Micromanagement is not a bad word

It just gets a bad rap. Here's how to set junior employees up for success in remote.

Recently, we casually polled the internet on this question:

Casual polls on reddit and LinkedIn.

Now, say what you will about the nature of the question, the implicit bias contained within, and the fact there should be an "option 3" as a couple commenters pointed out. But as far as a quick gut-check goes, these results validate a hunch I had, one I've discussed with colleagues at Slite and other remote companies.

Remote companies generally don't set up junior employees for success.

Why junior employees are more likely to fail in remote

It's really expensive to hire a junior employee just to set them up to fail. We have to assume it's not intentional.

First off, certain personalities thrive in remote. We've discussed this in a previous blog:

Team members in an async company need to be doers, drivers, and promoters of their own work.

If a new hire has these qualities naturally, or arrives on Day One having already adopted good remote habits, they will be in a better position than someone who is still learning how to work in a team, via screens and at a distance.

Training and upskilling junior employees in remote is not impossible, but it is more challenging than IRL.

Here's a quick rundown of why:

As you can see, junior remote employees are doing almost 2x the upskilling they're doing in the office. It's not their fault they are struggling to get up to speed as quickly.

But managers, who are under pressure to meet their own goals as well as their new hire's, are impatient about wanting to see impact, immediately. They also have worked remotely for a while and are used to doing, driving, and promoting their own work. There's little empathy for someone who needs to be shown the ropes, and frustration with someone constantly pinging them with questions.

But there are incremental and easy ways to build good remote habits from scratch.

Micromanagement vs. micro-tasks

Micromanagement gets a bad rap. But maybe we're just thinking about it in the wrong way. Breaking down tasks into tiny chunks is actually a really helpful way for newer employees to get reassurance, build confidence, and learn accountability. For managers, this incremental approach creates guardrails for the project itself, and eventually creates a path for off-ramping the new team member.

Example: engineering intern

One of the developers at Slite has been working with an intern. Here's his quite simple recipe for building up to bigger tasks:

  1. First, they start on training exercises, unrelated to the product work, where the junior developer learns our technologies and workflows
  2. Then, they move on to easy bug fixes / small wording changes to make, so they can focus on learning the workflows
  3. Then, they follow the same process as any other dev when faced with a daunting task: breaking down and splitting up big challenges.

This last part boils down to a roadmap made of "manageable, but valuable" delivery steps.

  • Manageable - you can wrap your head about the goal and find a comprehensive path towards shipping it. Anything longer than a week is a no-go.
  • Valuable - will have a provable impact on growth

Eventually, junior employees will start to operate more independently, and also learn how to carry their weight as a contributor to a team.

Of course, we recommend using Slite docs and Discussions for planning your roadmap and communicating along the way (Sorry, had to).

Why you should be empathetic and open to junior hires

This generation is facing unprecedented socio-historical challenges.

Job insecurity has been on the rise since the 2001 recession, and increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some Gen-Z workers were born into a recession and are now graduating into one. There's increased competition for jobs and less margin for error. Remote work candidates are competing in a global pool as opposed to a local market. Junior hires can't afford to be young and foolish and inexperienced.

It's a common, and frustrating conundrum:

Adjustment from school or home to the working world is not a natural process, especially after a 3-year pandemic. Senior employees can't relate.

But the hesitation makes sense: junior employees need more oversight, more human interaction, more guidance, more socialization and more confidence-building than senior operators. Of course it's really hard to manage these interpersonal subtleties from afar.

But a lot of so-called "work experience" is just getting used to a professional environment, and that really doesn't take too long. If you care about employee retention and securing the future of your company, it's worth it.

How remote leaders can support junior employees

  • New hires need to join a stable squad, where senior team members can take time to onboard and support them
  • Limit the number of junior employees to a certain % of your workforce: sounds harsh, but in a remote team, especially a startup, resources are limited. Don't stretch managers too thin.
  • Set clear, documented expectations for what the junior employee will achieve in their first month, six months, and year.
  • Provide coaching and/or therapy services, such as Oliva
  • Encourage junior hires to build relationships and community by meeting with colleagues in their region, joining a coworking space, and attending local networking events

Speaking of documentation...
Get your guide to knowledge management here →

Junior hires are the future

Junior hires are the future of your company, plain and simple. They bring skills and knowledge that you aren't even aware you need yet. Investing in them is a long play.

But unless you've built mentorship into your business model, they will fail. With the right management model in place, you'll build a structured process for junior hires to flourish on their own and a pipeline of talent for your company's future.

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