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Self discipline reduces helicopter management of remote workers

Search Remotely Self Discipline Helicopter Mananging Remote Workers

Helicopter management of remote workers appears to be the big gripe in the news. It may occur when remote managers and remote team leaders have little trust in their remote workers to complete remote job tasks. BBC suggests that adopting a helicopter management style can stunt remote worker productivity and performance.

The BBC article concluded by mentioning the downsides of working for an employer that micromanages its remote workforce. Remote workers may:

  • Lower their self-initiative to work independently
  • Reduce their critical thinking abilities
  • Fail to develop resiliency skills applicable to work

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How did we get here? Most would say that time tracking of remote employees is prudent. However, excessively applied can lead to lower morale. Remote employee systems of surveillance  that monitor mouse movements and keystrokes, randomly capture screenshots, eavesdrop on SMS and emails, track time spent at a workstation may have gone too far.

Key Performance Indicators

These key performance indicators (KPIs) are standard bearers in the industry.

Reply times. Is a metric to measure how promptly a remote worker returns client calls or emails. Another way to obtain data on remote worker response time is to:

  • Ask clients for feedback on how quickly your remote employee responded to their concern.
  • Ask your remote workers to assess the responsiveness of their coworkers anonymously.

Why? This metric can uncover remote workers who present bottlenecks to their department’s productivity, leading also to lower overall corporate productivity. When bottlenecks are identified, steps can be taken to ease the flow or provide additional resources and staff to widen the bottleneck. The incoming flow of work could be re-direct to another inlet. A final solution could be to remove the source of the bottleneck altogether.

Tasks completed. Is a metric to quantify the number of tasks a remote employee completes each week. The tasks completed should be related to each individual’s job description. For instance, a remote tax auditor may be required to complete one set of tasks while a customer service agent is required to compete another.

The key is to identify the expected tasks based upon the job description, role and responsibility of the remote employee for whom you are evaluating.

Task completion time. Is a metric to measure how long it takes a remote employee to complete a task. As the complexity of tasks vary, it would be essential to list all tasks a remote worker completes each week (see above) and use a productivity app to calculate the time taken to complete the task.

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Average task completion time. This is a measure of the total time taken to complete one task divided by the number of times the task is performed. This metric allows the company to measure the efficiency of the entire team.

Overtime per employee. This data point is calculated taking the total overtime worked by all the company’s employees and dividing this figure by the total number of employees. This metric informs the company as to whether there are resource needs or excessive workloads. This metric can be further detailed by unit, department, function, or division.

Profit per employee. This a data point is calculated by dividing the company’s profit by its total number of employees. This metric informs the company how much profit is produced by each employee. This metric can be further analyzed by unit, department, function, or division.

Revenue per employee. This data point is calculated by taking the company’s total revenue and dividing it by the total number of employees. This metric informs the company on the cost of human capital in relation to the revenues generated by the company.

If one were to stop and think for a moment, the five of the seven KPIs (response time, number of tasks completed, and time taken to complete assigned tasks, average completion time, and overtime) are related to self discipline. They answer the questions:

  • “Does the individual worker have the self-motivation and self-determination to get the job done effectively and efficiently without direct supervision?”
  • “Is the individual worker as productive, more productive / efficient or less productive / efficient  than his similarily situated colleagues?”

These seven key metrics (and a few others) represent KPIs that every business employing remote workers should be commended for using to evaluate remote worker performance. However,  we still haven’t peeled the onion. What’s up with helicopter managing?

Helicopter management and lack of trust among remote employees and remote workers

Harvard Business Review reported upon a July 2020 study whereby 1,200 people in 24 different countries participated. Thirty-eight percent of the respondents “felt that workers simply weren’t as productive at home” compared to when they reported to the traditional office setting. Forty-one percent of the remote managers doubted whether remote employees could maintain their motivation in the long term.

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It could be that helicopter managing is a manifestation of the lack of trust between remote workers, remote managers, remote team leaders of remote employing companies. Perhaps trust and inherent belief in the self-discipline and self-motivation held by management of their remote workforce is not a given.

Maybe this environmental condition is an outgrowth of historical attitudes of top level c-suite, mid-level managers and supervisors that in-person supervision can step in when employee self discipline is lacking?

Self discipline success trait overlooked in hasty remote work adoption

Could it be that employers were caught flat-footed? As they rapidly responded to the global pandemic many may have failed to adequately assess their talent pool to determine whether self-discipline was a trait for which their workforce excelled?

The prevalence of helicopter management may have brought to fore the prescient need for self-discipline.  Perhaps self-discipline may not have been a valued trait for which hiring managers sought during candidate recruitment? Maybe the delay of instant gratification wasn’t a vaulted characteristic that employers determined to cultivate?

Self discipline is more important now than ever before as evidenced during times of societal chaos, political upheavals and business uncertainty.

The importance of self discipline as a success trait for remote workforce

In the Journal, Applied Psychology, researchers determined that self-discipline was the one major factor that helped remote workers succeed as they faced remote work challenges while completing remote job assignments.

Self discipline,  say researchers helped remote workers deal with the complexities of remote work such as:

  • Interference and distractions
  • Ineffective communication
  • Procrastination
  • Isolation and loneliness

Hawthorne Effect: Direct supervision increases productivity in traditional office settings

The remote work environment is unlike the traditional work setting for which we have all been accustomed. It is completely different from the environment from the IBM experiments in the early 1920-1930s known as the Hawthorne Effect. The Hawthorne Effect occurs when workers respond to the increased in-person attention of their supervisors by increasing their productivity levels.

More recent studies confirm the Hawthorne Effect finding that employees are more likely to be on their best behavior in the presence of their supervisors and put more effort into their work when they know that they are being directly observed by them.

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These research findings are giving credence to employers who have employed sophisticated employee monitoring and surveillance tools. But, it could be said as indicated in the BBC article,

Self discipline was highlighted as a key success trait 50 years ago

In fact, after an exhaustive search, academic research backed by scientific data expounded upon the value of self-discipline, self restraint, self control and will power fifty years ago.

The virtues of self discipline

Back in 1972, another Stanford University researcher, Walter Mischel conducted a study. A longitudinal study on children who delayed immediate gratification in their younger years were found later in life to:

  • Achieved higher SAT scores
  • Experienced lower levels of substance abuse
  • Had lower rates of obesity
  • Possessed better social skills
  • Were more adept at handling stress and frustration

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The value of conscientiousness

Scientists were also able to make significant findings on the role that conscientiousness plays in success. People who are very organized, diligent, plan ahead and hold themselves accountable were highly correlated with professional success. Conscientiousness led to higher salaries, increased job satisfaction and increased ability to obtain job offers and well as retain work once employed.


In the end, employers might find it beneficial to place a far greater value on self discipline and conscientiousness when selecting candidates for hire to fill remote jobs and when cultivating them, and  grooming remote workers for leadership positions.


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