My boss has announced that while we’re all working from home, the entire company will now be spending the whole work day on a Zoom call with video. He framed it as being for our benefit: useful for “establishing a work-life balance” and so we can “see our co-workers and feel like we’re back in the office.” Plus, it’s supposedly so we can “ask questions without having to take meetings.” While we are a small company, most of the people I work with already worked in another location before we went remote, and none of us do similar work. I can think of no world where this is helpful or anything but highly distracting.
But don’t worry, we are still allowed to have bathroom breaks and get snacks (wow, thanks so much!), though the majority of our work day should be spent in this weird online room with video and we are supposed to be “dressed for work.” It is obviously insulting and a poorly disguised attempt to micromanage. It’s especially frustrating because during this time I have taken on additional responsibilities and my output has increased.
I find this demoralizing to the point that I’ve started job hunting. However, my last job was short and I don’t want to look flighty and am also aware getting a job during a pandemic might be hard. Can this be resolved?
Can it be resolved? Maybe. But you’ll still be working for a boss who thought it was a good idea to make you stay on video all day long.
And for the record, requiring workers to appear on camera all day long is horrible management. It says, “I don’t trust you to work if you don’t feel my eyes on you all day long.” But even more than that, it says, “I’m a terrible manager and don’t have the skills to know whether you’re doing your job.” Decent bosses know monitoring isn’t the same as managing, and they know how unsettling, demoralizing, and distracting this would be.
This is an awful way to manage anyone, but it’s even more bizarre to do it to long-time employees who have always been conscientious and responsible … but who now, just because they’re at home, apparently can’t be trusted to focus on work without constant scrutiny.
Irritatingly, yours isn’t the first letter I’ve received about managers with this video requirement since the pandemic started. These are managers who probably weren’t especially skilled at leading teams when everyone was in the same location, and now that people are at home, they’re freaking out. They genuinely don’t know how to ensure people are working or how to hold them accountable from afar, so they’ve settled on “I will watch you all day long” as a substitute. (And in case there’s any doubt, the way you know if people are working is by paying attention to their output. Is work getting done? Are goals being met? If so, you can safely trust that your staff isn’t just filming TikTok videos all day.)
As for your boss’s claim that it’s for your benefit — to help with work-life balance and so you can feel you’re back in the office: Ha. No. Being forced to appear on video all day long while you engage in what sounds like relatively solitary work in no way replicates what it’s like to be in an office, and there’s literally nothing about this that has anything to do with work-life balance (unless he means the balance should be 100 percent work?). As for the idea that it lets you ask questions without needing meetings, it’s true that when you’re working in the same location as other people, it’s easy to pop your head into someone’s office and ask a question. But there are lots of similar ways to ask questions in real time while working from home, like Slack and instant messenger. Other people working from home manage to talk to their co-workers when needed without constant video surveillance. It’s ridiculous, and frankly a bit insulting, for your boss to frame it that way.
There are a couple of ways to push back here. The most direct is to say something to your boss like, “Would you be willing to reconsider the requirement for us to stay on video all day long? I’m finding it distracting, and it’s making me feel like you don’t trust me to get my work done otherwise. I hope you’ll agree that I’ve always been conscientious and productive. In fact, I’ve taken on additional responsibilities, and my output has been very high since this all started. I’d really appreciate the ability to opt out of video when we’re doing solitary work.”
If you find that your colleagues agree with you, and it’s likely that most or all of them do, you could also consider delivering this message as a group. There can be power in numbers, and if all of you push back together, it’s possible your objections will be given more weight. (On the other hand, it’s also possible that if you’re a high performer and approach your boss one-on-one, he’ll be more inclined to work something out specifically for you … which would solve this for you but still leave your colleagues dealing with this. Ideally, you want it solved for everyone.)
If you’re skeptical that a direct approach will work, based on what you know of your boss, you may have more success if you cite technical obstacles. You certainly wouldn’t be the first person whose internet bandwidth doesn’t support staying on video all day long — especially if there are other people in your house using it, like a spouse who’s also working from home or kids doing online learning. That’s obviously not the most direct path to a solution, but in some cases it can be a more effective one.
I do think it’s worth using this as a nudge to take a look at your boss more broadly. Is he a generally inept manager, and did this move come as no surprise to you? Is he a micromanager or tyrannical boss in other ways? Is this is in sync with tendencies he already had? Has he always resisted remote work and this reflects his long-running belief that people working from home aren’t really working? Those answers won’t necessarily change how you proceed, but it’s useful to be really clear on what your boss is all about and what the video requirement tells you about the person you’re working for.
That — and his response when you try pushing back — will help you decide if it’s something you need to leave over. You’re right that having two short-term jobs in a row isn’t necessarily great for your résumé. Although if you had a more stable history before that, it’s much less of a concern … and, frankly, there’s going to be a lot of instability on résumés this year. So while it’s smart to consider that, it shouldn’t preclude you from deciding that starring in a daily, hours-long video isn’t the work environment for you.
Order Alison Green’s book Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work here. Got a question for her? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.