outputs can be measured and optimized, with clear KPIs and timeframes, to increase team efficiency.

Read more: Here are tips for a better work-life balance 

Ask For a Quality Bar

A quality bar defines key aspects of work, and helps bad remote managers get clarity on exactly what good inputs and outputs look like. This allows employees to head in the right direction. 

The way your manager sets up a measurable quality bar is up to them. But the goal is always to prioritize what matters, so that the team can be trusted to apply that vision and get the job done autonomously.

A good remote manager would use the quality bar to break down what a great video looks like.

  • Does it need to be delivered next week to be good, or is 6 months okay?
  • Does it need to have unique content, detailed creative, and top hired talent? 

Your manager should define the standards for your team - fast and cheap, or complex and time consuming? Every decision will influence the quality that can be produced. 

Establishing a quality bar will help managers set clear expectations and directions for big picture goals, and for every task that falls within them. Something as simple as a quality control checklist can amp up quality for a team, if they’re told to make sure each element is present. 

5) The Critical Overlord 

Symptoms to look out for:

Often says: “I don’t care, it’s not good enough!”

Their energy: Hostile, self-interested, with a dollop of childish

Your energy: Terror and fight-or-flight

Voted: Most likely to explode after creating conflict

Bad remote management The critical overlord

Have you ever worked with an overly aggressive manager? 

Three thousand years ago, when we were all working at our 9 to 5 cubicle jobs, we had to work with managers who relied on fear, nit-picking, aggressive notes, and non-constructive criticism to try and boost employee performance. We don’t miss this cruel remote management style, at all.

These terrible managers are used to leading with fear. They often have a difficult time transitioning to remote work, where leadership focuses more on coaching and less on criticizing. If you’re stuck with one of these bad remote managers, you have our condolences. RIP your peace.  

Successful remote managers need to turn each team member into the best version of themselves, while also considering what their lives look like outside of work hours. 

This is almost impossible for the critical overlord – who only thinks of themselves and their bottom line.

Most employees excel in their remote roles despite home-schooling young kids, working from shared family spaces, or living and working on the road as digital nomads. But some remote employees will need extra coaching to take them from a 7 to a 10.

A toxic manager obsessed with forced performance will never inspire improvement. They’ll only ever inspire flight. The best you can do is set hard boundaries and reinforce them. Take notes, file formal complaints and hope they are replaced with a collaborative manager.

A good remote manager should:

  • Have positive conversations about work and goals, not be scary or focused on corrections
  • Give employees opportunities to grow based on their strengths, abilities, and personal goals
  • Allow employees to improve or own processes, not rigidly enforce unnecessary rules
  • Identify top performers and turn them into super performers
  • Give and receive regular feedback, both at a team and 1:1 level
  • Action any feedback that will help their team members reach their goals and improve productivity and output

Collect The Evidence to File a Report 

No-one likes HR until they need HR to get rid of bad remote management. This leadership style sneaks under the radar in-person, but is dead-easy to track during remote work.

As a remote employee who is being regularly mistreated, it’s up to you to build a case against the offending manager. Enough recordings, screenshots and experiences captured for HR will result in a compelling case for dismissal. If your critical overlord can’t improve, then they need to leave.

Using project management tools that record engagement, like Zoom, Loom and Slack has its advantages. These tools have been known to weed-out bullying, discrimination and frat-like behavior in remote work environments.

And good riddance!

Ask Your Boss to Revamp Hiring Practices

This one should go without saying, but we’re going to say it. 

None of the strategies we mention above will be helpful if your leadership doesn’t hire the right managers to begin with. And you have more influence on this than you think (despite what your current overlord says). Education aside, attitude is so important!

Culture fit is the greatest attribute for long term success in a remote management role. Some people simply aren’t a good fit to lead remote teams, especially if they lack empathy, insight and emotional self-control.

Many people who switch to a remote management role bring bad habits and processes with them. These are usually exposed in a distributed environment. But until they are, the habits can sabotage a remote team’s productivity and morale.

If your leadership hires great people, all that needs to be established is their vision, what the company goals are, and how team success will be measured. 

Then instead of actively avoiding your manager, you can work with them on connecting the dots and delivering great results.

To Recap:

A menacing micromanager is easy to cure with the right treatment. If you find yourself under this bad management style, inspire a daily dose of trust and suggest a productivity tool like WorkSmart to create breathing room for everyone in your team.

For someone with the broken telephone style of management, nothing beats tools. Recover from this kind of remote manager by converting to asynchronous communication tools and by making a point of keeping lines of communication open.

If your remote manager is a runaway train, you can rid yourself of their symptoms by creating better systems that predict bottlenecks, and by getting them to treat time zone differences as an advantage for accelerated workflows.

Your decision dawdling manager will thrive when you get them to clearly define inputs and outputs, and when you ask for a quality bar to follow. Decisions are so much easier when processes take the guesswork out of what is expected.

Finally – the worst management type of them all – the critical overlord. This type takes bad remote management to new levels, but luckily it can also be the end of their reign of terror. Collect evidence to file a report on their behavior, and ask your boss to revamp hiring practices for your team.

It’s incredible how remote work is making team dynamics better! 

Use these strategies to help the remote manager in your life cure themselves of toxic symptoms that don’t belong in the workplace. 

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