my boss watches me by video call while I work, how much noise is too much, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss watches me by video call while I work

I’m a 100% teleworker in the research field (very much an academic setting), which I love. The problem is my boss believes mentoring me means watching me via video call as I work.

I’ve asked my boss to stop (firmly but nicely), reported it to my boss’s supervisor who was horrified, and even supreme boss stepped in, but not much has changed. She has lessened up slightly but now complains she can’t mentor me right because of my “complaining.”

Any advice on how to reinforce some boundaries? Is this just a typical part of remote work? I’m a trailing spouse, so I’m job hunting but it takes quite a while for me to find anything even somewhat related to my field.

Noooo, this is not normal in remote work. This is really f’ing weird, it’s terrible management, and it’s a huge waste of her time.

The good news is that her boss was horrified when you told her about it. She probably thinks that it’s stopped now that she addressed it, so you need to let her know that it hasn’t (and that not only is it continuing, but that now your boss is making snide comments about you having complained). Also, when you let her know it’s still happening, you might just ask if it’s okay for you to disable your web camera — so that when your boss confronts you about having done that, you can say, “Oh, (grandboss) told me to do that.”

Also, for the record, the conversation your grandboss should be having with your boss isn’t just “stop doing this, it’s horrifying” but also “let’s do some urgent and remedial training about how to manage effectively because clearly we are not on the same page about what that means and about how you should be spending your time.”

2. How much noise is too much in an open office when you’re on the phone a lot?

I have a job that requires a substantial amount of time on the phone (probably averaging 15-20 hours per week on the phone, including short unscheduled calls, long project meetings, and occasional webinars). I work in a space which is primarily open-style – I have my own cube but it’s only semi-enclosed so voices carry pretty effectively throughout the space. There are offices around the perimeter, including a few set aside as swing spaces. So, it would probably be *possible* for me to use a closed office for every pre-scheduled call, preventing any of my nearby colleagues from having to hear my side of the call, but I really don’t want to spend a third (or more) of my day in the small, dark anonymous swing-space cubicles, without my nice desk setup, personal items, etc. Closed office space is hard to come by, and the organizational culture dictates that these spaces are reserved for people in higher-level jobs than mine, which I understand and am fine with overall (although these higher-level folks don’t typically have jobs that require much or any phone work).

I know you’ve come out against open-plan offices for this reason (among many), and you’ve recommended that denizens of open-plan offices take long calls in a conference room, but do I really have to spend this much time sitting in a dark, isolated cube? (As you may be able to tell, I’m an extrovert and strongly dislike being confined to such a small, depressing space.) Currently, I use the sad swing-spaces only for long calls where I know I’ll be doing most of the talking/presenting, and I do try to use my “inside voice” on the calls I take in my regular space – but a lot of my job revolves around relationship maintenance, so some of my calls are pretty friendly, informal, and involve laughter, which I also worry might annoy my colleagues (though no one has ever said anything about any of this and it’s been two years). Can I get a blanket ruling on how much phone conversation is too much in an open-plan office? And I wonder if any of your commenters have advice on how they’ve handled this situation?

I should add that my role is unique in my office; no one else (in real offices or cubes) spends any appreciable amount of time on the phone or in conversation with each other. So it’s definitely not a case where everyone is doing it and everyone deals with it – it’s just me making the noise!

I don’t think there’s one blanket ruling for how much conversation is too much in an open office. It really depends of office culture, and I was all set to tell you that I’d pay attention to how others handle their phone calls until I saw in your last paragraph that there’s no one in a comparable situation.

And because of that, you might have more of a case for getting a more private workspace than you would otherwise. I know your office reserves them for people who are higher level, but you could point out that you have a unique situation that no one else is in, where you’re disturbing others all the time. They might say no, but it wouldn’t be outrageous to ask.

But if that’s off the table … no, I don’t think you have to spend one third of your time in a small, dark, anonymous space. But given how much time you’re on the phone, is there any chance you could improve one of those small, dark, anonymous spaces? Make it nicer and more comfortable, so that it’s easier to spend time there? Otherwise, I’d just say to talk to the people who sit around you, acknowledge the situation, say you hate thinking you’re disturbing them, and ask if there’s anything they want you to do differently. Who knows, maybe you’ll hear that they mostly tune you out, or that it’s fine most of the time but not 3-5 every Tuesday because that’s when they need quiet the most, or something else that you didn’t realize. I don’t know what you’ll hear, but I’d ask them directly and then go from there.

3. Should I tell a blogger I follow that I work with her boyfriend?

This question is kind of silly but I am the kind of person that would make this situation weird. I was scrolling through Instagram and just discovered a local blogger whose style I really like. Turns out her S.O. is one of my coworkers! I only know him in passing (and honestly, I doubt he knows my name), but he’s a really nice guy from what I’ve encountered.

My first thought was to DM her and say something like “hey, I love your blog and I’m so thrilled to see you live in [same city!] I actually know [your S.O.] from work and he’s a really nice guy” but I am afraid that would come across as awkward.

Should I say anything to him? We don’t work together, and I tend to be very shy and reserved at work.

I’d leave it alone. Not because it would be horribly awkward if you did message her, but because the question I’d have about doing that is “toward what end?” You’ll tell her you know her S.O, she’ll say something kind in response, and then that will probably be that. It’s not really conveying information with much significance. (There are people who respond enthusiastically to connections of any kind, but there are more people who will just think, “Okay … and?” Plus, if she asks her S.O. about you and he doesn’t know who you are, that’s really upping the chances of “Okay … and?”)

That said, there’s nothing wrong with sending her a note letting her know how much you like her work! That’s always lovely to get, and you don’t even need to mention the S.O. connection.

4. How should I follow up on an introduction?

I was wondering if you could tell me the best way to follow up on an introduction. I recently had coffee with a former boss of mine. While there, I mentioned I was looking for a new job, and he said he knew someone with a company looking for people with my type of experience. That day he sent an email introducing us. I wrote back saying how I heard about the company and would love to discuss any current or future opportunities. He didn’t respond to my former boss’ email or my own. What would an appropriate time be to follow up if I haven’t heard back? How many times would you suggest trying to contact him?

If you haven’t heard anything two weeks after your first email, you can follow up one more time — but when you do, you should say something like, “I of course understand that you must be quite busy and might not be able to connect right now — but I’d love to talk if you do. If not, I appreciate you even considering it and wish you the best in everything you have going on right now.” The reason for that is that you don’t want to come across as thinking this person has any obligation to respond (and that’s also why, if they don’t answer that, you need to just move on and not keep contacting them).

There’s actually a school of thought that your boss should have checked with his contact first to see if they were okay with him making the connection, so the contact could have opted in or said “actually, no, I’m swamped right now” or “this person doesn’t really have the background I’m looking for right now” or so forth. Your boss didn’t do that, so you want to be sensitive to the fact that his contact may not appreciate being expected to spend time on something they never asked for. (And if you’re thinking “it would just take a minute for him to respond,” keep in mind that senior people sometimes get dozens of these emails a week.)

So, one polite follow-up in a couple of weeks, but then move on.

5. Is it bad faith to try to get pregnant when you’re in a new job?

My partner and I have been trying to get pregnant for the last few months. Even though it didn’t feel like the best timing, we finally got to the point where we realized it would never be the right time. The potential issue is that I’ve just started a new job and I’m nervous that if I do get pregnant quickly, I’ll be thought of poorly in my new workplace. My concern is less so about losing my job, as I know there are protections around this, but do you think that trying to conceive when you’re in a new role is acting in bad faith? I have thought about delaying it, but being a parent is just too important to me to keep putting off. Would also appreciate any advice you have about sharing this kind of news with a new employer, in case it does happen.

No, it’s not acting in bad faith. You can never predict how long it will take to get pregnant, and putting it off could mean missing the window that would be best for your family (or just missing the window, period). Work is important, but major life decisions like kids are more important. Do what’s best for you. If your employer and coworkers are reasonable, they’ll understand that the timing of this stuff isn’t always fully within your control or able to be altered because of a professional timeline.

When you do have news to announce, just be straightforward: “I want to let you know that I’m pregnant and due in (month).” If it happens very soon after you started the new job, you can add, “I know the timing isn’t ideal, and I want to work with you to figure out how to cover my area while I’m gone.” Lots more here. But this is a thing that happens, and it will be fine.

{ 410 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. EtherIther

    #5 – The only concern I would have is that in some places, there is no maternity leave until you’ve been there for a certain amount of time (often a year), and I believe FMLA has a similar requirement as well (but I don’t know if it’s as long as a year). I’m not sure though, others can correct me if I’m long.

    Though some might see it as bad faith, I agree with Alison that it’s your prerogative and your family planning is more important than your job, regardless.

    Reply
    1. #5 OP

      OP here! There’s no paid parental leave at my workplace, which is part of what makes me feel less bad about it – I wouldn’t be accessing any kind of paid entitlement, though obviously covering my workload is something of an issue.

      Reply
      1. Approval is optional

        Speaking as a manager, I find parenting leave the easiest leave to arrange cover for (with the exception of ‘sudden’ adoptions), because I have plenty of time to plan and recruit/reorganise, and a fair idea of how long I’ll need the cover.

        Reply
        1. Approval is optional

          *with the exception of parenting leave related to ‘sudden’ adoptions*. Note to self: edit before you submit, not after.

          Reply
          1. EtherIther

            I don’t know much about adoptions, but I do get the impression there can be bureaucracy and all of a sudden it’s… sudden :)

            Reply
            1. Airy

              Or it might not be a formal adoption but suddenly they become responsible for a relative or friend’s child/ren for the foreseeable future and the practical effect is the same.

              Reply
            2. Approval is optional

              Yes, my comment probably wasn’t clear – we don’t really differentiate between adoptions and births when we give leave, but planning time isn’t always possible for sudden adoptions, was what I was trying to say.

              Reply
            3. Noname here

              As a foster parent, sometimes it’s sudden.

              Even with private adoptions, it can be sudden. My best friend adopted twins… And had no idea she’d even been considered/chosen. Just a phone call that said, “come get your babies!” Cue hilarious/rushed/expensive trip to babies r us.

              Reply
              1. Quackeen

                That’s probably the very best kind of surprise, ultimately, but I can certainly appreciate the panic. Very sitcom-esque!

                Reply
              2. CupcakeCounter

                This is how I came to be part of my family :)
                My parents knew very early on that they would have to adopt so started the paperwork immediately after their honeymoon. They got a call in the fall that a woman had selected them and that while nothing was final (never sure about minds changing or if I would have been special needs they weren’t approved for a special needs adoption) they might want to get a few necessities. I was born Oct 20 and put with a foster until all the legal stuff on the biological end was complete, parents got a call on Dec 18 saying “you have a baby girl, pick her up in 2 days”.

                Reply
              3. Liane

                Sounds like this is one thing that hasn’t changed about adoptions in fifty plus years. My parents got the “Come get your baby girl!” call.
                But we’re getting off topic. (We can talk more Saturday!)

                Reply
            4. Anon for Now

              As someone is going through the process now it’s very much hurry up and wait.

              Matches fall through at the last minute, and there are placements that occur at the last minute. It’s very challenging to plan around. I’m very open about my plans where I work, but I know many people like to keep the process private until they get a match, which can mean in a few cases that you are informing your boss that you will be out on leave for 6-12 weeks the day before your leave starts.

              Reply
            5. nyltiak

              I was a domestic, planned adoption. And it was still pretty sudden. My mom started nursing school (thinking she was nowhere near the *getting a baby* phase of things) in September, and in mid-October they called my parents and told them they’d be getting one of 3 babies scheduled to be born in the next 2 weeks. They had some things planned because they’d been working on adopting, but they were not aware of any solid time frame, and the last chat with the social worker for the agency seemed to indicate that they were still some ways off from the “top of the list”. But then the agency had some extra people decide to be adoptive parents late in their pregnancies, and since my parent’s paperwork was all done, *poof* top of the list.

              Reply
        2. Emily K

          Yes, my org is large enough that mat/pat leave is fairly routine and easy to work around. The advance warning doesn’t just help with planning how to cover work – it also helps with knowing how much work your department can realistically take on. We definitely scale down and put would-be-nice projects on hold when a team is short-staffed so they can focus on day-to-day keep-the-machines-humming work. As long as it doesn’t become the status quo, we can handle having a team scaled back to mostly essential functions only for a few months at a time.

          Reply
      2. RUKidding

        Even if there was paid parental leave you shouldn’t feel bad. It would be part ifvyour (and everyone’s) benefit package.

        You may be eligible for FMLA though, even with a years’ waiting time. I mean a pregnancy will take up most of that year all by itself.

        Reply
        1. The Cosmic Avenger

          Unless you work for an employer who equates “using all of the benefits to which you are entitled” with “abusing the system”…. actually, you shouldn’t feel bad even then, even though they will try to make you feel bad about it!

          Reply
      3. blackcat

        If there’s no paid leave, I do think I’d wait until FMLA is fully in (so waiting ~3 months into the new job, which is really not long). In my experience, companies with no paid leave are more likely to be generally unfriendly to parents, and you may need the legal protection of FMLA if you want to have a job to come back to.

        Reply
        1. Psyche

          Yep. I would want to make sure that I had the legal protection for unpaid maternity leave, unless the company has a clearly stated policy that allows it earlier.

          Reply
          1. Seeking Second Childhood

            Or country — AAM is so international that “there are protections” could be a reference to a national law in a country other than the US.

            Reply
        2. Manic Pixie HR Girl

          This was going to be my suggestion as well. Most (decent*) workplaces will work with you regardless with unpaid leave, but if you and your spouse rely on your benefits there is a distinct advantage to waiting until FMLA kicks in. (Or, in this case, waiting 3-4 months knowing FMLA will have kicked in when you give birth.)

          *If they don’t, it’s not a place you want to work, ESPECIALLY if you are starting a family.

          Reply
          1. Kyrielle

            This. Also, if you are in the US, check your state and local laws. For example, OFLA (Oregon’s family leave act) kicks in at 180 days and also provides longer protections if you need to be out for medical reasons prior to the birth (you get time after separately).

            It also provides two weeks of bereavement leave and you had better believe I just shrieked seeing that, wish I’d known it several years back. :(

            Reply
        3. fposte

          Federal FMLA kicks in when you’ve been at the employer a year. Unless OP has a really long pregnancy, she won’t be eligible for it. I believe some states provide leave earlier, though, so it’s worth checking.

          Reply
          1. Someone Else

            I took it as she is not pregnant now, just trying,and has already started the new job albeit recently. It could easily take 3 months (or more) to get pregnant, so she may or may not end up eligible depending on exactly what happens when. And depending on if she’s even in the US.

            Reply
            1. Michaela Westen

              Yes, or she may get pregnant tomorrow. That has happened. If it was me I’d wait till I was sure the FMLA would be there, but I’m a cautious type (and too old to have children now).

              Reply
        4. Anon for Now

          Assuming that there are more than 50 employees within a 75 mile radius and FMLA applies.

          But, to be honest, if it’s a decent employer then whether you qualify for FMLA or not won’t matter.

          Reply
        5. Sled dog mama

          Just because wait the 3 months does not guarantee you’ll make the 1 year for FMLA. My daughter arrived 4 days early, 2 days before my 1 year anniversary. I was lucky that FMLA didn’t apply to this employer and they went above and beyond, 6weeks paid at 100% maternity leave minimum, with a doctors note it could be extended to 8 for natural birth, and this was before using any PTO.

          Reply
        6. OP5

          Thank you all for the words of caution. My state does have its own family/ medical leave laws that kick in after 6 months, otherwise I definitely would’ve put the trying on hold. Thank you for such practical advice!

          Reply
      4. Not Me

        FMLA protection of your job doesn’t start until 12 months. Depending on how long you’ve been there and when you need to start taking leave (remember it’s not just when you have the baby, doctors appointments or time needed away from work due to health related issues are FMLA) you may not have job protection.

        Reply
        1. nonymous

          one option for getting around the issue of FMLA before baby comes is to find a work schedule that leaves space for appts without taking leave. I’m thinking a compressed workweek of some kind plus an early start would do the trick. Especially if the company offers limited benefits these kinds of schedules might be pretty common.

          Reply
    2. Elysian

      I was in a similar situation to poster #5, where I had been trying for a few months with no success (all while interviewing for new jobs) because the timing just was what it was for my family. After I started the new job, we hit the “pause” button on trying for about two months so that I could focus on my new gig, and I got pregnant basically as soon as we resumed trying. This was ideal for me, since I ended up taking my maternity leave basically two weeks after I qualified for FMLA.

      It goes quick, but the 9-10 months of being pregnant is a pretty long time if you put it on the calendar. Even if you get pregnant pretty soon after starting a new job, you’re still going to have all that time during the pregnancy to establish yourself. It isn’t ideal timing, I guess, but nothing really is. There is always the possibility that you have a complicated pregnancy and then that time becomes all the more stressful. But on the whole, not being pregnant when you start and becoming pregnant soon after shouldn’t be a huge deal (and definitely isn’t bad faith!). Being pregnant already when you start something new is frankly more complicated (as far as when to disclose), but still isn’t really that big a deal at most places if you handle it well.

      Best of luck, OP!

      Reply
    3. Beatrice

      It’s important to know that, in the US, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits employers from treating maternity-related medical treatment any differently from medical leave for another reason. I’m not a lawyer and I don’t recall the specifics, but the minimum-employees criteria for the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is lower than FMLA, so it provides protection in some cases where FMLA would not apply. If they would give an FMLA-ineligible employee time off (or time beyond the 12 weeks of FMLA) for things like chemo, emergency surgery, or recovery from a serious accident, they have to give the same consideration to medical leave for an employee needing maternity care.

      Reply
    4. ten-four

      I accepted a job in November, started in January, and got pregnant within two weeks of starting the job. I’d had a loss a few months before and the window of time I was comfortable trying again was very short, so we went for it and got lucky right out of the gate.

      I did feel kind of bad about it, but everyone gave me the same advice Allison did: deciding to have kids is bigger than an individual job. I’m sure there are exceptions, but the situation you’re in doesn’t make the cut!

      I was lucky: my bosses were all great from top to bottom, I wound up getting a part time schedule when I came back and they maximized my paid leave. Side note: it’s infuriating that my experience was lucky! I wish you WERE getting good paid leave and support.

      I’m still at the same company. I love it here and my career is progressing despite the leave and the flex schedule!

      Reply
      1. OP5

        Turns out I’m in exactly the same most as you, just a few months behind! I have a couple more months until I need to say anything at work but I’m feeling very encouraged by these responses! Congratulations on your pregnancy!

        Reply
  2. JR

    #5, totally agree that there’s nothing wrong with your plan. This falls squarely into the caregory of things that matter a million times more to you than they do to your work. It’s at worst an inconvenience to them, and it’s the rest of your life to you.

    That said, I just wanted to follow up on your note that you know there are job protections. I can’t tell from your letter whether you’re new in your job right now or if you’ve been there for a few months. While they can’t discriminate against you for pregnancy, FMLA doesn’t kick in until you’ve been employed for a year, so they don’t have to hold your job for you to take parental leave if you are under the year mark (let alone pay you whatever leave benefits are typical in your company). Your state may have more employee-friendly requirements and of course they would hopefully work with you, but in case your timing means you could end up under the year mark, I just wanted to flag that the protections might not be that strong.

    Reply
  3. Beth

    OP2: Even if someone at your level wouldn’t usually be able to get a private office, since you’re actually the only one making noise in the otherwise-quiet open zone, I think you have a strong case to request one. And I don’t think you have much to lose by asking–either your manager agrees and gets you a space that would work better for you, or they say no and you’re exactly where you are now.

    Try going to your manager and saying something like “I’m finding that my specific duties require spending a lot of time on the phone. Since I’m the only one making so many calls, when I work from my desk, I’m worried that I’m disrupting the work space for everyone else. But trying to use the flex spaces is proving really difficult; working away from my desk so much of the time is cutting into my productivity, and I also have frequent impromptu calls that I can’t reserve the space for. I know it would be unusual, but is there any chance I could move to an enclosed work space? I think it would be better for both my work and my coworkers’ focus.” You might not get the most luxurious space in the world, but it’s a reasonable request with good business motives backing it up.

    Reply
    1. MK

      I think the first thing the OP needs to do is find out if she really is disturbing anyone with her calls, because there is zero evidence of that in the letter. As a supervisor, I would be pretty annoyed if someone had come to me asking for an exception to company policy to solve a non-problem.

      Also, while I don’t think there is anything wrong with asking for accommodation if indeed there is a problem, I think the OP could stand to adjust her attitude a bit too; going on to herself about how sad, sad and so sad the private spaces are is a bit over-dramatic?

      Reply
      1. LavaLamp

        It’s not actually. For me, it would trigger my mental health issues. It’s entirely conceivable that the OP gets depressed when in that kind of environment, and that’s how I read what they were saying.

        Reply
        1. Chilli Chocolate

          I mean, that’s certainly possible, but there’s absolutely nothing in the letter to indicate that. All they say is they don’t like being away from their nice desk and personal items, and calling the private spaces “sad” which makes it sound much more a matter of personal taste than mental health.

          Not everything is a mental health issue. Sometimes people really are just being drama queens. It doesn’t really help genuine mental health concerns to conflate the two.

          Reply
          1. RUKidding

            You can use whatever words you want to use obviously but “drama queen” is gendered in a very negative way. Even males being all over dramatic are calked “drama queens” which reinforces “female = negative.”

            Reply
            1. WakeUp!

              This is nitpicking wording while not contributing at all to the discussion.

              I agree with Chilli Chocolate to drop the speculation about the OP’s mental health. There’s no evidence this is a mental health issue and even if it is, it may or may not actually change what OP does.

              Reply
              1. Jadelyn

                Calling out sexism isn’t “nitpicking wording.” And while we’re on the topic of appropriate commenting, I’d say that dismissing the OP’s concerns by calling them a “drama queen” is falling far short of the “be kind to folks who write in” standard.

                Reply
              2. RUKidding

                That’s why I said “…can use any words you want…”

                I wasnt nit picking as much as I was pointing out that maybe when discussing things we could be mindful of the language we use that is offensive to marginalized groups.

                And yes of course, my bad. Every single comment made by every single person is always direct advice. No one else ever says anything that’s not 100% contributory to the overall discussion. Duly noted.

                Reply
          2. Karen from Finance

            I struggle with anxiety/depression and I agree. Let’s not assume mental health issues in the letter if not alluded to in the text. It’s great to normalize mental health issues, but let’s not trivialize it either.

            Reply
            1. WakeUp!

              Agreed. Plus…a lot of people with depression work in sad, dark, cramped, etc. offices. It’s not like you tell them you have a mental illness and they open a curtain to reveal the beautiful, glittering secret office you only get if you ask.

              And again, literally no indication that this is anything beyond personal preference. AAM readers, the world would not end if you only assumed mental health issues were relevant when SPECIFICALLY mentioned by readers. Seriously!

              Reply
              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                Yes, and from the commenting rules:

                If you’re speculating on facts or context not in the letter, explain how it’s actionable for the letter-writer. “She might be stealing your lunch because she can’t afford her own” is not actionable (and quickly becomes derailing). “She might be stealing your lunch because she can’t afford her own, and so you could try XYZ” is actionable.

                Reply
              2. Jennifer

                ” It’s not like you tell them you have a mental illness and they open a curtain to reveal the beautiful, glittering secret office you only get if you ask.” This made me laugh so hard. Like in the Wizard of Oz when it goes from black and white to color.

                Reply
          3. OP2

            OP2 here! For me, I don’t think it rises to the level of a mental health issue such that it would require ADA-type accomodation, although rooms without any natural light are certainly a drain on productivity and mental status pretty universally, and I can imagine that for folks with, say, seasonal depression, it could rise to that level. I’d say this issue is more than just personal preference, since it’s quite hard to work productively from inside a closet, but not a mental health problem. Call it a productivity problem mixed with a ‘work life quality’ problem.

            Reply
        2. pleaset

          You read someone saying they are sad from working in a dark space as saying they have a mental health problem? Interesting.

          Reply
        3. ket

          To everyone commenting on LavaLamp’s post saying LavaLamp is implying OP has mental health issues, stop. LavaLamp says it’s true for them and because of their own experiences that’s how they read the OP. It’s pretty clear that LavaLamp is not making any claim about the OP and this nitpicking is annoying.

          Reply
          1. Snark

            What’s getting annoying is the mad rush to invoke mental health whenever it could possibly be a factor, and often when it’s’ not. I’m completely okay with some pushback on that, to be honest, because bringing up mental health in this context, with this little reason to, is fairly ridiculous.

            Reply
          2. Yorick

            LavaLamp did suggest that the OP could have mental health issues, but did not explain how that would change the advice, which is the site rule for when it’s acceptable to speculate about things.

            Reply
      2. Feline

        Polite office neighbors often won’t tell you that they’re gritting their teeth through your endless conversations if you ask them whether it bothers them. I know because I was the one with a quiet-must-focus job seated beside people whose roles meant they needed to be on the phone all day leading meetings. I’m fairly sure the stress of my deadline-heavy, impossible-to-concentrate situation led to higher blood pressure, which contributed to my recent stroke. Once I’m rehabbed and back in the office, I won’t stay quiet about how stressful it is to have a noisy person seated in a quiet area any longer.

        I’m not saying OP is killing her neighboring coworkers, but they may not be willing to speak up about how disruptive OP is through no fault of OP’s own. Management assigning seating for people with incompatible tasks together is entirely to blame. By making the sad, private spaces available, management feels they are doing enough. It’s not enough. People have to take the noise there for them to have any benefit.

        Reply
        1. Falling Diphthong

          They may not be willing to speak up about how disruptive OP is through no fault of OP’s own.

          This. If management asked me in the sense “We’ve realized that the people who are on the phone all the time might need a more private set-up so other people can concentrate; what do you think?” I’d give an honest answer. But “Am I bugging you?” when the bugging is imposed from above and there’s nothing to be done about it?

          Reply
          1. pleaset

            If someone asks you a question, why not answer it truthfully? You could say “Yes, but I know there’s not much you can do about it” if you like. But you’re doing everyone a disservice by holding back.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              This is a “know your culture” thing. In a lot of cultures, it’s on the person with the likely bugging to police themselves and people won’t do that unless asked very, very carefully; in others, they’ll tell you without even being asked :-).

              Reply
            2. Name Required

              I wouldn’t answer this question truthfully if I didn’t think anything could be done about it, because it would be a disservice to my long-term relationship with my coworkers for them to think that a basic function of their job that they have no control over is disruptive for me. It just gives them something to feel bad about, with no productive end result. Now, if my manager confidentially asked me about it with a potential for a positive end result … then yes, I’d say something.

              Reply
            3. Jasnah

              This would absolutely not fly in many country/work cultures I know. You’d basically be admitting “yes, you bother me” with a side dish of “and I’ll continue to be bothered unless you do something about it.” What if OP can’t move, but now she knows that Fergus is disrupted by her phone calls? That knowledge helps no one if it turns out they all have to grin and bear it. Relationship-building is more important than honesty in this case.

              Reply
          2. MCMonkeyBean

            I agree. If someone sitting next to me was on the phone all the time because it was their job to be on the phone all the time, it would drive me crazy but if they asked if it bothered me I would say no because what would saying yes accomplish? I would know it’s not their fault, it’s just a crappy situation.

            Reply
        2. MK

          Which is why I suggested the OP talk to her colleagues. Not “Am I bugging you?”, but “I realised my calls maybe disturbing people and am thinking of ways to minimise it. Is the noise disruption for you?”

          Reply
        3. nonymous

          Yeah, as part of the convo with neighbors, I would pitch it as they are helping OP transform one of the swing cubicles into an ergonomic space if they would speak up to mutual boss. Who knows? maybe there are other staff that would benefit from better ergonomics in those shared areas? And if there is an ergonomics facilitator, maybe they can evaluate the space as well.

          Reply
        4. OP2

          OP2 here. I think this is definitely a problem in gauging how obnoxious my phone calls are – my coworkers are nice and we like each other and I don’t know that they’d be direct about whether the calls annoy them. I have the feeling that I may be violating office norms by not taking all calls in a swing space, but since no one else does work that’s phone-intensive, it’s hard to pin down what the office norms about this really are.

          Reply
      3. Seeking Second Childhood

        I pictured the converted closet they had me working in at one temp job and shuddered in sympathy. (They had their elderly transcription device set up in the “noisy room” because it sometimes lost its settings and sent sound through the speakers instead of the headphones.

        There was room for a desk, a chair, and that’s it. It was dirty beige and SMELLED dirty. The overhead flourescent was vastly overpowered for the space. It was claustrophobic being in such a small space with no windows — and knowing the door opened outwards so could get blocked, I didn’t feel safe. I seem to remember that’s one of the few times I asked to be taken off a temp job early…

        Reply
      4. Colette

        I was once in a similar situation, and my manager suggested I move to a conference room for calls – but I was on the phone 5 or more hours per day, which would mean most of my day was in a room without proper ergonomic setup, with my laptop screen instead of 2 monitors. It was unmanageable.

        It’s not just about the way the spaces look, although I’m sure they’re not great – it’s about leaving your work environment behind for a significant portion of the day.

        Reply
        1. Human Sloth

          Absolutely. I have three monitors at work (and really could be a little more productive with four). When I work from home on my laptop, I feel very discombobulated and work that takes me 15 mins at my desk takes 1.5 hrs on the laptop.

          Reply
          1. Liane

            Yes she did mention office setup, in the first paragraph in fact. Also, focusing on just one word, “sad,” in the OP’s question is nitpicking .

            Reply
            1. MK

              “nice desk setup” conveys “things I chose and like to look at” to me, not “ergonomic”. I realise this has come down to nitpicking the OP’s language, but for me the whole tone of the letter indicates pretty strongly that this is about the OP’s preference for cheerful sourroundings; I am frankly baffled about the mentions of mental health (and to a lesser degree of ergonomic) issues. These things may be true in many cases and perfectly valid, but it doesn’t seem to be what the OP’s problem is about.

              Reply
              1. OP2

                OP2 here. I think it’s both! The swing spaces *are* sad closets where no one would choose to spend most of their day. But, my desk setup is also important to me: dual, large monitors since I do design work, ergonomic chair/keyboard/mouse/monitor setup suited to my height, access to paper files, design drafts, etc. I probably could have been more specific about the productivity-related reasons I don’t like to be away from my desk all day, in addition to the ‘work life quality’ issues I discussed more.

                Reply
              2. Jadelyn

                Maybe that’s what it conveys to you, but that’s not universal at all. “Nice desk setup” to me conveys “my workstation set up the way that’s best for me”.

                And re folks mentioning mental health and ergonomics, people reply to things from within the context of our own experiences, which for many of us includes issues of mental health and struggles to get a good ergonomic setup at work. Just because that’s not where your mind went, doesn’t mean everyone else is objectively wrong for looking at it differently than you did.

                Reply
      5. Yorick

        I agree. OP could learn that the neighbors are ok or that there are small, simple things she could do to minimize the disruption. Or she could learn that it’s a hopeless situation and she needs to ask her boss for a private office.

        And I agree that if OP is going to tell the boss that using the swing spaces isn’t enough, she should think through why those spaces are inadequate. You don’t want to just make it sound like you don’t like it when in fact the problem is that you don’t have your monitor setup and ergonomic chair (these are real issues, but OP just says they’re dark and impersonal).

        Reply
        1. OP2

          Hi, this is OP2 – this is helpful advice. Just based on the reactions here in this thread, it will clearly be good for me to be more clear about why working in the swing spaces more consistently isn’t a good solution, beyond “I prefer not to.” =)

          Reply
      6. Rainy

        Most flex spaces I’ve encountered are designated as such because they don’t work as actual offices for some reason, whether it be space, light, or weird layout.

        Reply
      7. Anna

        I think you’re reading a lot into the letter about the OP’s attitude. I have worked in a cubicle farm with spaces reserved for traveling coworkers or whatever and they are sad. They’re sterile and boring and it would be a giant pain in the butt to have to relocate to somewhere where the stuff you use daily for your job is not readily at hand.

        Reply
      8. smoke tree

        I think that regardless of what the private space is like, most people would find it pretty disruptive to spend about half of their working time away from their desk. I know that when I’m on a call, I usually have to pull up emails and other documents to reference. It’s hard to be as productive away from your regular set-up.

        Reply
        1. OP2

          OP2 here, thanks for the validation! It’s true, I am usually accessing documents on my computer during the calls, and I have a nice desk setup (2 large monitors since I do design work, adjusted to suit my height, etc.) that makes it much easier to be on a multi-hour call or webinar and work with the files I need without scrunching over to work on the little laptop monitor. =)

          Reply
          1. smoke tree

            I figured it was something like that :) As someone who has had to work with less-than-ideal situations while working remotely, it can make every little task so much longer and more frustrating, and that’s apart from ergonomic issues on lengthy calls.

            Reply
        2. Jadelyn

          Agreed – when I have to join conference calls from my boss’s office, I often have to reply to questions with “I’ll look that up when I’m back on my own computer” or I have to try to walk my boss through finding the necessary info on our shared server in real-time, which bogs down the meeting.

          Reply
      9. Michaela Westen

        OP, if you do get a closed office it might be small and have less-than-ideal lighting.
        I just want to say don’t let it get to you. Bring in some small lamps, maybe a salt lamp, maybe battery-operated candles or string lights, and pretty pictures for the walls. If they let you choose paint colors, choose some light cheerful ones.
        Pictures from old wall calendars are beautiful and affordable for the walls, or you can print pictures from the internet on a color printer.
        You can make the space cheerful and homey and be very happy with it. :)

        Reply
        1. OP2

          OP2 here, thanks for the pointers! I’ve been placed in small, interior offices before (for the same set of reasons) and have been pretty much fine, when I can adapt the space (and lighting!) to suit my preferences. =)

          Reply
      10. Beth

        I think it’s actually pretty reasonable to assume that if you’re frequently making noise in an otherwise quiet space, it’s likely to be at least a little disruptive to at least some people around you. This is a really common complaint with open work spaces.

        Reply
    2. Jessica

      Asking for a closed space for the one person who talks on the phone half the week sounds wholly reasonable to me, but is there a danger that the most natural and logical move in response will be for them to put you into one of those sad shadowy cubes that you already hate? Or if it were yours would you be able to settle into it and spiff it up and not hate it?

      Reply
      1. OP2

        OP2 here, thanks. Yup, I think that’s a possible outcome, which would probably be okay – some higher-quality lighting and my regular desk setup (dual monitors, height-adjusted ergonomic setup, etc.) would make those spaces perfectly manageable if permanent. This seems pretty unlikely due to the institutional culture here, but maybe a possible solution I could present.

        Reply
    3. Reluctant Manager

      Coworkers’ need for a productive workspace trumps OP’s dislike of the shared swing spaces (separate from whether she can effectively work in them). As a manager, I regularly hear noise complaints; because of limited space and a need for fairness, I can’t move either party to a private space without a business reason (not my call), but I’d be delighted if someone offered me one. My guess is that OP’s quieter introverted colleagues are grinning and bearing it and quietly resenting the situation.

      Reply
      1. tra la la

        I am an extrovert in a cube farm and I am currently trying not to pull my hair out because a new colleague talks constantly with their clients using “outside” voice which encourages the clients to do the same. For me being extroverted means having a hard time tuning out stimuli. I really don’t think cube farms/open plans are productive for *anyone* regardless of introvert/extrovert status

        Reply
        1. tra la la

          (Also, the reason I’m not saying anything — yet — is that I’ve heard what the proposed “solution” is and it’s considerably worse for me, so there’s a bigger picture in play).

          Reply
    4. Hillary

      I’ve been in OP2’s shoes. My line of work means talking on the phone a lot, both conference calls and ad hoc.

      At one job, that meant I was the only non-manager with an office. At this job I sit in the corner (it’s a very nice corner, not a punishment) and the desks next to us are assigned to people who aren’t in the office 100%. We lobbied for this spot during the move because we’re louder than everyone we sit with. Point is there also may be locations that would be better for managing the noise. I agree 100% with talking to your neighbors, then bring possible solutions to your manager.

      Reply
      1. OP2

        OP2 here, thanks. This is helpful advice; maybe there’s somewhere a bit more distant from others where my work wouldn’t be so disruptive, even if it’s still in the open-plan section of the office.

        Reply
    5. OP2

      OP2 here. I think my actual boss/manager totally gets it! She works in a different office location for the most part, so she’s not in my space often enough to assess how disruptive it it, but I think she agrees. But the folks who make the decisions about office space are separate from our ‘chain of command’ and it’s not clear that she could advocate for much of a change to the status quo (and there have been recent space wars in my office that have left everyone reluctant to propose changes at all). My suspicion is that my role may need to move to another unit where it will fit in better, and perhaps be awarded a more suitable workspace – my boss has hinted that this might be the thing to do.

      Reply
  4. Beth

    #5: You’ve already started this job, right? And you’re not (to your knowledge) pregnant yet, right?

    Even if you get pregnant today, it’s not like you’d be obligated to inform your employer tomorrow. Most people actually wait until the pregnancy is a decent ways in (12 weeks is pretty common, I hear) before sharing their news and starting to make plans–there’s just too much that can change in early pregnancy for anyone to reasonably expect an earlier announcement than that. 12 weeks is close to 3 months. Even if you get pregnant immediately, you’ll have a few months to establish yourself at work and build a reputation there before you bring it up. And you wouldn’t be looking at taking leave until you’d been there closer to 8 or 9 months–plenty of time to feel like part of the team rather than The New Person.

    This isn’t to say that you’d be in the wrong if you were expecting sooner. There’s nothing ‘flighty’ about prioritizing your family over work, in my opinion, pretty much no matter what the circumstances. But it sounds like you’re really stressing over possible perception, and looking at the timing involved in your specific situation, I really don’t think it’s going to come off like that even to people who do think about the world in that way. I’m hoping that thinking of it that way will help take some of the pressure off you.

    Reply
    1. OP #5

      Thank you – I really appreciate that. It turns out that since I wrote the letter, I have become pregnant (!) so it’s become less of a hypothetical, but as you say, it’s quite a while until I need to say anything. I’m hoping I’ll be more integrated in the team by then and they won’t have any/many reservations about it by then.

      Reply
      1. Beth

        Oh my goodness congrats!!!!!! I’m sure your team will be excited for you when you announce it–I can’t imagine doing anything else in their shoes.

        In the meantime, I bet building relationships with your team (so they know you as “Jane who sends out the weekly announcements email” or “Jane who knocked that report out of the park” or “Jane who’s a big fan of the Cubs” instead of “the new person”) will make you feel more secure. But I really do think it’ll be fine! They’ll know you just by virtue of having worked with you for months already, you’ll know them from the same thing, it’s exciting news that everyone’s supposed to celebrate, it’ll work out.

        Reply
      2. Seller of teapots

        Congratulations!!!!!!

        I stepped into a new role at my company this summer and almost immediately got pregnant (a bit unexpectedly) and am due during a busy time of year. I felt very anxious about sharing my news due to the timing of it all, but for the reasons Beth points out, it’s less of an issue than I made it out to be. In fact, everyone has been lovely and I’ve had time to develop some thorough coverage plans, and now I’m just waiting excitedly to meet this little bean.

        Reply
      3. Detective Amy Santiago

        Congratulations!

        It is no one business that you were actively trying to get pregnant. So many pregnancies are unplanned that I don’t think people will think anything of it.

        Reply
      4. RUKidding

        Oh congrats OP! Keep in mind that reproduction, human and otherwise are just part of doing business on planet Earth. Your employers should understand that. People get pregnant. It should not be an issue (negatively or otherwise) to them.

        Reply
      5. Quackeen

        Wow, congrats!!

        While there are certainly employers and coworkers who behave poorly around this (see: my former manager who said, “If I’d known you were going to get pregnant, I wouldn’t have promoted you.”), most people are reasonable and will be happy for you. The nature of pregnancy and maternity leave is that, barring emergency situations, you have plenty of time to plan out a course of action.

        Best of luck to you!

        Reply
      6. blackcat

        OMG! Should have scrolled further down. Congrats!

        I have worked with someone who kept it under wraps until ~20 weeks, but also someone who told everyone at like 6 weeks because she got terrible HG and needed to work from home/take time off. I’d get emails sent from the hospital during her 3x weekly trips for IV nutrition….

        Reply
      7. Spero

        Congratulations!! I unexpectedly became pregnant just before starting my current job, but telling my boss and taking leave went really smoothly. I waited until I was a little past 4 months to tell – wearing flowy clothes and it being my first helped with showing less. I told her right after our first round of reports so I had some concrete achievements already and was out of probationary period. I had already looked up deadlines around the time of my leave and had a plan for what I could do early vs what would need to be covered. And in general, having specific dates in mind and having thought things out made me feel more like we were working on a slightly challenging thing together, rather than I was giving her a problem. Remember – this is good news! You’re happy! Non selfish normal people may be slightly surprised by timing but will be happy for you!

        Reply
        1. TexanInExile

          My co-worker thought she was hiding her pregnancy as well. (NB We were all very happy and excited for her, even though she had been at the company less than a year when she told us, and are managing while she is gone, although we miss her just because we really like her.)

          But – we work with engineers. I had this conversation with my boss:

          Me: Isn’t it so great that Co-worker is having a baby?
          Boss: Shhhhhhh! She hasn’t told Alan yet.
          Alan: I knew.
          Boss: What? Did she tell you?
          Alan: No.
          Boss: Then how did you know?
          Alan: She stopped wearing belts and stopped tucking in her shirts.
          Boss: Why didn’t you say something?
          Alan: You NEVER say something! You wait until you are told!

          Reply
      8. Who the eff is Hank?

        Congrats OP! And good luck with the next 40 weeks. I’m so glad I only have 8 more to go. :)

        My situation was similar to yours– I got pregnant right as our new director (my boss) started and made a bunch of changes that increased my workload and responsibility. I was afraid to tell her because I didn’t want her to think I was shirking my duties or be upset that I’d be on leave during our busiest time of the year. While she’s not thrilled to have a temp in place during that time, she was still genuinely happy for me and understanding. I’m sure it’ll work out well for you, too.

        Reply
      9. nonprofit writer

        congrats! I also got pregnant my first year on a job–we had already been trying for almost 2 years so definitely weren’t going to stop trying. As it happened, I got pregnant about 4 months into the job which meant I’d been there just over a year when the baby was born and so I was eligible for FMLA. It was totally fine and everyone was happy for me! I didn’t tell till after 12 weeks so at that point I’d been on the job for 7 months or so and wasn’t exactly new.

        And I think others have said this but do look into FMLA–usually it’s not your employer providing paid leave exactly but you do often get paid for at least part of the time. In my case (NY state) I got paid 2/3 salary as disability pay for 6 weeks (this is standard after childbirth even though having a baby is not a disability) and the remaining 1/3 came out of my banked sick days. After that 6 week period I got paid for a while by using up the other unused sick days and vacation days. My org did have generous sick leave and vacation so that helped–I realize that’s not the norm everywhere.

        Good luck and enjoy your baby!

        Reply
      10. Marion Cotesworth-Haye

        Congratulations!! FWIW, one of my friends found out she was pregnant the week after she started a new job in a small start-up — she was the very first pregnant employee the company ever had, and obviously on a small team, there was potential for disruption/teammate resentment, but it all went much, much better than she thought it would. It was her first, so she had the benefit of a little extra time before she started showing, and after their initial surprise and congratulations, it was business as normal, with the addition of crafting a coverage plan for her leave and figuring out what changes they needed to make when she came back. No one held it against her, etc. Your worry is reasonable, but most employers and coworkers will recognize this for the happy, normal event that it is. Best wishes for your expanding family!

        Reply
      11. Manic Pixie HR Girl

        Ignore my comment upthread – congrats!!!

        From the HR standpoint, as others mentioned below, you can definitely wait to announce, there’s no set time, though I wouldn’t wait much longer than ~20 or so weeks so that your boss/team can have some time to plan and so you can discuss options with HR. As I mentioned, there may be benefits implications to not yet being eligible for FMLA, so it might be good for your spouse to discuss with HIS HR about getting you and the baby on his insurance when the baby is born, if that’s possible. He should also look at what his options are surrounding paternity leave, especially if the leave you are able to take is limited.

        Also, anecdotally, the biggest hurdle friends/peers have noted to returning to work at 12 weeks is finding affordable, reliable daycare. Most states have a lot of regs for daycares surrounding infant care and as a result there are often long waiting lists. Get on a waiting list NOW.

        Reply
        1. Perry the Platypus

          Also start interviewing pediatricians now! It can be hard to find one that’s accepting new patients, and you want one that agrees with you on important issues (like pro-vaccinations, for example.)

          Reply
      12. Risha

        Congratulations!!!

        And for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t think twice about a new-ish coworker announcing a pregnancy, other than “they seem thrilled! Good for them!” First of all, I’d like to think I’m the kind of person who doesn’t expect people to put their job over major life decisions, but also, I don’t assume it to be something everyone has 100% control over.

        Reply
      13. Dagny

        CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!

        Just be sure to do a great job, be very proactive about hand-offs, and be the kind of employee whom they really want back after your maternity leave.

        Reply
      14. Jax

        Congrats OP! I found out I was pregnant a week after starting my previous job. It all worked out in the end! My boss was very understanding when I told her, and she had plenty of time to prepare. By the time I went out on leave I was close enough with my team that they were excited for me instead of annoyed that I’d be out for 3 months.

        Reply
  5. nnn

    For #1, if you find the situation gets to a point where you need an “excuse” not to be visible on the webcam, you could start using external keyboard, mouse and monitor for ergonomic reasons, and then simply close the laptop. (Or leave the laptop open and all it shows is the back of your external monitor.)

    But personally, I’d just disable the webcam in Device Manager, without even asking permission, and re-enable it whenever I need to use it or whenever I have a scheduled video call. If Boss tries to connect without permission it won’t work, and, if pressed, I’d say something like “I’ll see if I can troubleshoot it after I finish the TPS reports”

    Reply
    1. Bilateralrope

      I wouldn’t go for disabling it in Device Manager. That just causes hassle if I ever want to use it, along with the risk of someone changing the settings without my knowledge. I’ve found that there are some Windows settings that often get reset by major updates to Windows.

      I’d go for blocking the camera with a piece of tape. Easy to remove should I want to use the webcam and easy to see if someone removes the tape.

      Reply
      1. Mongrel

        You can also buy little adhesive, slide covers, just search your favoured online retailer for “Laptop camera cover”

        Reply
        1. Bilateralrope

          Could the letter writer buy one that has a custom message visible to anyone who watches through the webcam ?

          If the letter writer is using a webcam that isn’t built into the laptop, there is always the option of pointing it at a piece of paper with the message on it.

          Reply
          1. Dragoning

            Generally, no–they block the camera and don’t allow light in. It would be like asking to write a custom message on the inside of your camera shutter–not a lot of value.

            Reply
              1. OP 1 aka a Conner?

                OP 1 Here. Wish I could. No money in the budget for that until 6 months from now. But I will be requesting one when they do our bi yearly upgrade then.

                Reply
          1. Lynn

            I have taped a little piece of paper over mine.

            My company doesn’t do video calls (thank goodness) and I don’t want to call a client/coworker only to find that it somehow got turned on and the folks at the other end can see my “work from home” chic. AKA-most days, I wear pajamas to work in, and don’t bother to take a shower until afternoon. Noone needs to see that.

            If my company ever starts using the video function, I’ll have to look into one of those adhesive sliding covers as I still don’t want the video working without me knowing it.

            Reply
          2. That Girl From Quinn's House

            I used to do post-its, but my cat kept pawing them off the webcam and chewing them. Now I have blue painter’s tape over it, which is harder for her to peel off.

            Reply
          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Same. And adhesive removable tabs. But in general, I would block the webcam. It is ridiculous that this is on 24/7, and depending on your state, could run afoul of wiretap laws.

            Reply
        2. SheLooksFamiliar

          I have a Muppets Band Aid over my laptop camera, and used the wrapper as an extra layer of blockage. Before that it was a bandage that looked like a strip of bacon, because WHIMSY!

          Reply
      2. Tom

        If a normal user can randomly disable on-board hardware – i`d worry about that workplace.
        It would be obvious they do not take security serious.

        I`d use one of these stick on sliding covers – ideal gadgets really – and keep it closed.

        If you`d be so inclined, you can still say ‘it`s on, don`t know what is wrong’ – but just leave it closed.

        Reply
          1. Bilateralrope

            If it’s her own laptop, that means there is another option: Claim the current laptop broke, buy a cheap replacement that doesn’t come with a webcam.

            Having a computer that is only used for work with a seperate one for personal use seems like a good idea anyway.

            Reply
          2. OP 1 aka a Conner?

            Hi! Op 1 here!

            I hadn’t even thought of a cover. I’m already looking for post it notes in my office.

            I would have disabled it, but it is a laptop issued by my contracting company so I have zero admin rights (I was contracted in as support for some public facing research that has protected data).

            I’ll try to respond to everyone between work calls (not with my skynet boss) today.

            Reply
            1. Seeking Second Childhood

              Oh if you’re doing this work through a contracting company, mention it to someone there — you might have some privacy protections through their contract!

              Reply
            2. Quackeen

              Is your boss, like, watching you full time, for your entire work day?

              Either way, that’s all kinds of crazy. Escalating it to her grandboss is what I would do. “I know you spoke with Crazy McPeepers about the video call issue, but it hasn’t resulted in changed behavior and, in fact, she referred to my bringing it to you as ‘complaining.’ What is your recommended course of action?”

              Reply
              1. Slow Gin Lizz

                Makes me wonder what boss is actually watching OP do, and also what boss is doing herself if she has enough free time to watch OP work. OP said they do research, so is boss just watching OP reading or staring at the laptop all day??? That sounds incredibly boring and like a total waste of time for the boss. And yes, totally not normal, OP, you can rest assured of that.

                Reply
                1. valentine

                  Protected data: Can you invoke security as the reason you’ve covered the cam? Even if she’s trusted with the data, does the same go for everyone who has access to her camera?

                  Play a loop of “Why are you obsessed with me?”

                2. AnnaBananna

                  Because seriously. Why IS she obsessed with looking at her all day? It’s creepy and/or incredibly condescending. It’s creepscending.

                3. OP 1 aka a Conner?

                  @ valentine: I hadn’t thought about the data component. She has higher privileges than me, but occasionally her family walks in (she is also 100% remote) or she invites other people to the call to discuss something. I’ll push that point that some things are need to know only and see if that gets anywhere.

              2. OP 1 aka a Conner?

                She video calls me and then says I need to share screen and frequently pulls the manager and/or mentoring card. I’ve quite frequently been able to get away with the “my bandwidth on the VPN is too slow today for video” excuse, but she’s slowly starting to see that pattern.

                But basically “requests” video screen share and watches as I do everything or it’s just a video with her talking at me about all the politics and such. It’s surreal. I am currently working on a way to use my bluetooh keyboard and xbox and use an hdmi to connect to the tv, and just have the laptop aimed at my dog. I figure that would at least be amusing for boss, plus bigger screen.

                Reply
            3. Falling Diphthong

              OP1, I work completely remotely (freelance writer) and my bosses give me feedback based on…. my work product. They don’t need to watch me type to do this.

              (I imagine I would be incredibly boring to watch work–“Diphthong is typing in a document… now in Adobe… now she’s typing in a search engine so she can look something up…. now…. oh, she went to get tea and now her cat is sitting on the keyboard.”)

              Reply
              1. OP 1 aka a Conner?

                exactly! I even checked in with grand boss and supreme boss who said my work has been stellar (I was put in for a bonus and and have wonderful written performance reviews).

                But really, all I do all day is read, edit academic papers, enter stuff in databases, stats. Oh and make lots of tea.

                Reply
                1. Slow Gin Lizz

                  Entering stuff in databases (which is about 95% of my current job) is pretty boring to do. I can’t imagine how boring it would be to watch someone else do it.

                2. Falling Diphthong

                  My son watches other people play video games online. Maybe watching people enter data into databases is the next hot fad?

                3. Aurion

                  I watch other people play video games online–but usually it’s without commentary so I can enjoy the game’s story (without playing it myself) or a game tutorial or something. There’s a point.

                  There’s a distinct lack of point in watching someone type in MS Word.

                4. boo bot

                  Yeah this is even more ridiculous given those circumstances. This is not a job where your work process matters to anyone but you, as long as you’re not plagiarizing or sacrificing puppies.

                  The thing about work where all you’re doing is producing a thing is, the boss has a 100% guaranteed way to tell if the worker is doing a good job. You can look at the things they make! The things you are making are good! Your edits and data and tea are all nice and accurate! Your work process is by definition correct!

                  Yeah, sorry about all the exclamation points. As you can probably tell, this would drive me insane.

            4. Granger Chase

              OP: is this boss through your contracting company or through the employer you are a contractor through? If it’s the latter, and this is coming from someone only slightly familiar with what distinguishes an employee from a contractor, but literally watching someone on webcam the entire time they’re working seems to me like something you might want to look into to see if it can potentially put your contractor status in jeopardy. I’m not sure if there would be a precendence for this, but it’s worth some digging and might be another way to reinforce with your Big Bosses that this unbelievable situation needs to end once and for all.

              Reply
              1. OP 1 aka a Conner?

                This is an excellent point. I just checked in with grandboss and she has reported it to the contracting company (skynet boss is a contractor like me).

                I should be hearing back within the next two weeks as to what the plan is, but IT is aware and watching for odd activity like hours long google calls (we vpn so we are on a monitored network)

                Reply
                1. Rose Tyler

                  So is Grandboss also telling your boss to for real knock it off this time? Or are they reporting it to the contracting company in hopes that they will address it?

                1. OP 1 aka a Conner?

                  Correct. I’m trying to not give too much away because my research field is not very big, but I am a W2 employee for contracting company and not a 1099.

                  And pretty much–Grand Boss doesn’t want to risk my boss countering with an age discrimination claim, so she’s escalated it up to the main organization. I have no hopes in this resolving before I find new employment or rage quit in amazing fashion. Hence my how to set some boundaries component part to my question.

            5. No Mas Pantalones

              Washi tape works great and doesn’t leave any sort of residue. It also holds better than a post it.

              Also, your boss is weird and kinda creepy.

              Reply
              1. dreamingofthebeach

                I have used washi tape for years, and once (for fun) created a little shadow box with my tiny “hard at work” picture in it, so that it looked like the camera had me captured, but maybe froze :) Whatever passes the time, allows me to work, and I don’t have to worry about someone seeing a less than glam moment

                Reply
                1. AnnaBananna

                  Oh. This is bloody brilliant. As a crafty person I simply must make my own, preferably with an image of me yawning.

        1. Aveline

          I don’t know I’d go buy anything. Every IT exec I know posts masking tape or a sticky note on the webcam. Works as well as the store bought custom covers. As long as the item you use isn’t translucent, it will work.

          Reply
          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy

            I’ve heard a bandaid recommended — that way, if you do need to use the webcam for legit reasons, there’s nothing leaving potential sticky residue on the lens.

            Reply
          2. GoryDetails

            Heh! I use little Post-it bookmarks; they’re only tacky on one end, so there’s nothing sticky touching the actual lens, and are slim enough to fit neatly on the rim of my laptop.

            Reply
            1. Neosmom

              Great idea! I took a small (1.5″ x 2″) post it note and cut it down to a size that would fit nicely over the camera lens without touching it as you suggest GD. Thank you for the suggestion.

              Reply
              1. just a random teacher

                I cut off the sticky top part of a regular post it note, and added a little non-sticky square (cut from the rest of the post it) over the part with the actual camera. (Think “band-aid made of sticky notes”.) That way I get two layers of paper rather than one over the camera, and no residue on the camera. I like it because I can take it off quickly if I actually need to use my camera for something, and I can easily replace it out of office supplies if the sticky has worn off.

                Reply
    2. lapgiraffe

      The other thing that would concern me, especially now knowing OP doesn’t have admin abilities to change anything, is if boss is tapping into the microphone as well, or might start if denied the video.

      Reply
      1. Jadelyn

        That assumes the boss knows how to do that. It sounded from the letter like the boss was demanding OP stay on a Skype or G2M call with them all day, not like…hacking OP’s webcam.

        Reply
      2. Tom

        Easy fix for that.
        If one is a home office worker – you can choose your ‘background’.
        So, develop a love for intense music (Nightwish or Within Temptation come to mind), or large bombastic classical music – the bigger the orchestra performing it, the better)

        Serious though – i would be creeped out to the point of not being able to do anything relevant or productive at all if someone were to do this to me. Plus – as others have remarked – why are they paying someone on management level for basically doing nothing productive? I see a cost saving option!

        Reply
    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      I think she needs to talk to the grandboss first like Alison suggested. Because just disabling the camera, or even covering it, doesn’t actually solve the problem.

      Reply
      1. Aveline

        To me, the actual problem is a boss that considers constant surveillance necessary to manage OP. That’s not something I think is fixable by post-its over a camera or even a conversation with grandboss.

        If I were OP, I’d try grandboss once more and talk about boss’s attitude about constant surveillance. I’d call it that. That’s what it is.

        I’d ask grand boss if they though constant surveillance of a remote employee was effective, legal, or sane. If they say “of course not!,” then you tell them that boss seems to think so and that needs to be addressed above and beyond the actual webcams issue.

        I think we are all focusing on the symptom – the webcam – and ignoring the underlying issue. OP has a boss who thinks constant surveillance is normal and rational and effective.

        I won’t go so far as to call boss abusive, but she is certainly someone with no sense of appropriate boundaries. She thinks that b/c she’s OP’s boss she has a right to be in her home constantaly via webcame if it’s during work hours. Not ok.

        Reply
        1. Dagny

          You are so completely right about this.

          A boss who feels the need to physically watch an employee has issues. Perhaps this is the one and only manifestation of those issues, but it needs to be addressed.

          Reply
        2. pancakes

          I don’t see any good reason to initiate the conversation with a broad or abstract question as to effective management techniques — the subject has already been raised once before and the boss’s supervisor isn’t on board with this. Allison’s answer is perfectly on point.

          Reply
      2. Emmie

        I agree. Ask the grandboss how you should address it if it continues after the complaint. I am a remote director, and I manage other employees. I find your manager’s monitoring disgusting, intrusive, and an unsustainable level of monitoring. How is she able to complete any of her work? Please go to your grandboss right away with AAM’s script. I also recommend that you think through ways that someone can monitor your output. This should not be on you exclusively, but it is helpful to have an idea of how it could be monitored and your suggestions provide you with a measure of control. Do not go the path of exclusively covering your webcam. Your manager has serious performance issues with a pattern of ignoring directives and negatively impacting your coaching opportunities, and this needs to be addressed by her boss. I also wonder how she was “mentoring” you by surveilling you.

        Reply
        1. OP 1 aka a Conner?

          This is incredibly helpful, thank you! I’m checking I with grand boss this week and update her. I’ll ask if there are others who can provide some feedback on my work products and overall output. Since the rest of the team quit, no one realized I had no other people to report to, so I got isolated in this situation in that regard.

          As to my boss’s work, she doesn’t do it. She’s constantly late on assignments, and what she does it wrong, so I’m having to do her products. Grand boss is horrified all the way around and has hiring more team members (including one to be trained up to take Skynet’s place as team manager) as her number one priority.

          Reply
          1. Slow Gin Lizz

            OMG, I hope boss gets fired. She’s spending all her time “watching” you and not getting any of her own work done???? Crossing fingers she’s gone within a week. Good luck!

            Reply
          2. That Girl From Quinn's House

            I had a boss like this! We were onsite staff, so instead of using webcams, she had the facility’s security camera display on her desk and would monitor who was where, for how long, and what they were doing. If she saw two people talking to each other who she didn’t want comparing notes, she’d call them and say “I can see you two talking on the cameras, get back to work.” If she saw someone headed to her boss’s office, she’d meet them in the hallway and insist on hopping in on the meeting so they couldn’t complain about her.

            She also kept all of the logins to all of the software employees needed to do their job, so they’d have to ask her to please do [key part of my job]. She would refuse. She was eventually fired.

            Reply
      1. valentine

        Covering the camera is only one step, one of two things OP can control, and will presumably will have an immediate positive effect.

        Reply
        1. OP 1 aka a Conner?

          I’ve already reported to grand boss and supreme boss. I learned this morning they reported to HR. Unfortunately I’m learnig academia isn’t exactly the fastest at dealing with problems.

          Reply
          1. Interviewer

            Does your boss work for the contracting company or the client? It sounds like the latter, in which case you should report these issues to the contracting company right away. They should be able to get to the bottom of it much quicker.

            Reply
          2. Close Bracket

            In the mean time, start picking your nose. Ears too. Lots of butt scratching. Adjust whatever parts of yourself need adjusting (over the clothing, please).

            Reply
            1. OP 1 aka a Conner?

              HA! I laughed for 5 minutes at that image. Perhaps I’ll pick my nose and just start yelling out “Look at there gold nugget! I’m rich and can pay off my student loans!”

              Regarding the reporting structure, the boss is actually not the biggest problem I have (just the most nerve wracking as an introvert/person who values not be watched). The reporting problem is worse because the contracting company always just acts like the clients should handle everything, the clients say not my problem, and the contractors are just…..watched.

              Reply
  6. l'anonne

    OP5, I’d been trying for two years through two different layoffs, so honestly, while getting pregnant four months into my new job (which I love!) wasn’t ideal, I’m still thrilled.

    I’m 15 weeks now and have just told my team. No, the timing isn’t ideal, but it never will be – and all the people I’d worried about reacting badly were just as happy for me as everyone else in my life.

    Reply
    1. Quackeen

      Congratulations to you as well! I love babies and 10/10 recommend (and that goes for when they grow into little people and teenagers as well, such as the ones I have now. Yeah, there’s drama and such at every age, but most kids are just good if you raise them well).

      Reply
  7. mark132

    @LW2, if your job requires you to be on the phone, I would recommend you just do your job and be on the phone. Make the calls from your desk. There really is only one huge no-no. And that is make the calls on a speaker phone. Otherwise just do your best to moderate your voice volume, and don’t worry about it. And I’ll add I’m saying this as someone who gets a bit annoyed by people in cubes next to me spending lots of time on the phone. But as long as the calls are work related, the most I may ask is the person to try and talk softer.

    Reply
    1. Beth

      This is definitely the backup plan if LW2 can’t get a private workspace, but I think it’s worth at least asking! They’ve got a good case for why it makes sense for them to have one even if someone at their level wouldn’t usually get one.

      Reply
    2. sin nombre

      I disagree. I think she should ask. This would really bother me, enough that if I sat near her, I would probably make a push myself for her to get a private office.

      Reply
      1. Blue

        This is why I think she should ask her neighbors about it first. If none of them care very much, then I think she should feel fine to continue as is. If they confirm that it is disruptive to at least some of them, she has something more concrete to draw on when she goes to the manager. But she should sure not to frame it to the coworkers in a way that discourages honesty.

        Reply
        1. DontBeAMartyr

          But the danger is if her colleagues heartily complain *and* management don’t give her a good private space. That’s management that have shoved phone-jobs and quiet-jobs together, and assign offices based on bullshit not need.

          Then she has to be inconsiderate or suffer the crappy cubicles.

          Reply
          1. OP2

            OP2 here! Man, this is a very succinct statement of the institutional culture problem: shoving phone jobs and quiet jobs together. I think it happened because I am literally the only person doing this type of work in this unit, every single other person has a quiet-work job. This might be the first time the issue has even come up! At any rate, space issues have been a MAJOR recent source of contention in this office, so now no one will propose changes to space allocation for any reason. Hopefully this situation will thaw out a bit over time.

            Reply
    3. EPLawyer

      I agree – push for the private office. Cube farms are bad enough with ocassional phone calls. For someone whose job requires them be on the phone a lot, it is not fair to the person or everyone else.

      I’m an introvert who prefers dark windowless rooms. But even I would lose my mind if I had to spend most of my day in one just talking on the phone. If the person sees the room as a sad, sad, sad room it is going to affect their ability to do their job. The job the company hired them to do. Give the person the support they need to do their job effectively — a private office.

      Reply
      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego

        Maybe the OP can get permission to improve the private spaces in some way (better lighting, nicer furniture, etc?). It might at least make it more pleasant to use.

        Reply
        1. Seeking Second Childhood

          I’m still fixating on the 5×6 closet I had to work in for a week as a temp… I don’t even think a floor-to-ceiling “outside view” wall decal would have improved that place.

          Reply
    4. OP2

      OP2 here! Appreciate the validation! This is more or less what I do (aside from long calls where I’m the primary presenter so will be talking A LOT). (I 100% don’t understand folks who conduct calls on speakerphone in open offices!)

      Reply
  8. Anonandon

    I’m consistently astonished by how often managers appear to have no aptitude or training for leadership roles. It’s actually kind of terrifying.

    Reply
    1. Rebecca

      I’m listening to Alison’s podcasts, and I think sometimes managers get it backwards – like, where Alison points out a phrase or tone to use, they do the opposite. There are a lot of managers at my job, and I encounter management-itis on a regular basis. Oh, and I love when she says “most reasonable people will react positively if you phrase it this way”. Ummm….yeah. Just slapping “manager” at the end of someone’s email signature and giving someone a raise does not a manager make.

      Reply
      1. irene adler

        Amen.
        You’d think they could use common sense to at least determine what not to do.
        In what world does mentoring = watching employee via video camera ? That should have been a non-starter.

        Reply
    2. FD

      In my experience, a lot of it is that people often get promoted because they were good at a particular role. Like, if someone is really good at designing teapots, they’re likely to get promoted to be a teapot manager. The problem is that managing teapot designers is really a totally different skill from designing them. Moreover, there’s often no plan to train someone to become a manager.

      The problem is that if you aren’t willing to do this, there often are limited growth and financial opportunities for your best people. If teapot designers can make, say, $40,000 to $50,000, but managers can make $55,000 to $65,000, then your brightest teapot designers are going to set their eye on being a manager, irrespective of aptitude. And if you refuse to give them that role, then they’re going to probably go somewhere else.

      Most jobs lack good long-term opportunities for people doing the actual work of the company, as versed to managing the work. I honestly think it’s a problem with the bigger system of how work is valued and paid.

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        I don’t know what it’s like now, but IBM at one point had a parallel track for people who wanted to do their technical role and not manage anyone. And I’ve heard of other tech companies adopting this. (Then we get into the letters to Alison about giving managers raises so they will outearn everyone on their team, because it’s wrong for the manager not to make more than the hard-to-replace specialist.)

        Reply
      2. Watry

        Agreed. When I was doing interviews last year there was always that career goals question so I actually thought about it. I’d love to have more responsibility in a few years. I’d be terrible at managing direct reports even if I’d be good at other parts, though, and that’s really the only advancement path I’ve ever seen.

        Reply
        1. Seeking Second Childhood

          My corporation has an engineering “fellowship” track. It’s worth asking about — and especially worth mentioning if you turn down a job offer over it. That way a company that doesn’t do it now may start seeing a benefit of doing it in the future.

          Reply
    3. Blue

      And management/leadership training in the academic world is typically less than zero. I work in higher ed and have thus far gotten lucky with bosses who are also academics, but there are some real horror stories out there…

      Personally, I’m really puzzled about the use of the word “mentoring.” Management =/= mentoring, and I don’t think this boss knows what either of those words mean. I’m just really confused about her goals and what she imagines she’s accomplishing with this online surveillance.

      Reply
      1. OP 1 aka a Conner?

        So Skynet boss has only managed post doctoral fellows, never the research support people like me. She has no idea that I have no desire to go get a PhD or run my own research lab one day. She moved into this manager position because she said she had a project manager certification, but she doesn’t-she just took the online study course and never finished.

        Reply
        1. valentine

          Would she back off if she knew your goals? As she doesn’t know them, I wonder what she thinks mentoring is and why she thinks a contractor is a place to start. Do the higher-ups know she lied?

          Reply
          1. OP 1 aka a Conner?

            She actually has them in writing. As well as grand boss and supreme boss. Grand Boss is AMAZING and the only reason I haven’t just left a word doc up on my computer saying “I quit” and then Ron Swanson the computer into the Dumpster.

            She just ignores it. Says my “spotty” resume hasn’t given me a good sense of professional norms (resume isn’t spotty, but being a trailing spouse leaves some big gaps in there).

            Reply
        2. Paulina

          Postdocs and grad students far too often end up just putting up with poor treatment from supervisors (both academic PIs and hired project managers) because they either don’t know better or feel they have to go along with it because their position, and ability to continue on a research career, is at stake. So it’s not about whether she’s pushing you based on goals you don’t actually have, it’s that she’s trying to take advantage of a situation that doesn’t exist with you.

          Research support employees often have far more leverage to insist on being treated well, and I hope you use that.

          Reply
          1. OP 1 aka a Conner?

            I’m starting to see that. After so much of this treatment, I was starting to think I had no standing. However, the validation from everyone on this page just really helps me the absolutely ridiculousness of it.

            Reply
    4. blackcat

      In academia, researchers have to become managers.
      They often get zero training.
      They often have zero aptitude for it.
      They often do not want to do it.

      It’s a mess.

      Reply
    5. Sharon

      No kidding. I’ve been very frustrated in my last few jobs because my managers have all been so … bad at managing. For example, in my current place my manager started here the week before I did. She has no management experience and wasn’t actually hired to be a manager. They just bait and switched her on her second day, and she’s sooooo bad at it. She’s totally ditzy, disorganized and a poor communicator. And also very insecure because she knows she’s inexperienced, so when I manage-up I need to do it extremely cautiously. Ugh!

      Reply
    6. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      I feel the same way. Management is not the natural track for everyone. I’m a Project Manager and I have zero desire to manage people. But there are a lot of people who aren’t realistic about their own abilities, and have no business managing.

      Reply
    7. The Man, Becky Lynch

      I just chatted with our floor manager awhile ago, he tells me stories of how the old upper management team used to do things (all wrong). They just “promoted” the employees who were there the longest despite them not wanting to even be managers. He had to “demote” a guy after they left because the dude was so miserable and out of his comfort zone by miles. Thankfully he was able to do it without touching his pay because he’s been there so long, it wasn’t his choice to take the job title change and tbh it’s not enough to deflate a hard worker even further! But so many others wouldn’t have seen it so clearly as our floor manager did and protect him the way he did.

      It’s a disservice to the employee and their reports and the company as a whole to have bad managers. It’s so frustrating.

      Reply
  9. Blimey!

    #1 Don’t let this go. Report it to boss’s boss again. Go to HR. Disable the webcam, or stick a piece of tape over it.

    Reply
      1. JulieCanCan

        Agreed – there would be a post-it note taped over my laptop’s camera hole faster than you could say “youareseriouslyweirdms.manager”

        Reply
      2. Gigi

        I wouldn’t assume supervisor is weird or creepy….she’s probably just a manager who has no idea how to manage. I used to do manager/ leadership training and I found that most if not all front line managers had no training at all. They were individual contributors that were promoted bc they were good at their job.

        Reply
        1. Karen from Finance

          Lots of people have never had any manager training in their lives and wouldn’t pull this crap, myself included. Some things come from knowing how to manage, others (like this one) come from knowing how to person.

          Reply
        2. Où est la bibliothèque?

          Yeah, my first thought was “idiot.”

          Idiot covering for the fact that she doesn’t know how to manage.

          I’m guessing her thought process was “a peer couldn’t do this, so obviously I, as a manager, should do this.”

          Reply
            1. Elspeth

              Nope – LW’s boss complained about not being able to monitor her any more, so someone told her – HR? Supreme Boss? Doesn’t matter, she was told to stop.

              Reply
    1. Bagpuss

      I agree, since Boss’s boss agreed that this was inappropriate, let them know that your boss is still doing this and that they are saying that they cannpt ‘mntor’ you without it.
      Your boss’s comments show that she has no idea what manageing or mentoring mean, and while you can’t change that, it’s relevant for her boss to be made aware of, plus the fact that her boss stepped in and she appears to be ignroing them is somthing that I would expect her boss to want to know.

      As between you and her, if she mentions it, I’;d be inclided to say to her “Supreme Boss confirmed that this was not appropriate. I am happy to schedule regular meetings with you so we can check in about my workload and feedback you have”

      Then disable to webcam

      Reply
      1. EPLawyer

        I really think this person doesn’t know what mentor means. Mentor is not a manager. Even manager doesn’t mean watch 24/7. Mentor means help the person develop in their role, make sure they have trainings and opportunities that help accomplish that goal.

        I’m not really sure how watching the person work is even remotely related to mentoring.

        Reply
        1. Quackeen

          I think the boss heard it as a relatively new (to her) buzzword and adopted it as what All Good Managers Do, without learning more about what it actually means.

          Reply
        2. Paulina

          This manager may be more used to overseeing people working in-person, and is trying to adapt “keep an eye on the postdocs in the lab” to someone working remotely. Neither is really managing, but at least the former is not entirely off-the-wall.

          Reply
    2. blackcat

      You can try reporting to HR, but if the manager is faculty or a even a post-doc, HR at my university won’t do anything about something like this. You’d get “That sucks, but Academic FREEDOM!!!!” So if someone’s under the purview of researchers, not administrators, there’s zilch to be done other than find a new job.

      Reply
      1. Future Homesteader

        Oh Academic Freedom. So often just a cover for “I’m going to be a GIGANTIC glassbowl and there’s nothing you can do about it.” I’ve never understood how it’s a free pass to do things like yell at staff and refuse to do your job, but somehow, it is.

        No, nothing going on here, not bitter at all, why would you ask?

        Reply
        1. RUKidding

          Oh I feel you!

          That and “you talk too much.” I don’t. I barely tallk at all but old white guys with beards in anthropology don’t seem to like much younger women post docs with their *own* ideas…apparently. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          Reply
      2. Cedrus Libani

        In the real world, there is usually someone with the authority to say “Fergus, you can either act like a grown-up, or you can turn in your badge, your choice”. In academia, there is no such authority. Every professor is the CEO of their own business, and so long as they can scrounge together enough funding to stay in business, they can let their small-business crazy out with impunity.

        Doesn’t help that academia tends to be very specialized, and very network intensive. Get on Professor Loco’s bad side, you will never work in your sub-field again, because she will destroy you and anyone who has the temerity to hire you. If you find yourself working for a crazy boss, you can simply beat feet and leave that job off your resume, with minimal harm done.

        If you must work in academia, working in a core facility can provide some level of insulation. It sounds like that’s more or less the OP’s situation; they do have a grand-boss. But still. You may not have to work FOR these people, but you’ll be working WITH them, and if they don’t feel like being a grown-up that day then it’ll be you who’s held accountable.

        (Yep, not bitter at all. Because I work in industry now! Come to the dark side. We have cookies. And meaningful work, and livable wages, and reasonable hours…)

        Reply
  10. fatterday, funday

    Why bother hiring someone if you feel you literally have to watch what they do all day? What a colossal waste of time.

    Reply
    1. Anonandon

      It does defeat the purpose. At a certain point it would be easier to just do the work yourself.

      I think half of it is the rise of technology. As communications get faster and hierarchies get flatter, the leadership has greater opportunity to micro-manage. But it’s also about risk. We are increasingly living in a zero-defect world where risk-averse leaders are unwilling to trust subordinates to make their own decisions. These two problems seem to feed each other.

      Reply
      1. Antilles

        Of course, there’s an interesting follow-up discussion to be had about whether such micro-managing is even in the best interest of the organization. At some point, you have to be willing to trust the subordinates to make decisions (and even make mistakes!) because otherwise, they’ll never learn and develop into the next generation of leaders.

        Reply
    2. snowglobe

      I think it’s probably related to the fact that OP is a remote worker. A lot of managers just have no idea how to manage if they can’t see people working at their desks. Which is obviously poor management, because the people in the office at their desks could be doing nothing productive. I doubt the manager is literally watching OP all day, but wants to be able to check the video randomly to confirm that they are at the desk and working.

      Reply
      1. Karen from Finance

        This. It’s an entire mindset that sees productivity as someone sitting at their desks all day, I hate it. For very few jobs does it actually make sense. Someone should tell her about results-oriented management like yesterday.

        Reply
        1. KRM

          Yes! It’s like in grad school how PhD students (at least in life science research) are expected to work something like 10-12 hours a day, to prove how dedicated they are to research. But fully half that time isn’t them working! It’s getting coffee, it’s non-work internet surfing, etc. I hated that expectation because I had come from a lab where I worked pretty normal hours and still managed to get everything done, so I knew long days weren’t worth it. It’s not like you see anyone graduating in 4 years because of it! So yes, this boss just doesn’t know how to go about her management tasks, or maybe thinks she can give “helpful” advice if she’s watching OP all the time.

          Reply
          1. NotAMadScientist

            Yes, waste time at your desk to prove you’re dedicated! Nevermind that there’s quite a lot of research that has shown taking breaks, changing locations, staying hydrated and eating food helps your brain. We had an open office which made things so much worse, most the time people were talking too much to focus. Don’t get me started on the day 5 people decided to spend an hour and a half talking about game of thrones. I couldn’t afford noise canceling headphones which just made it worse.

            Reply
          2. nonymous

            My professor wanted her students to be available so that if she came back from a meeting early or had something cancel she could use those precious few minutes to mentor. Having some glimpses of her calendar, I can see why, but as a grad student who had been assigned space in a different building man was it hard to get face time.

            Reply
      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

        But that doesn’t make it okay, and a reasonable person wouldn’t think this way. Is the work getting done? Yes…then remote worker is working. If manager can never get in touch with remote worker, or work is always late or not getting done, then there’s a problem. Even someone physically in the office and sitting at their desk can be screwing around half the time. It really bothers me that some people equate remote workers to being a slacker. If someone is a slacker at their job, they will be a slacker regardless of where they’re located.

        At my last job I WFH on Fridays and my last manager didn’t trust anyone who worked remotely. And guess what? I was MORE productive at home because I didn’t have a million interruptions every day – people coming to my desk and my manager running her pie hole 90% of the day.

        Reply
    3. Fergus

      I had that same idea when I was hired for a job and the manager became aggressively rude to me everyday from almost day 1 I last a month. I would have never taken the job. I don’t know why he offered it to me if he was going to be so hostile to me

      Reply
    4. smoke tree

      Since the LW has commented that the manager doesn’t get her own work done, I’m guessing it’s just an excuse to slack off all day. As long as the LW is working, the manager can claim that she’s achieving something by sitting there watching her.

      Reply
  11. in a fog

    OP #1, is this on your computer or a computer owned by the institution? Not that it’s OK in either case, but if it’s YOUR laptop, then I’d just disable the webcam!

    Or take a cue from the movie “Speed” and loop some recordings of yourself sitting and working for the live feed. Just get several different clips with a variety of outfits and you’re golden!

    Reply
      1. OP 1 aka a Conner?

        @ Detective Amy Santiago This whole thread had me laughing, but I lost it at the /unexpectedKeanu. I have been laughing out loud all day at that.

        @in a fog it’s a company issued computer, so I can’t disable web-cam. But at least means boss isn’t creeping on my personal files/computer. I’m thinking about using hdmi to connect the laptop to my tv, a bluetooth keyboard to work, and then only allow the screen share to share the program I chose (which would be my desktop or something, no applications). The ideal would be if I could get it on camera and just point the camera at my dog.

        Reply
    1. Où est la bibliothèque?

      I would definitely just disable the webcam. Via tape, if necessary. Don’t tolerate this for another minute.

      Reply
  12. Not Australian

    #2 It may be possible for your office to supply additional acoustic baffles for your workspace without having to make a massive investment. It might be worth asking your facilities manager to look into it.

    Reply
    1. OP2

      Hi, OP2 here, thank you for this suggestion! I think I can ask the facilities manager directly without triggering a reprise of our recent office space wars. =)

      Reply
  13. Khlovia

    OP#2: Google: Inc dot com 5 ways open-plan offices reduce collaboration; also Google: managers dot org the shocking impact of open-plan offices on collaboration and productivity. Draw your bosses’ attention to these articles. Turns out the one reason open-plan offices were supposed to be a good idea is where they fail the hardest.

    Reply
    1. Jen RO

      While we can debate the pros and cons of open plan offices until the cows go home, I doubt two articles are going to convince OP’s company to spend a significant amount of money to change the layout.

      Reply
      1. WakeUp!

        Right. They probably chose the open office because it was cheaper, not because they believed the collaboration nonsense, and it will still be cheaper no matter how many articles they print about how they’re really bad.

        Reply
    2. snowglobe

      “Collaboration” is the reason management says that they use open offices. “Saving money on rent” is the actual reason.

      Reply
    3. a1

      On a side note, I never considered a cubicle farm an “open” office. Yes, you do hear more than if you all had closed/walled offices, but cubicles are so normal. I never considered it “open” unless the cube walls were so short you could see over them while sitting. That said, sound carries more in some offices regardless of how high the cube walls are so you just need to be aware of it and adjust accordingly.

      Reply
  14. Kiwi

    OP2, I think you shoud keep in mind that offices can be more lonely than cubicles. People drop in less to talk and you can’t be part of as many casual conversations. If the noise is driving your workmates crazy you may need to suggest an office as a solution, but you may not enjoy being in one.

    Reply
    1. WellRed

      Yes, I was confused by this. She went on (and on) about how she’d be lonely in the horrible cubes but wants an office? I trust the cubes in question are grim, but make sure you know what it is you truly want here.

      Reply
      1. WakeUp!

        Yeah I don’t understand where she actually wants to go. Especially if the issue is that she doesn’t like being far away from coworkers.

        Reply
      2. OP2

        Greetings, OP2 here. Well, the actual offices are quite nice! They have natural light and are situated so that it’s still easy to bump into colleagues in the hallway, etc. The swing spaces are isolated from everyone else (and dark/tiny), so they’re functionally a pretty different situation. But I mean, you’re a little right: I don’t really know what the solution is to this! The real solution is probably to group extroverts working social jobs together, and group quiet people doing focused work together – I suspect this would also help meet folks differing social needs, keeping them happier and more engaged at work. In my office, I’m the only person doing work like mine, so grouping like with like is not really an option.

        Reply
    2. Half-Caf Latte

      this is what I came here to say. OP2 might say I’m worried about disrupting others, and Boss might reasonably respond, cool- we have those dungeons that are supposed to be flex space, now you get a perma-dungeon.

      OP can’t really push back on that, and based on her description, would be unhappy with th at solution.

      Reply
      1. Joielle

        I thought this too! I can only imagine that there’s not a surplus of nice big bright private offices, so if OP asks for a private space, the easiest thing would be to put them in the sad flex space permanently. Maybe that would be ok if OP could bring their stuff in there, set up more monitors, get a lamp, etc. – but if OP doesn’t want that solution at all, I’d be hesitant to bring it up in the first place. I don’t see a good way for OP to be like “Hey boss, can I have a private office? …. No not that one, a nicer one.”

        Reply
    3. OP2

      OP2 here. You are so right! I myself really prefer the cube location because I don’t like being isolated, but I’m feeling guilty about annoying my cube neighbors, who are all fine people working very quiet/focused jobs. =)

      Reply
  15. RUKidding

    OO#5: I really wish women would stop feeling guilty…in any sense for getting/being (trying/planning to get) pregnant.

    Your reproduction is your business. You have a job and get pregnant? And…? New-ish on the job? So what? We are humans not just the cogs that the corporate overlords would prefer we were. It’s not like you will be getting pregnant *at* them.

    Do males worry that they might become a parent while having a job? Even a new-ish job? I have yet to ever see/hear about one single time.

    Reply
    1. Perfectly Particular

      I think that is a bit too black/white of a stance to take! If you’re not getting paid leave, I completely agree with you, but at companies with generous parental leave policies, it can be a really bad career move to take a long leave within your 1st 18 mos. This applies to both men & women, but more to women b/c if they deliver a baby, they will need to be out for at least 6 weeks straight to allow their own body to heal, while men can often work a part time schedule after the first two weeks of baby-bonding. But yes, at my company, we have 17 weeks parental leave for delivering moms, and 8 weeks for all other new parents, and both men and women consider the timing of starting/growing their families as it relates to their tenure at the company as well as the specific timing of the project they are on.

      Reply
      1. RUKidding

        True. I guess mostly is that I wish women weren’t made to feel this way and that companies aren’t always more important than people.

        It’s the idealist inside me that refuses to die I guess. I don’t know why…the cynic has been beating it up for decades.

        Reply
    2. this way, that way

      I think anyone would worry about being pregnant and possibly being on maternity leave before you have been there a year. Its a legitimate concern that you could risk your job or your prospects of moving up because of what you will miss that first year. And yes men think about that too my husband didn’t take a promotion because we (I) was 4 months pregnant and he didn’t want to start a job he would be distracted from in 5 months.

      Reply
      1. LaurenB

        I’m in Canada, that wonderful socialist paradise Americans often imagine, I work for the government, and I would still not choose to get pregnant now. I’m on a tw0-year contract, with the agreement that they might keep me if it works out, and if I were to go on mat leave for the second half of my contract (hell, I could have gone for 3/4 of the contract!), the odds would not be great that they would decide that the new role is indispensable and that I’m worth fighting for in budget meetings.

        I’m NOT saying that women should feel guilty for having the nerve to reproduce, but to say that it’s not sometimes a tough decision to make, and that there aren’t tradeoffs, is a bit overly simplistic.

        Reply
        1. Oilpress

          Canadian here as well, and what you say is so true. Right or wrong, people will judge someone who is off work more weeks than they are at work. The other thing that happens is that the employee who is away can fall behind in terms of building relationships and job-specific skills. So there are always consequences, even when everyone is outwardly happy for you.

          Reply
    3. Seeking Second Childhood

      There’s the added caveat that we don’t know the size of her employer. It may not be a big deal at a 500+ person company where she’s one of several people in similar positions, but at a small place with very few employees, it could be a very different story.

      Reply
    4. Doe-Eyed

      It also really depends on the role. I work in healthcare and we had a key team lead nurse who interviewed for the job while pregnant, put off her move date a couple of months to work a long notice, and then started work and was out for delivery and maternity leave a < a month later. As a subspecialty center we can't just grab a per-diem nurse and throw in there so it was an extra miserable time after several months of misery trying to find someone to fill the position.

      Reply
    5. atalanta0jess

      Dude, right on. You are a human, not just a worker.

      Are there implications to getting pregnant at whatever time? Of course. Does that mean you should feel BAD or GUILTY?

      NO!!!

      Reply
  16. LW4

    Thanks for answering my question! Former boss actually contacted me after I submitted the letter asking if I had heard anything back, which I still haven’t. He apologized and wished me well, which is all I can really expect. So I’ll take the advice and wait a bit longer then do one follow up.

    While I do agree that it may have been a more polite thing for former boss to ask this guy first, the way he made it seem was that they were pretty good friends (as opposed to just networking contacts), who just kind of lost touch when the company took off and other life things happened on both sides. It does make me think a bit less about the guy if he wouldn’t even take 1 minute to respond to something like that, even if just to former boss to say “Thanks, but we aren’t hiring right now” or something, which former boss could’ve let me know about without even involving him

    Reply
    1. Seeking Second Childhood

      I wouldn’t think less of him — some people have separate email addresses for work, for daily personal use, and for occasional social contacts. Some people have inordinately aggressive spam filters. And some people get so many email phishes & hack-attacks that they have stopped opening emails from people they don’t know. If your relationship with your former boss is good enough, maybe ask HIM to make the contact directly – otherwise your email might not be read until the contact is old enough he’d be embarassed to respond.

      Reply
      1. LW4

        He did make the initial contract directly though. He sent an email to both me and him, and I responded to that (only to the new guy though). So my email from him would still be on a thread starting by someone he knew

        Reply
    2. Lily Rowan

      Have you looked to see if the place is actually hiring? If there’s a specific job you’re interested in, it might be more effective to write back with a question about an actual opening?

      Reply
    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      I don’t think you should think less of him. Some people are bombarded with email requests for favors from people they don’t know, or people they haven’t talked with in years, or people they just aren’t that close to. (Um, speaking from firsthand experience here.) There’s a point where the choice is “be responsive to every one of these emails” or “do my paying work and maybe see my spouse for longer than just dinner.”

      Reply
  17. This Daydreamer

    Okay, I can’t be the only one who felt a little chill while reading the letter from OP1.

    If she starts saying “Heeelllloooooooooo” over the phone when you take a break or if she is very interested in the time of a funeral that you have to go to, run for the hills, OP1. Run as fast an far as you can.

    Reply
    1. kittymommy

      My mind went straight to one of those creeper Lifetime movies. I mean it kinda reminds me of a Criminal minds episode, something none of us should aspire to.

      Reply
  18. Seeking Second Childhood

    OP3 –
    I’m with Alison, with one add-on. *IF* you are put on a project working directly with the blogger’s SO, that’s the point where I’d say something. It would be just a simple by the way that you follow [BlogName]. Because on a project we often start exchanging stories, and this would avoid future possible awkwardness if SO tells a story and you (OP) know too much the background.
    I would say nothing if you’re just introduced in a group setting.

    Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        I’ve been there–realized someone I “knew” in an online community was describing someone I was connected to outside the web in their workplace anecdote. Do I say something? When is the right time?

        Reply
        1. Iris Eyes

          If its a “private” conversation I would say something like “Wait! are you talking about Samantha? Samantha Jones? OMG what a small world.” If what they are saying about someone is awkward to speak about if you actually know the other party then maybe its not a conversation that needs to be had at all.

          Reply
          1. valentine

            *IF* you are put on a project working directly with the blogger’s SO, that’s the point where I’d say something.
            I wouldn’t do this even if he mentioned SO blogs, her name, and her blog name.

            Reply
            1. Same.

              That would just make things stranger if he realizes you follow her but acted like you’d never heard of it when he brought it up.

              Reply
        2. Important Moi

          I’m asking in genuine curiosity as a person who reads/member of lots of online communities not to be rude.

          What is the purpose of saying something? Because what I see is an awkward conversation. In your specific example, you would come across threatening. You want the writer of a comment in an online community you participate in to know that you’re connected to the person in their anecdote? Why?

          Reply
          1. Falling Diphthong

            Because it seems weird to have them routinely describing my brother-in-law (as their IT guy) without mentioning that he is my brother-in-law.

            How people talk about strangers with each other, and how they talk when they know there is some connection, are different. Online has added this whole new way to be distantly connected to a variety of people, with a variety of filters that provide quasi anonymity that can be more quasi than anon.

            Reply
            1. valentine

              Without you mentioning that he’s your BIL? There’s just no need for disclosure unless you’re trying to get close to the blogger.

              Reply
              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                The reason for the disclosure is exactly what Falling Diphthong said: It may change the way the person talks about them. They’re less likely to vent about their IT guy if they know you’re his BIL.

                With the blogger situation, if I can make this personal, it wouldn’t be at all weird for one of my husband’s coworkers to tell him they read AAM and it wouldn’t sound like they were trying to get close to me. It would be much weirder for someone to be a super fan (and thus possibly know things about me and him/my life) and never, ever mention that to him.

                Reply
    1. Karen from Finance

      That would be re: telling the coworker that they follow the blogger, which makes sense depending on context.

      OP wants to contact the blogger and tell her they work with her SO, which is weirder because OP doesn’t really know either of them.

      Reply
      1. Seeking Second Childhood

        Exactly – this makes sense. It’s just an alternative that OP hadn’t worked their way over to yet. We have the benefit of being outside the situation. :)

        Reply
  19. this way, that way

    #1 I work remote and when I started an my boss and I needed to go over work we shared a screen on instant messenger so that we could both see what is going on at the same time but only what is going on with the work. I cant imagine my boss watching me by video, I have a slider on my laptop camera I suggest picking one up or a get a sticker to cover the camera so that your boss cant just start the video.

    Reply
  20. MicroManagered

    OP1 I would think your boss can’t watch you over the webcam unless you are accepting a video call. I would talk to grandboss again using Alison’s advice and then just decline the next video call from your boss. “Grandboss said we didn’t need to be doing these anymore.” Also tape/sticker/slick little camera cover over the camera if your boss has a way of activating it without your permission.

    Reply
    1. I'm A Little Teapot

      Unfortunately, not necessarily the case. Granted, the chances of boss having the tech skills is a different matter.

      Reply
      1. OP 1 aka a Conner?

        So all I’ve been able to find at the video calls, she has been pressuring me to accept her calls with her manager card or starting with a legitimate need like a quick edit of a presentation that is easier done on shared screen and then not letting me go.

        But she does have the IT skills to do more.

        Grand boss gave me permission to decline any and all video calls and meetings–no reason necessary–and just keep her in the loop via quick emails of when I do that.

        Reply
  21. Mallory DEN

    OP#1, your boss said she does this because she wants to mentor you- what info has she gleaned from watching you work and what feedback has she given? That might help you understand what information she is trying to get so you work with her to find better solutions to give it.

    Reply
    1. pancakes

      Disagree. The boss’s behavior is outlandish & inappropriate. I think the focus should be on how to end it rather than how to try to appease or even understand it. Raising the issue again with her supervisor makes much more sense than trying to delve into whatever motivates it.

      Reply
      1. Mallory

        Sure, but the likelihood in that resulting in anything except for her boss just being frustrated because she feels stuck and doesn’t know how to manage is high- versus your expected outcome of the behavior just ending and her boss morphing in to a great manager. She still will probably have to work with this manager. It’s a classic case of needing to manage up.

        Reply
        1. pancakes

          I don’t at all expect her to morph into a great manager. I’m expecting and hoping that, as Allison suggests, the supervisor will use this as an opportunity to give her wildly overdue training or, better yet, fire her, since it sounds like she’s already been told this is inappropriate.

          Reply
        2. OP 1 aka a Conner?

          I’ll have to try to write out a script to put this into play. I’ve tried having conversations before about it, but they were already spontaneous and not prepared. I don’t think it will magically fix anything, but it couldn’t definitely help establish boundaries that help me not have more anxiety while I look for another position. Thank you!

          Reply
  22. OP3

    Thanks for answering my question Alison! You’re right- I wasn’t quite sure what saying anything right now would accomplish.

    Also, OP1- let your grandboss know immediately. Having your boss watch you work all day is creepy and unproductive.

    Reply
    1. Ann Nonymous

      I disagree with the advice. I think you should say, “I love your work blah, blah, blah, but small world! I actually work with your SO. He’s a great guy.”

      Reply
      1. OP3

        I thought about that (see letter), but SO/coworker doesn’t know me so I don’t want to make it weird. I’m sure it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I’d rather err on the side of not being awkward.

        Reply
  23. rubyrose

    OP 2: another possible thing to consider is how much your taking over a swing area is impacting your coworkers. I worked somewhere once where there were very few swing areas. A single person consistently taking one over for long time periods seriously impacted the ability of coworkers who needed those spaces for collaboration. This might a point you can bring up when speaking to your manager about getting a separate office.

    Just wondering – what if your manager decides the solution is for you to permanently move into one of those dark, isolated spaces? Is that going to be OK with you?

    Reply
    1. NotAMadScientist

      Can you find a way to make those spaces less dark and isolated? Light therapy lamps, a fake or real plant or 2, a door stop to prop the door open and encourage people to say hi. Also maybe try and have lunch with your coworkers daily then to feel less isolated, or step up your social events outside of work. I have made fake windows in windowless rooms before, basically make a frame then put a photo of the outside, rotate on weather days. You’d at least have your desk setup and all your things.

      Reply
    2. OP2

      Hi, OP2 here. You’re right, the swing spaces are sometimes in demand, so one person routinely setting up camp for half a day in there would be a problem too. I think converting one of them into an office for me wouldn’t be the worst thing – good lighting and full ergonomic/functional desk setup would make a world of different – but ultimately the solution might be to move my role to a different unit where there are others doing similar work, so we can all sit near each other and not annoy each other with all the talking. (This is probably good practice with chatty extroverts anyway – social folks work better when they socialize; highly introverted folks work better when they’re left alone!) This is a longer-term question, and I think my boss is tuned into this issue.

      Reply
  24. Maya Elena

    LW5: I got pregnant a few months into a new job, putting me just over the threshold to qualify for FMLA coverage; and received no recriminations or ill will of any kind, only good wishes. A customer’s rep who I was working with on a project also went on maternity leave shortly after me, and our project puttered along without us both. That said, mine was a family-friendly and slow-moving office and my manager very sympathetic. Most things hadn’t moved much when I came back.

    Realistically, no employer is that loyal to you, so you shouldn’t be that loyal to them – and this isn’t a bad thing in general.

    Also, realistically, the corporate world has so much bureaucracy and so much gratuitous busy work, how much will get done in the three months you are gone? If yours is more of a shift job, you can be more easily substituted with a temporary hire. I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

    Reply
  25. Hold My Cosmo

    LW #1, do NOT tape over the camera. You will gum up the lens, and I’d hate to see you charged a fee for damaging equipment. A nonstick Band-Aid (with the nonadhesive pad portion over the lens) is the IT jury-rig standard.

    Reply
    1. Seeking Second Childhood

      Brilliant thank you! I’ve had postits fall off.

      Of course this all begs the question of how the boundary-stomping manager will respond when the camera shows nothing… I’d probably go back to grandboss *before* blocking the camera.

      Reply
    2. No Mas Pantalones

      Washi tape (paper tape) doesn’t gum up that I’ve found. (Personal devices, not work.) Or washi tape a post it.

      Reply
  26. Granger Chase

    For LW #3, I think Alison’s suggestion to reach out and compliment the blogger’s work without acknowledging the fact that you work with blogger’s SO is great. I would add that if you want to be a little more personal in your compliment, you can focus on your connection of living in the same city. Plenty of local bloggers will be used to getting feedback from people who read their blogs located in their area, so it will be reinforcing the potential connection that local blogger is putting out there by writing about local city. For example, you can say something along the lines of “I love your blog! It’s so nice to get style tips from someone in [City] who understands the [high humidity, weather changes, etc.]” or “I loved your recommendation for [Local Restaurant] in your last post. I pass it all the time and had never thought to try it until it came up on your blog!” Just something that personalizes it a little more without expecting something from Local Blogger’s response that goes beyond a “Thank you!” or a “I’m glad you’re finding it useful as someone else who lives in [City]!” You might’ve already planned on doing this, but just thought I’d throw my two cents in!

    Reply
      1. valentine

        It’s also weird to secretly engage with a colleague’s SO. If you’re trying to befriend the blogger, think about how this pursuit could impact your job.

        Reply
        1. Elsajeni

          That’s part of the point of mentioning the connection, though — right now OP doesn’t know either partner well enough for it to be an issue, but if she does end up getting to know one of them, saying “oh, that’s so funny, I actually read that blog! she has great fashion tips” or “oh, I also work at the Llama Factory! small world, huh?” is basically resolving the “secretly” part of the issue and letting them have all the information they need to decide how much further they want to engage with someone who knows their S.O. and might know details about them that they wouldn’t have expected.

          Reply
      2. Zombeyonce

        I really want you to admit that you’re talking about Alison’s and you just want to tell her you have a tenuous personal connection with her so you two can become lifelong besties. :D

        Reply
  27. LaDeeDa

    OP1- WTF? So the webcam is just on all the time, or she can access it whenever she wants?? That is so weird!! She isn’t mentoring you- she is spying– and why?? I can’t believe grandboss didn’t do more than tell her to stop it, they both need some management/leadership training.
    I have a little cardboard flap tapped over my laptop camera so I don’t accidentally turn it on when I am on a call I don’t want to be a video call. I can’t imagine someone watching me– I am currently still in my robe, with my hair wet from the shower, and drinking coffee with a puppy on my lap. My boss’ mentoring would be “scratch his belly” LOL!

    Reply
    1. OP 1 aka a Conner?

      i can’t disable the camera, and she has the skills to access it. Right now she either calls until I answer, forces me to stay on other calls for relevant work by saying things like “i’m your boss and you have to do as I say or you’ll be written up formally with HR”

      Reply
  28. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

    #1 – I second what Alison said. Go to grandboss again, and tell them manager still hasn’t stopped, and ask what they’re going to do to resolve it. If there’s anything you can do to prevent this from continuing (like disabling your camera) make sure your grandboss is ok with it. I would also be tempted to ask you manager “if I were in the office, would you stand behind me for the entire day watching what I’m doing?” Being remote does not mean you’re a slacker.

    #2 – I feel like OP is making a big deal out of something that isn’t a problem. It’s great that they’re aware of their volume while on the phone, but they’re doing their job. I wouldn’t just go ask your manager to solve something that has never come up as a problem. If you’re that concerned, ask your manager if anyone has ever complained about the noise because you’re on the phone all the time. If not, stay at your desk and continue to be aware of your volume. You shouldn’t have to go to a second location every time you make a phone call. If others are bothered by it, that’s when you sit with your boss and find a solution that makes everyone happy.

    Reply
    1. EventPlannerGal

      I agree. I feel like the AAM commentariat skews harder than most towards introversion and a need for silence/seclusion in the workplace, but for a lot of people hearing one person talk on the phone in the office is just not really a problem, especially if they’re making an honest effort to minimise the noise.

      Reply
    2. OP2

      Hi, thanks, OP2 here. The management structure in my organization is… not straightforward. My boss works in an entirely different office and has zero contact with any of the people who sit near me; if any of my neighbors had a problem with the noise, it’s not really clear who they’d complain *to* – everyone here has different direct bosses, and space issues are handled by a separate administrative core that doesn’t have authority over anyone and reports to a different unit director. It is not optimal for negotiating space issues (which were recently the topic of some major skirmishes, so now folks are pretty change-averse in this area). Anyway, I’m not planning to approach management about it; my question was more about what I can/should do to mediate the nuisance.

      Reply
  29. Alton Brown's Evil Twin

    OP1 – what on earth can your boss possibly be watching you do? If you’re doing telework in a research field, I assume you don’t have a chemistry bench at home, but rather are doing number-crunching and analysis. Is she actually just watching you type?

    Reply
    1. OP 1 aka a Conner?

      She watches me type. Emails, spreadsheets, reports, etc. You’re correct, I do editing and analysis mainly, literature reviews as well. So sometimes I’m not even typing, I’m reading a textbook.

      She claims this has nothing to do with making sure I work, but that proper managers build rapport with their subordinates by being with them and knowing about their work and personal lives.

      It’s creepy, but to others she at first comes across as concerned grandmother rather than mrs. creepier mccreepy

      Reply
      1. Quandong

        It sounds like this person is not clueless, but more actively creepy and enjoying this power she is holding over you.

        This is a new and even more intrusive way that bosses can be abusive and inappropriate, and I’m really sorry you are dealing with this situation.

        My advice is to make sure you document verbal comments to you including threats to write you up to HR if you don’t do as she says. Check what protections are offered for people in your exact situation and find out the next steps you’d need to take if your boss refuses to stop her inappropriate surveillance of you.

        I also recommend finding out what support is available to you should your mental health be affected by this woman’s demands that you be available to her on demand or she’ll punish you. What workplace health and safety provisions exist for you, if any? What avenues would you follow to get counselling and support if you require it?

        Best wishes. The way you’re being treated is not right, it’s not normal, and it’s not something you should expect in the workplace.

        Reply
  30. Kix

    As a manager, I would struggle a bit trying to mentor someone whose workplace is 100% remote, only because my style is “see one, do one, teach one.” It would require I learn a new approach to mentoring, which would likely benefit me as a mentor as well as the mentee.

    Having said that, if the only way to mentor someone remotely is to spy on them all day via videocam, I’d have to step down from the mentorship. Spying is just wrong, ugh.

    Reply
    1. DaffyDuck

      100% remote worker here. We use screen sharing when teaching new employees, you can change who is sharing the screen making “see one, do one, teach one” very easy. This is much better than looking at a person’s image on the screen while they try to explain what to do. We agreed early on that we don’t need to see each other (pretty sure most of us don’t wear make-up, do fancy hair, or wear “going to town” clothing while working).

      Reply
  31. Jubilance

    Gotta disagree with Alison on #3 – I’ve been a blogger and freelance writer for several years, and I LOVE when readers reach out to say hi, that they love my work, etc. Maybe I’m just a n00b & not cool but I always worry that nobody likes my writing or isn’t reading it so I love getting comments from other people who say they like it.

    If you wanna send a note, send a note, but maybe leave out the “I work with your SO” part if you don’t actually know him or work with him regularly.

    Reply
    1. Hold My Cosmo

      Yeah, even a known local blogger would probably not appreciate her SO’s workplace being identified like that. It’s a tad doxy, even if meant well.

      Reply
    2. Dianda

      Uh, that’s exactly the advice that was given! It’s the mentioning the SO part that’s potentially weird. Sending a nice appreciative message without that weirdness is fine. And Alison said so.

      A nice note saying “love your work” comes across as appreciation and is likely to be welcome. A note saying “love your work and oh, btw I work with your partner” adds a whole other dimension! Why are they telling me this? What do they want from me? Are they a stalker? Are they expecting to form a relationship with me? All the more so if the partner barely knows the OP. It doesn’t accomplish anything except making the interaction weird.

      Reply
      1. valentine

        Let’s say one or both befriend OP3. “I have been commenting on your blog for years and never said I work with your guy” or “As our workplace friendship developed, I secretly commented on your SO’s blog” aren’t benign.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          She doesn’t know the SO. If she gets to know him, she can mention it to him at that point. There’s nothing secretive happening right now, when she doesn’t know either of them.

          Reply
        2. LawBee

          This is a weird take, honestly. A blog is a public space, so of course people read and comment on it. The reader has zero obligation to say “hey I work with your SO”, or tell the SO she reads the blog. If the friendship develops, then a simple “Oh, yeah, I’ve been reading that blog for years!” is sufficient.

          “As our workplace friendship developed, I secretly commented on your SO’s blog” <– THAT is weird, and not at all what seems to be happening here. I'm not sure you understand blogging.

          Reply
          1. OP3

            Plus there wouldn’t be any secret – the Instagram is public, my Instagram has my name and face on it, and if someone were to put two and two together it would be more of a small world coincidence given where we live. I’m sure eventually our paths might cross, but I wasn’t sure if this was the appropriate time or context to make that connection.

            Reply
  32. Ines

    LW3: My boyfriend has a large following on the internet. I have a regular 9-5 at a nonprofit and at one of our last events of the year, our intern rushed over and said “I just noticed you follow XX on social media, are you his girlfriend? He is so cool! I can’t believe I’ve been working with his girlfriend!”
    Now, on the one hand, it was kind of fun to come home and tell my partner that our worlds collided. On the other hand, at the end of the day, to Alison’s point, nothing really happened after this exchange. I liked the intern so I didn’t take his comment badly, but if you want to dissect it, really the intern gained nothing by letting me know he follows my partner *and* had clicked through on my photo on social media to see who I was. I don’t think it was a faux pas necessarily, but as Alison says, “ok what next?” Cool, you follow my partner on Twitter – so do 80,000 other people. Probably a “I really appreciate your work” or “you help me a lot” would have gone a lot further if he had just messaged my partner directly (or at least said that to me, to pass on the message). I know my partner really appreciates those types of messages – he always shares them with me and talks about how meaningful it is to hear how he has impacted someone’s life positively.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer

      I think he probably was just excited to see someone he admires in the real world, or someone that’s dating someone that he admires. If I ran into the SO of one of my favorite actors in the wild I’d probably think the same thing. Maybe that’s all there is to it. I think it all goes along with living a somewhat public life.

      Reply
      1. valentine

        It’s sexist and gross to say, “Never mind you or your work. I’m so excited this puts me one degree from a dude!”

        Reply
          1. OP3

            Yep, blogger is female and SO/coworker is male. I esp don’t want to make it weird given this context (I am also female).

            Reply
    2. OP3

      I really appreciate that perspective! That’s also really nice that your boyfriend makes a big deal about the nice messages he receives.

      Reply
  33. WFH Mom

    #1 – As a full time remote employee, I will add this arrangement is super weird. I would HATE this. I have also managed full time remote employees and would never consider doing this. There needs to be a certain level of trust in the manager-employee relationship or it will never work. There is nothing to be gained by this.

    Does your manager work in an office? Are you the only remote employee, or is she doing this with others? If I’m going to give your manager the benefit of the doubt, I would say she’s never managed or onboarded remote employees before and has no idea what’s appropriate. But even then, I would take this as a sign that she’s a micro-manager. Even if that’s the case, someone needs to tell her this isn’t appropriate and hold her accountable.

    Reply
    1. OP 1 aka a Conner?

      She is also 100% work from home. The client has majority remote workers, and at all levels, so it’s not new to the client at all. I think that’s part of the problem, the other remote workers and managers are all aghast at this. I did start updating my calendar to how long meetings really took to track this, and I’m working with Grand boss to compile that data.

      She hasn’t ever done remote management before or been a remote worker. She micro-manages anyone on her team this way, whether they are in the office or remote workers. It’s the number one reason everyone has left. I’m stuck until I find a different job, but my specific population in the trailing spouse demographic as 24-30% unemployment, depending on the region we’re in.

      Reply
  34. Noah

    Re #1 – – I could see how boss doing this for brief, prearranged periods of time could be beneficial. It’s not that weird for a supervisor to watch an employee do a task here or there to see how the employee does the task. That doesn’t seem like what’s happening here, and there are better ways to do it. But we shouldn’t overgeneralize from this boss’s bad behavior.

    Reply
    1. OP 1 aka a Conner?

      Oh! I agree whole-heartedly. It’s incredibly beneficial on some tasks and especially training, which is why the boundaries kind of eroded without my noticing. It all started with her doing longer calls for my training, and then it slipped into watching me edit, or create spreadsheets, and then suddenly I wake up with video calls being forced answered on my end. On average, our video calls are now 4-6 hours a day. Every day. The last two weeks have been with grand boss stepping in with supreme boss, but no effects so far.

      Reply
  35. MatLeave

    Alison, just wondering if your answer to #5 would change if the OP were in a country with longer maternity leaves? In Canada we have 12-18 month maternity/parental leave.

    I probably wouldn’t actually let the length of time in my job affect my reproductive planning, but I feel like subconsciously it does creep into my calculations just because the leave is so long.

    I was in my job 1 year 9 months before I took a 12 month leave for my first, then I ended up taking a new job with the same employer when I returned from my leave, which I felt REALLY guilty about! I’ll probably start trying for #2 after I’ve been in the new job for about a year.

    Reply
  36. Lucy

    #5 made me smile.

    I started a job on a Tuesday, and conceived on the Saturday of the same week. This was after some months of trying including a traumatic miscarriage we felt we had no time to lose.

    My employer couldn’t have more delighted nor more supportive, and I was an excellent employee for eight months, at the end of which the business needs were changing anyway and I trained a junior colleague to succeed me.

    We had no guarantees, and our family was more important than professional appearances. I wish LW5 all the best with both spheres.

    Reply
      1. Spargle

        That’s getting into some potentially really personal details. :) You’re really asking about her sex life, or the details of her fertility treatments.

        Reply
        1. Lucy

          Where I live, pregnancies are counted to the day (is that standard?) and based on USS measurements at a particularly accurate stage. Additionally, when you are actively trying you can become hyper aware of your cycle and what’s happening in it.

          Without getting into the precise details, we were able to be very certain indeed – and as it happened, that child arrived precisely on his due date which further validated it!

          FWIW, if I had waited a month I would have qualified for an additional ~US$3k in maternity pay; if I had waited three months I would have qualified for double or triple that. He is worth every lost penny. No regrets whatsoever.

          Reply
    1. OP5

      Congratulations! More or less the same thing has happened to me – I think as soon as I was out of my previous workplace, I was happier and more relaxed and it all came together! Still very early but I only got my positive a few days ago so this is all perfect timing to put my mind at ease!

      Reply
  37. former office worker

    On the subject of employers watching employees via cameras….I have a story to tell. It happened 14 years ago but I still get a kick out of it.

    I was a front desk admin for a local business in a busy service industry. The owner was incredibly toxic and problematic. I was subjected to sexism, sexual harassment and gender discrimination and many other things. His girlfriend had been in charge of the office for a long time so he was pretty far removed from that aspect of the business and really had no idea what I did all day except answer phones, dispatch and some data entry. He was convinced that when I wasn’t busy dispatching I was playing on the internet all day. He was convinced I didn’t anything all day. So. About 3 years into this crappy job, he puts a camera in the front office, the kind where there is a big TV monitor that you can see yourself on as soon as you walk in the front door. He claimed it was for security purposes in case we got robbed. I did deal with a lot of cash on a daily basis so yes, robbery was always possible. However the camera was pointed at MY desk behind the front counter and not at the door. I didn’t mind being videotaped because I had nothing to hide. My cash box always balanced.I wasn’t on the internet all day, i was busy working! But it was incredibly demeaning and degrading because it was well known amongst my coworkers that he thought I spent my days on the internet instead of doing my job. This place was so toxic that my coworkers, knowing he was of the opinion that I was lazy and didn’t do any work, blamed ME when they all decided to get lazy and not do their jobs correctly and as usual, I did not get to defend myself, my boss totally believed them even though there was proof that…..I was not to blame. And all he ever saw me doing on camera was….my job. and playing with the office cat a little more than I should have. Worth noting, while I was doing my job I discovered not one but two employees stealing from the company. Never got any thanks for that either.

    Anyway. A few months after the camera goes in, my boss decides to expand the company and start a new division. one of our empty offices in our building is turned in to an office for that division. He hires a guy to work in that office, who only had to do a fraction of what I did and not only is this guy given a higher salary than me, he is given a TV and cable in his office! The bookkeeper and I were outraged. Every day when we walked down to the break room, we had to walk past his office and see him sitting at his desk with his feet up watching TV!!

    Eventually, I get fired after my boss finds out I had been complaining about my job on the internet (stupid I know. I was young and dumb). The bookkeeper and I had become good friends and kept in touch regularly. she was pretty unhappy at work and vented to me regularly and gave me all the office gossip. About a year after I got fired, I get an email from her telling me to read the newspaper NOW and that the day before, after she left for the day, the guy who got the TV in his office had been walked out by the cops and arrested for embezzling from the company! So I got the last laugh. My boss had been watching the wrong employee!

    Reply
  38. Fiddlesticks

    Sigh… as an introvert, I would kill to have a “small, dark, isolated, depressing space” where I could be alone to think, work, talk on the phone and NOT hear anyone else’s talking and noise. Different strokes!

    Reply
  39. OP5

    Thank you all for your encouraging and congratulatory words! I mentioned above that I did get a positive pregnancy test since writing my letter so this is very good timing! All going well, I’m hoping to keep it to myself at least until I’ve had 3 months at my new job, and hopefully by the time I need to be off work, they’ll value me and my work enough to be happy for me rather than annoyed. But it’s true that starting a family is the most important thing to me and you’ve all helped me to keep this in perspective. Thank you again, I’m really grateful.

    Reply
  40. MissDisplaced

    For #1 There are a few remote jobs where you are “on” camera while at work. It’s sort of a virtual assistant or virtual reception setup. But unless this is you, what your boss is doing is weird and obsessive. I can maybe see a video check-in daily, but hours on end just watching is bizarre.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Before you comment: Please be kind, stay on-topic, and follow the site's commenting rules.
You can report an ad, tech, or typo issue here.

Subscribe to all comments on this post by RSS