my boss assumes we’re slacking off when we work from home

A reader writes:

I work for a small company with about 10 employees working full-time in the office. We all report directly to the CEO, Phil. When the pandemic hit, Phil went into full panic mode and had us all move our desks 12+ feet apart, wash our hands every 20 minutes, sterilize everything in between uses, etc. Nothing super weird, and better than having no reaction at all, but it was a hypervigilant process that made me expect him to be very accommodating when our state went on lockdown.

Boy, was I wrong. Our industry is considered essential so we’re still open, but Phil is being odd when it comes to working from home. For background, about 95% of our work can be done remotely. The other 5% would require about 15 minutes in the office once a week. I was the first one to pose the idea of working from home and Phil nervously agreed, but only let do it three days a week. My coworkers were given similar instructions but were “encouraged to come in every day, if possible.” A few of them do.

Since then, Phil has gotten pretty weird about the situation. He refers to people who are working from home as being “off work” (which is NOT the case, we are all working and available while at home, which he knows because he calls us for work-related things during work hours!). Today, Phil asked me if my coworker Travis was in his office, and I said Travis was working from home, and Phil replied in a sour tone, “So he’s not working then, great.” He has made similar comments about my other coworkers. When I’m working from home, he’ll call me and ask in a sarcastic tone, “What are you even working on today?” Or he’ll give me an assignment and end with, “Can you actually do work on this today? I need you working.” One time, he called while I was in the bathroom and when I called him back less than five minutes later, I was told that I “need to be available and not screwing around.”

The weirdest thing is that none of us has had productivity problems! My job is such that I can tell when anyone is slacking even a little and I haven’t noticed any issues. Personally, I’ve actually been MORE productive! And I’ve never been accused of “screwing around” while at the office before, so this attitude has baffled me.

He is so convinced that we aren’t working that he cut our work-from-home time down two days a couple weeks ago, and now it’s being cut down to one day as of next week – when COVID cases are higher in our city than ever!

My guess is that because Phil isn’t physically seeing us work, he assumes we aren’t working. CCing him on stuff to leave “proof” doesn’t work because he doesn’t read his email. He is also naturally a nightmare of a micromanager (and an across-the-office yeller) so not being as “in control” is probably freaking him out. But what is the best way to handle this?

An awful lot of managers who were previously opposed to letting people work from home are losing it right now. Opposition to working from home has always been about the fear that people won’t do as much work if they’re not in the same physical location as everyone else — and now that many employers have no choice but to allow it, some managers seem to assume that their trustworthy employees will suddenly transform into slackers if no one’s watching them. It’s insulting.

It’s especially weird in your case, where it’s apparently easy to track productivity. Managers overseeing any role should be able to develop accountability metrics that let them run a remote staff effectively, but Phil’s reaction is particularly bizarre for a job like yours.

If you worked for a larger company with people above Phil and/or with an HR department, I’d suggest involving HR in this. Companies that want people working from home — especially right now — will often intervene when an individual rogue manager is discouraging it.

But because it’s a small company and Phil is at the top, the best thing to do is to have a direct conversation with him about it. I’d start it this way: “I’m getting the sense that you don’t think I’m working when I’m working from home, and I’m wondering if I’ve done something to make you think that. I have a long track record of reliability and integrity, and you know me to have a strong work ethic. In fact, my productivity is higher than usual right now, not lower. So it concerns me to hear you talk as if I’m not really working from home when I say I am. Have I done something to affect your trust in me?”

This framing brings the subtext of his complaints right to the surface: Does he think you’re lying when you say you’re working?

He will probably say something about how, while he doesn’t think you’re lying, there are distractions at home, it’s harder to work outside the office, blah blah. (Frankly, this is probably about him, not you — he may find it difficult to focus at home and assumes everyone else is the same way.)

At that point, you can say, “I know you’re not a fan of working from home in normal times, but I want to ask that you look at what I’ve achieved since I’ve been doing it. I am as productive at home as when I’m in the office — more so, in fact. Since we’ve been at home, I’ve achieved things like X, Y, and Z. I normally wouldn’t push this so strongly — but given the current crisis, it’s terrifying to hear you say that you want us back in the office, when that could mean putting ourselves and our loved ones at risk. So I’m hoping you’ll reconsider, especially in light of my track record.”

I’d recommend also adding, “And frankly, it feels like you’re questioning my integrity when you say I’m not working, and that’s demoralizing!” — because he needs to hear the impact of what he’s doing. Often managers like Phil delude themselves into thinking their rigidity doesn’t bother anyone or only bothers people who are trying to slack off. It’s important for him to hear how he’s making a good employee feel.

In fact, he needs to hear this from others, too. You can go it alone if you have to, but ideally you’d enlist your co-workers. If there’s one person who has more influence with him than others, that person could take the lead — but pushing back as a group can be harder to ignore (and can give you all some cover if you’re worried about how he’ll respond).

But do talk to him. The more you and your co-workers stay silent in the face of Phil’s insulting and ill-conceived behavior, the more he’ll think it’s accepted and okay. Make it clear that it’s not.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 263 comments… read them below }

  1. OrigCassandra*

    Alison said what I was thinking — this isn’t about OP not doing the work, this is about Phil not being able to do what he conceives of as his work in the way he is accustomed to doing it.

    I’m sorry you’re having to work around his freakout, OP. It’s not fair to you.

    1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      The owner at OldJob is like that. I still remember bitterly when he denied my request of one WFH day per week, talking behind my back about how he wouldn’t trust anyone working from home. I was worried he would force my ex coworkers to come to the office, but he complied when lockdown was established.

      1. BeesKneeReplacement*

        I had a boss like that. It was extra irritating because:
        a) we spent large portions of our day on the phone and had to sit tightly packed into an open office plan. At one point I was seated near the customer service people who literally spent all day on the phone and one of whom had zero indoor voice.
        b) she would work from home on a fairly regular basis and was totally unreachable during those times so we suspected she wasn’t working at all.

        1. tangerineRose*

          I’ve heard that people who suspect others of something without evidence are suspicious because this is what they do.

        2. Legal Beagle*

          I worked at a tiny company where the top boss wouldn’t approve WFH, but spent a month every year “working” from their summer home. It was extremely frustrating.

    2. Threeve*

      The one change I’d make is LW telling him that she’s sometimes more productive working from home. While true, it’s just going to add to his incredulity.

      With somebody like this, you have to pretend that working from home productively is a challenge that you’ve overcome. Don’t try to explain that the whole setup is just not the problem he thinks it is.

      “You’re kind of right in theory, BUT…” is going to work much better than “you’re wrong.”

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        This seems to be a job with objective and verifiable standards of productivity. If the LW is more productive at home, say so, but come armed with the proof.

        1. MassMatt*

          I was going to say this, if the job has measurable productivity then collec5 the stats for yourself (and other employees, if you can) working from home and in the office. Make a chart. Stubborn people (your boss seems to be one, along with being a jerk generally) Often need a lot of incontrovertible evidence to change his mind.

          If he continues with his nasty belittling comments and inflexibility then I hope you and his other best employees consider leaving when the economy improves. He deserves to pay the price for being a jerk.

          Working from home is going to become a much kore common thing moving forward, Bosses that have this kind of attitude towards it are going to find they are losing a competitive edge.

    3. MsMaryMary*

      “This about Phil not being able to do what he conceives of as his work in the way he is accustomed to doing it.”

      So much this. Maybe Phil is a manager who doesn’t know how to manage without peaking over someone’s shoulder, or maybe there’s not really that much for him to “manage” but walking around the office makes him feel like he’s doing something. Maybe he needs subordinates to bounce ideas off of, or less generously, just to listen to him talk. I have a feeling Phil is at loose ends without an office full of people to interact with.

        1. MsMaryMary*

          Maybe, or someone who needs a lot of interaction. I can think of former coworkers who spent a lot of time wandering around the office chatting with everyone, having endless debates on how to address X problem, going out to lunch, giving instructions to others that may or may not be needed, etc. Some people don’t realize how much they need a captive audience until it’s gone.

    4. JSPA*

      Rephrasing: He’s not as able to be abusive in person. It just doesn’t scratch that itch as well to do it over the phone, so he has to get his vitriol workout by badmouthing people to each other.

      We may be at the point where any job is a good job, and there may be some real positives to the job, if you can ignore the boss, but…ugh.

  2. Bryeny*

    So The Cut/NY mag has a paywall now — if you exceed some small number of free articles per month, you don’t get to read AAM (or Ask a Boss, as they call it). Woe.

      1. ...*

        Or don’t. If you want to read something with a paywall, pay for it. Why does everyone on this blog so strongly support being paid a fair wage but if they have to pay to read an article its suddenly this horrible thing? Writing is a job too that people might like to be paid for!

        1. virago*

          “Writing is a job too that people might like to be paid for!”
          I’m a journalist. This is going to be my next email to my boss — with the subject line “This just in.”

        2. Edith*

          > but if [everyone on this blog] have to pay to read an article its suddenly this horrible thing?

          Oh come on. We’re not talking about all paywalls. We’re talking about coming to a free advice blog, reading through an entire letter that is indistinguishable from every other letter on the blog, and only finding out when you get to the end that the answer is behind a paywall. It’s completely reasonable to be a little salty at the time and energy wasted.

          1. Que Syrah Syrah*

            Exactly. And on top of that, it’s not like they’re saying, “if you’d like to read this one article, pay $x.” They’re saying, “if you want to read this one article, you have to subscribe to our ENTIRE SITE.” Some people just want to read an article from time to time – they don’t want to pay to not read 90% of what that site will post. That’s not unreasonable.

            The best option would be to offer a middle ground ,like “get 10 free articles for $10” or something, with no expiration date. Then if you wanted to read something you could, but you don’t have to subscribe to the whole site for it or sign any monthly commitments.

            (Disclosure: I’m not sure how The Cut works specifically, so for all I know they may do this, but I haven’t seen that system anywhere so far.)

            1. Mr. Shark*

              But they actually offer a certain number of free articles every month, before triggering the paywall. So you probably have read 5 articles (or 10 articles) already from that site without realizing it, and then get blocked by the paywall. It happens to me all the time.

              So if you’re reading that many articles from the site, it makes sense for them to say, “Hey, you like our stuff, pay for a subscription so we can keep providing it.”

              1. Ego Chamber*

                This is an extremely logical point but you’re arguing against but I waaaant it!, so I’m not sure whether you’ll get through or not.

          2. knead me seymour*

            On the other hand, this is a free advice site with years’ worth of archives, and a huge amount of weekly content that Alison provides for free. Only a very small proportion of the content is behind a paywall, so that Alison and the other writers can get paid for their work. If you don’t want to pay for it, that’s fine, but there’s tons of free stuff to read here. It doesn’t seem fair to begrudge her the paid work.

            1. Pomona Sprout*

              I don’t think anyone is “begrudging” Alison ANYTHING, and I’m all in favor of writers getting paid to write myself. Still, it can be frustrating, like Edith says, to read through an entire letter and not find out the answer is behind a paywall till you get to the end. Maybe Alison would be willing to consider posting a warning at the top of these posts to let people know before they start reading. I think that might cut on some of the saltiness. Just a thought.

              1. Pomona Sprout*

                “Cut DOWN on some of the saltiness.” Yeesh, I sure wish we could edit our posts here!

    1. Myrin*

      This comes up every time there’s a new New York Magazine article – it’s how they earn the money to pay their writers, like Alison.
      But like Southern says, you can easily circumvent it by opening the link in an incognito window.

      1. SD*

        Thanks for the tip. In Firefox that incognito window is called “New Private Window.” I always wondered what that was.

      2. Jdc*

        For some reason if I’m on my laptop it won’t let me read it but on my phone is always fine. Husband does programming and such and even looked at my settings out of curiosity and doesn’t know why but hey it works. Same with Carolyn Hax although these days she drives me a bit bonkers

        1. Shad*

          It’s possible that the AAM alone isn’t enough to hit the paywall limit on your phone, but that and any articles you’re reading on your computer combine to hit the limit. My understanding is that such limits are tracked separately on each device you use by means of cookies.

        2. Koalafied*

          If you’re using mobile data on your phone, it’s because your IP address changes every time you get passed to a new cell tower, which means they can’t keep track of how many articles you’ve viewed on your phone. Since most paywalls are IP-based, most of them have made the decision to just resign themselves to not being able to block mobile users at all, rather than being forced to never let mobile readers view any articles.

    2. Sam*

      I was super frustrated to see the other day that Costco has a paywall too! If you exceed some small amount of free sample food, you actually have to pay for the food you want to take home. Super frustrating.

      1. Robert in SF*

        Yes, and thankfully CostCo doesn’t make you watch advertising they are paid for, and also sell your specific buying habits* to the advertisers and countless others so they can also advertise to you in other stores. So we only pay for the stuff we buy and little else. Sure CostCo aggregates buying for future sourcing and pricing models, but they don’t double/triple dip.

        *as far as I know….

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          At this point I’d be astounded to find a company that does NOT sell their list of customers & members.
          “List marketing” is big business.

      2. Neon*

        You can easily circumvent this policy by breaking in when the store is closed and just taking whatever food you want.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          I usually just put on a hat and fake glasses and get back in the sample line as many times as I want but this sounds like a much better strategy longterm!

      3. JSPA*

        LOL! But honestly, costco has more than one thing I might want. As do the online publications I’m willing to pay for.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      Some sites disable the incognito window dodge. For them, use different browsers. You probably have several already on your computer. The monthly count is specific to the browser.

      1. Important Moi*

        I never understand the objections about there being a paywall on ANOTHER SITE. You provide so much free content here.

      2. JSPA*

        Can you get Slate to give you a regular column? That’d boost me over the “well willing to pay” line, for them.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Always has. It’s how they pay their authors, which helps Alison buy kitty kibble for our feline overlords.

    5. Fiona*

      Correct. This is how they pay writers. Why is there a comment here EVERY WEEK saying the same thing?!?! Have people never used the internet before? AAM provides free content literally multiple times a day – there’s no reason to use the word “woe” in response to one (1) piece of writing living behind a paywall. If you value the content here, you’ll pay for the NYMag subscription. Otherwise, hold your tongue and read literally the YEARS worth of free archives.

      Sorry, I’ll stop now.

      1. ...*

        It grinds my gears on the same level. Wow I had to pay for 1 article! Is this oppression?

        1. Deliliah*

          If I could pay 50 cents for the article I want to read, I would. I do not want to pay $20-$40 a month to read four articles a month tops.

          1. Bella*

            yeah you might be shocked to realize that processing $.50 payments all day isn’t an effective way to bill people. Just don’t read it then!

            1. Koalafied*

              I think Delilah is extrapolating out to what she would pay to be able to access every site where an author she likes occasionally has a piece. She might be willing to pay for a few that she reads more content from, but it’s unreasonable to her to pay for all of them.

    6. ...*

      Right. Because she actually does work to produce the content. It’s not a volunteer opportunity for her. If I expected you to work for me for free would you do that?

    7. Yorick*

      I’ve never experienced this, because I think these posts are the only articles I read on the site. If you want to read Ask a Boss every time, save your limited number of free articles for that.

    8. M. Albertine*

      At the bottom of the article, you can opt to have Ask A Boss emailed to you every week.

  3. TimeTravlR*

    I have known managers like this. I got so that when the conversation was “Where’s Sue?” “She’s teleworking.” “Oh, I’ll just wait until she’s in tomorrow” my GO TO response was “Teleworking is working, call her.”

    I am finally with a team that gets it. This transition to 100% telework has been nearly seamless.

    1. knitter*

      At a former job, when I worked at home on Fridays, I had a co-worker consistently text me when I was working from home for things he would on other days email me about. I aways replied via email. This was before I had AAM so I never spoke to him about it, but I assumed that he assumed I wasn’t on email/working. And frankly I got more done at home without his continuously derailing conversations.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        “And frankly I got more done at home without his continuously derailing conversations.”

        Surely you mean “his spontaneous collaboration.” I am assured it is the key to a great work environment, and the wonder of the age.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          That’s honestly one of the things I like about working from home…no one (except the cats) stopping by my desk and wanting attention NOW.

          1. Delta Delta*

            I have been WFH for about 3 years and I’ve noticed the feline overlords are all about attention until there’s nice weather. Then they don’t want to know me, as they have urgent business in the yard. There was that one day I found a dead sparrow under the coffee table. Still unclear which of my bosses did that…

          2. AKchic*

            Yeah… my cats are the biggest hindrance isn’t the husband or kids, it is 100% the cats.
            I can handle the obligatory “are you on a call” as soon as I get on a call/video chat (every. single. time) but when the cats decide they want attention? Ugh. Walk across the keyboard. Lay across the paperwork I’m writing on/reading. Chew the pen I’m writing with, or roll on top of it. Sit on the phone. Siamese yowls demanding attention when I am trying to speak. Little black cat demanding headbonks and shoulder sits while I’m trying to talk to people in video chat. Both of them just *have* to show their puckered starfish to all video conference attendees. All must gaze upon the glorious pooploops and then turn around and rub the camera and headbonk the screen. Yes, their audience has been accepted. For all who gaze upon them are truly *their* audience, no?

            The dogs have gotten better about their impromptu meeting attendance.

            1. AnonEmu*

              Haha yep same, Annie keeps sharking in front of the camera, or showing Zoom her butt. I recently had to briefly pause a tutorial I was teaching bc she decided to knock stuff over in the other room. I think she gets grumpy that I never leave, a lot of the time if I am working in where my desk is (right next to her food dish, alas) she will go nap on the couch in a “I need SPACE” manner

    2. Mama Bear*

      I hope that OP can do something like this. “Sue is remote today. Let’s dial her in on Teams. Her status is green, so she’s available.” Show him how people can be connected and responsive/responsible. “It’s lunchtime so I’ll send a text and coordinate an afternoon meeting with Ted. Boss, what time are you available?” Or “Actually it looks like Mary has been very productive. I have the monthly report here for you.” Maybe if you all actively have each other’s back when you are face to face with Phil you can collectively convince him you’re not throwing house parties.

      I’d be very frustrated with a boss like this. Presumably there’s no HR, either.

      1. OP*

        OP here. Unfortunately we don’t use Slack/Teams/Skype because Phil is older and does not like learning new tech or programs, so it’s hard to conspicuously show our availability to him. I do insist that my coworkers are available any time they’re WFH, because they are, and I try to give as many updates on what I see them working on as possible. But he’s very impatient with people’s availability regardless and is the “I need immediate answers at all times” type. EX: If I call someone’s extension and they don’t answer, he’ll have me call their cell right away (which has led to more than one awkward “I’m on the toilet” answers).

        1. tangerineRose*

          When he tried to call you when you were in the bathroom and then accused you of screwing around, I’d suggest saying “I was in the bathroom. “

    1. Mama Bear*

      Right. So he doesn’t do a thing that would mitigate his concerns but everyone else is goofing off?

    2. Myrin*

      I was gonna say! The OP has that half sentence just kind of in there but I actually think that it might play a pretty big part in Phil’s behaviour.

      1. MassMatt*

        Yeah OMG my dad is 84 and reads his email every day. I have 8 year old nieces using it. Does he send messages by telegram?

              1. Erstwhile Lurker*

                He descends from a mountain bearing two tablets of stone, with instructions on them.

                1. Llama Face!*

                  And then he smashes them in a rage because he sees them all using papyrus scrolls instead? ;)

    3. MissDisplaced*

      That is EXACTLY what I would ask.
      I would probably be fired in like 5 minutes because quite frankly I have zero patience for this shit.
      If you’re a manager, you hold yourself to a higher standard. And you never accuse people of slacking if you are not doing your own work! Like reading email, scheduling meeting and you know MANAGING.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I would probably be fired in like 5 minutes because quite frankly I have zero patience for this shit.

        Same. I plan to ask about it in interviews, because although I like going into an office, if it’s icy, I ain’t coming in. I hate working for butt-in-seat managers who don’t trust me even when I get my work done.

    4. Ashely*

      I have worked with bosses with various levels of reading e-mails. It has ranged from I get to many or I have to much to do. (Which you might have less to do if you used e-mail responsibly because answers are often in your inbox.) And honestly if you keep buying stuff online using your work e-mail address and never unsubscribe to a single newsletter or use a filter you will easily get 100 e-mails a day that are pure junk making it hard to find the ones you need.
      It is a little funny he doesn’t want to be copied on e-mails because most micro managers love that stuff.

      1. OP*

        OP here. Yes, he receives 500-1000 emails a day and the vast majority most is spam. This is part of why he doesn’t read his email, it’s too much effort to dig through the mess. I admit that he IS very busy with phone calls and off-site meetings so I can understand why email is daunting.

        When he DOES read emails, it’s almost worse than if he ignored them. He doesn’t really get how email threads work so he’ll read old messages and think they’re recent and freak out. I got called back from a lunch break once because he had read an email from a VIP saying a major deliverable had a deadline in less than an hour, only for me to point out that the email was over 30 days old and the deliverable was long since complete.

        When I first started, I tried to sate his micromanaging with constant CCs and daily check-ins. He told me to stop bothering/spamming him so I reigned it back, then I started getting stuff like the 30-day-old-email situation. He moves the goal post on his communication preferences daily, to be honest.

        1. Uhtceare*

          Oh dear god. Phil needs (a) better spam filters, (b) an admin with the patience of Job, and/or (c) to figure out how date stamps work. I’m actually concerned about your email security frankly, if that much spam mail is getting through and you’re not in, you know, 1998. (How does he schedule meetings? How does he find new clients? How is the business still solvent?)

          But based on that reaction I’m not convinced you’ll be able to get through to him about the WFH issue. If you have a decent rapport with him, correct him flatly every time and/or just don’t say the words “from home” (“Yes, Bill is working today, I spoke to him this morning”). But there’s a decent chance that this is just put of how Phil is and not something he can be convinced to change.

          Good luck.

          1. OP*

            He has a part-time scheduler who handles his calendar. I think Phil does most of his scheduling over the phone, gives his scheduler the notes, and the scheduler slots them in a way that makes sense. He mostly comes in on weekends so I don’t see him much.

        2. Random IT person*

          Mail rules. Just explain mail rules.
          If mail is sent to – move to (folder)
          If mail is sent to anonymous (undisclosed recipients) – move to (spam)
          If mail is CCed to – move to (later) (I CC people if i want them aware, but if i want action or a reply, I add them in the To: field)
          And get a decent spam filter as well.

          (Then again – Polish up CV and start looking.. those kind of people might not want help, as it removes one reason to complain)

          1. Tan*

            I think that “can’t use email” is symptomatic of the same thing as not knowing how to let people WFH. He seems to be the type who probably got to their position ~20 years ago figured “my working practices and knowledge got me here I don’t need to learn, develop or take on a new skill”. Unfortunately.
            He would be someone I’d constantly butt heads with in the workplace /I’d be looking to move on (easier said than done ATM)

      2. MissDisplaced*

        Exactly! Learn to use filters!
        It’s not that hard. I have to wonder how someone can rise to high C-suite positions without a basic knowledge of Outlook and Word?

    5. Gazebo Slayer*

      It’s all projection. He thinks everyone else is screwing around because that’s what HE’s doing.

  4. Reality Check*

    I feel like I could have written this one. My boss would allow WFH for only a half day, so our “lunch break” was spent driving to or from the office, and they always acted like they were angry at us, as if we caused this somehow. We’re back in the building full time now…OP you have my sympathy please let us know how it works out!

    1. Bubbles*

      Dealing with that with my hubby now. They expect us to be grateful that they allowed him to work from home in the afternoons to accommodate the fact that I am working from home and the kids have homeschool. Like…no. They should focused on their employees’ health and welfare and not forcing people into dangerous situations just because the CEO thinks people can’t WFH productively. It’s called being reasonable.

  5. Anon Anon*

    The CEO where I work had a similar issue with our WFH policy (which he approved!!) before COVID-19. He only agreed to the WFH policy because we had almost 20% turnover one year and it was cited by all but one employee as a reason for leaving.

    And Alison’s statement “Frankly, this is probably about him, not you — he may find it difficult to focus at home and assumes everyone else is the same way,” is accurate. I always felt like our CEO was projecting. He was less productive at home so he assumed everyone else would be. And not being in the office when he was in the office made it more difficult for him to just pop into someone’s office and sit down for an hour long chat about some random project. My CEO’s objection to WFH was always about him. How he reacted or what made his life easier. It was never actually about the employee working from home.

    1. Glitsy Gus*

      Yep. I had a manager whose wife would bug him constantly when he was WFH so he was convinced that everyone else had insurmountable distractions to deal with. The fact that I lived alone in a garden studio and was single with no kids was irrelevant, I was going to be distracted. Because of this, we only had WFH granted for very specific things and during that day he would email the person WFH constantly with stupid, nonsense busy-tasks to the point where you couldn’t get your actual work completed. Which then proved his point: distracted! He refused to understand the distraction was him.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Ugh, I don’t understand grown adults who constantly pester their spouses while they’re working. Why do people do that? Is it just that they’re too lazy to do anything themselves? Do they have a childish need for constant attention? Are they so incapable of entertaining themselves that they are OMG SO BORED if their spouse is not being their activities director at all times? Or is it an attempt at controlling the spouse or undermining their career and independence?

        1. AKchic*

          It varies from relationship to relationship, but you’ve covered a few of the reasons.

      2. OP*

        I do know he has trouble concentrating when he’s doing work stuff at home, so you all are likely correct there. He seems to need people working around him in order to focus on his own work so WFH is not great for him. Meanwhile my job is 100% heavy detail-oriented but also prone to constant interruption when I’m at the office, so WFH has been awesome for me.

        1. tangerineRose*

          Maybe his house is too quiet. I find that it’s easier to focus if I have music on in the background.

  6. Retro*

    I think a lot of people that were against working from home are now having to face the reality of their beliefs being challenged. Not only are they being challenged philosophically, there is now abundant proof to back that working from home can be just as productive as working in the office whereas before, it was more or less hypothetical and not tested. Add on Phil’s micromanaging and controlling tendencies, I’d say that Phil is in denial that WFH actually works and is balking at the fact that maybe he has less of an ability to control his employees when they are remote (i.e. can no longer yell across the office at people). It’s really annoying that his insecurities are coming out as jabs and mean spirited comments directed at his employees.

    I’d strongly echo to push back as a group because I don’t have hope that Phil has the self-reflection and self-awareness to realize he’s in the wrong and change without the majority of his workforce telling him he’s the problem.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      I’m experiencing that right now. My company has always been against wfh, but now that they’ve seen how productive everyone is (even while the world is semi-ending), they’re considering changing their stingy stance on it. They’re even considering how much money they could save if they didn’t have to pay for a giant office to house everyone 100% of the time.

      And it only took a global pandemic to change their views, not turnover or employee complaints lol.

      1. Eustace H Plimsoll*

        Yeah, my manager has always been against WFH but pretended he wasn’t, which made the direct argument impossible. He’d find all kinds of hurdles for anyone who wanted to WFH, blame “policy”, blame upper management, etc. It’s a small enough organization that we could see this was fiction — every other department was really flexible.

        I don’t think my manager has the self-reflection and self-awareness to admit that it was his problem, but now we’re all WFH for the foreseeable future it’s moot. Also as it happens he’s very concerned about his own health, so he won’t be in the office anytime soon, so in any case he’s stuck with managing us remotely.

  7. MissDisplaced*

    Your boss Phil is a jerk and you can’t change him.

    And while it’s one thing to be wary of WFH, making comments like “people are just screwing around” and being “off work” when they’re not is just beyond the pale, especially when HE himself does not bother to read his own emails where he is ‘CC’d on things and could very easily see that people ARE working.

    1. WorkIsADarkComedy*

      Phil is not any old kind of jerk. He’s an extremely selfish jerk who’s willing to sacrifice the well-being, and maybe even the lives, of his employees, for the sake of his workers-are-cannon-fodder-and-will-desert-if-I’m-not-watching attitude.

      Think of the business owners who could open but don’t because they’re worried about their employees. And then there’s Phil.

          1. Quill*

            Unless an employee is missing a body part or he’s crashing a gravesite, he won’t even make the list.

      1. OP*

        I didn’t bring this up in the original letter for brevity, but we actually had a COVID scare directly in the office (one of our employees was very ill and had been in contact with a confirmed case) and it didn’t change Phil’s WFH opinions. That employee later tested negative but there was about a week of waiting where Phil still had us all coming in like usual. Phil’s philosophy seems to be that as long as we’re washing our hands, staying 6 feet apart, and sanitizing common surfaces, there’s no reason to not be in the office.

    2. Betty*

      I would call him a moron rather than a jerk. He’s not being mean, just totally failing to get how to WFH and manage a remote team.

      But I do think the LW can change him! I think pointing out the objectives facts AND bringing the “So you think I’m lying?” subtext to the surface stand a good chance of helping. If he THEN doubles down and says there are no problems with the work but you still can’t WFH, then he will be a jerk.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Probably not stupidity, but lack of empathy. He has trouble working from home, so he can’t imagine anyone else thriving in that environment. He probably thinks everyone else shares his taste in music and his favorite flavor of ice cream, too.

      2. MassMatt*

        I disagree, his nasty comments about his employees not working definitely put him in the jerk category. His use of email is pretty dumb, maybe he is both? The categories aren’t mutually exclusive.

        “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to get through life, son“

        —Dean Wormer

      3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        No he’s a jerk. The bottom line is that he doesn’t trust his employees to get their work done if he doesn’t have eyes on them. He may be projecting if he can’t work productively at home, but that’s his problem to resolve. He’s lost his sense of control, and he’s putting his employees at risk because of it. Working from home only a few days a week is pointless when the virus can be contagious for up to 14 days. Everyone who has the ability to work from home SHOULD be working from home.

        1. A Non E. Mouse*

          And a lot of localities are telling employers to allow work from home, even at Essential businesses, if it’s possble.

          So the letter writer could place a call to their city or county, and see if they have anything to say about his insistence that people come in.

    3. Artemesia*

      While it is difficult to get new jobs in a pandemic — it may not be impossible. The OP has a job which apparently is easily quantifiable — and is good at it. I would start building the world’s greatest cover letter and resume and begin a leisurely search for something better. Maybe it will take months — but she has months and this guy will never trust her or others to be competent self directed adult humans. Who needs this?

  8. Katiekaboom*

    I hope the update comes soon.

    What I think a lot of people are missing in the WFH conversation, is that this is going to come in waves. We may all go back to work by July. But if the models are correct, we will have hotspots or even a bigger second wave in the fall (like the Spanish flu in 1918) that puts us all back to WFH for who knows how long. This isn’t a one and done situation, and companies need to get on the train or lose employees who aren’t willing to risk their health with a second round.

    1. Stormy Weather*

      I feel like very few people are paying attention to the pattern of the second wave that came with Spanish Flu. It bothers me a lot.

      My office is sane enough to keep us on WFH until the end of the summer

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Agreed. I live on the east coast and our governor just lifted the stay at home ban Friday and instituted Phase 1 of the re-opening. I can guarantee that the beaches will be overcrowded this weekend, with people acting like there wasn’t a reason we all had to stay home for the last 2 months. I miss my friends terribly, but I have enough sense not to risk getting myself or anyone else sick if I’m able to stay home.

      2. Katiekaboom*

        It bothers me immensely too. I was having this discussion w my parents, who are a bit more optimistic that it won’t happen, or be smaller. My feeling is that we already have morons protesting and refusing to wear masks, and those ppl will continue to behave like idiots regardless of a second wave. Thus making a second wave inevitable.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          There won’t be a second wave because we’re never going to get over the first wave. Giving everyone a full pass to go to the beaches and force customer service and client-based workers back into close contact with infected people is going to push that first wave right back up. :(

      3. Aggretsuko*

        I’m losing it at all the “reopenings” when we literally can’t do anything to stop the virus.

    2. GalFriday*

      I totally agree this may be longer term than anyone thought. My office has been quite good at making sure everyone has what they need to work from home and keeping us up to date on their thoughts about when and how the office may open, with particular attention to managing for folks who don’t feel safe commuting into the city (so working from home for longer) and offering a safe office environment for those who don’t have ideal work from home situations.

      I have a friend who works in hospital billing and they have already been told they should expect to work from home for the rest of the year. They’re trying to keep those that don’t need to be in the hospital safe and working.

      1. Ashely*

        The continue working from home if at all possible is actually written into our areas reopening plans. The number of companies blatantly disregarding this is really frustrating. The more people that can WFH to fewer chances of exposure. Not to mention working in a mask and being paranoid every time a coworker coughs for any reason is really going to kill my office productivity.

      2. Katiekaboom*

        Technically I am considered essential, but I can work from home with no problems. I go into the office for 30 mins one day a week to use the printer and fax. My boss has said they’re not even thinking about going back right now (were upstate New York) and even when we do, she anticipates a staggered schedule and WFH availability for the foreseeable future.

        1. tangerineRose*

          Has your company thought that it might be cheaper to let you use a work printer (or get a cheap printer from somewhere) than to risk your health.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            Virtual faxing. You send a PDF to a fax machine via an online service. No printer, no fax, less risk.

    3. MistOrMister*

      This is why I don’t understand the rush to go back to the office in places where WFH is happening. I don’t have a separate work and home computer set up (I have a laptop, but can’t function using it long term. I really need the dual monitors to be able to work well). So to go to WFH we had to schlep all our office stuff home. It is going to be hugely aggravating to take it all back, say in July, only to potentially have to go back to WFH in August. And it just doesn’t make any sense to have us do that. I hope like heck more workplaces will see the light and continue WFH as long as possible. Shoot, I hope they go the Twitter route and tell us to WFH for the rest of forever if we’re so inclined!

      1. Zombeyonce*

        If you’re able to have dual monitors at home, you can just get a dock to hook your laptop up to them so you don’t have to lug a whole desktop back and forth.

    4. Librarian1*

      We still haven’t gotten through the first wave! We aren’t going to get a second wave in the fall, we are going to get a continuation and worsening of the first wave right through the summer and into the fall. I don’t know why everyone is still expecting a drop in infections over the summer, if that were going to happen, it would have started already. There are and have been plenty of cases in the southern hemisphere where it was summer when this first started.

      1. Ego Chamber*

        Yeah, those people are all looking at the models where the infection rate and deaths dropped off (due to staying inside as much as possible, masks and social distancing when not possible) and they’re going to get really extra shout-y about the models being wrong when cases and deaths go back up even though they weren’t doing the thing the models are based on (and they don’t trust models anyway but this one agreed with them so).

  9. RCB*

    I’d be tempted to go a little snarky when talking to the boss and add “Assuming people are screwing around when they work from home is a sign of bad management because it means you only view work as sitting at a desk in the office instead of focusing on deliverables, would you like me to find some resources for you to help you understand the issue better and learn how to accurately assess the productivity of your staff?”

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’d recommend against language that strong….although a rewrite would work at an exit interview on your way to your new job.
      “Assuming people are screwing around when they work from home is insulting. Work is more about the deliverables not about sitting at a desk in the office. There are good ways to monitor productivity — you’re using some of the metrics already, but you didn’t believe them. And you refused others as simple as checking emails with employee status updates.”

      1. RCB*

        I find that when dealing with idiots you have to be as blunt as possible or they won’t get it. When you tiptoe around them they don’t get what you are saying, or don’t think it applies to them, so sometimes you just have to lay it all out there for them so it really sinks in. If nothing else you’ve spoken truth to power and can say you’ve done all you can do, and hold your head high regardless of the outcome.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I’d just start with “so you don’t trust me then?” and see where it goes…

  10. Heidi*

    I get the impression that this is not a coronavirus-specific problem. This boss just sounds like an ineffective boss. He doesn’t trust you to do your job, but doesn’t use email, which is one of the more effective tools to keep up with what people are doing. Washing your hands every 20 minutes is totally overkill if you’ve just been sitting in your sterilized space, but he won’t allow the social distancing that would best prevent infection within the office. The logical, level-headed appeal to reason is the right thing to do from OP’s perspective, but if this guy is not logical or level-headed to begin with, it may not solve the problem.

  11. Just stoppin' by to chat*

    My first thought when I read the last line “what’s the best way to handle this” was there likely isn’t, and that the LW should start looking for a new job. However, that may not be ideal in this job market depending on their industry, etc. So the best way to handle it is to try to ignore the comments, especially if you don’t think “Phil” would actually terminate anyone based solely on the WFH. But get that it’s annoying and demoralizing!

    1. OP*

      Phil has only fired one person in the time I’ve been here and that was actually a demonstrable case of slacking. The person was taking 2-3 hour lunches, rarely finishing their work on time, and making significant mistakes. Even then, it took Phil about a year to pull the trigger. So I’m not afraid of anyone being fired here unless something similar happens.

      1. J.B.*

        Ah. So a micromanager who doesn’t have time to manage. I am familiar with the type. Annoying, but definitely more about him than any employees.

  12. Carol B (but not that one)*

    +1 for pushing back reasonably as a group! Phil is choosing to ignore the quantifiable data of how much work is being done, and letting his own insecurity/discomfort control his thought process. Coming to him as a group in that, do you really not trust any of us? (but in the way Alison said. Integrity/morale/respectfully) is hopefully going to be enough for him to realize he’s being unreasonable and that what matters is that the team is still working well together and that the work is still getting done!

    And, way to go on being more productive right now LW! You’re doing great, and your bosses hang ups are not a reflection of you as person

  13. SheLooksFamiliar*

    Phil reminds me of an old boss, and not in a good way. Remember when gas was $5 or more a gallon, way back in the mid-2000s? A lot of our staff were facing severe budget issues, just from gassing up 2x a week. Our CEO encouraged WFH whenever possible, which most department heads embraced. Not ours. This new department director refused to let us WFH. During a staff meeting, he told us, ‘When I’m at home I got ESPN goin’ in the background, I got my tunes on, and I can’t get work done. So I know firsthand that working from home is a bad idea. Not happening while I’m here.’

    One of our older team members commented, ‘Well, that’s because you’re doing it wrong. You weren’t working, you were chilling. If you’re interested, I can show you what a good WFH model looks like.’ If looks could kill…

    We never did get to WFH, which was fine. Most of us resigned soon after, myself included.

  14. Cordoba*

    I think my response would be predicated on how secure I feel in my job, and to what degree I think Phil’s dissatisfaction will actually impact my paycheck and livelihood.

    If LW is reasonably secure in their job then continue to take Phil’s money, ignore his ranting and sour comments, work from home when you can, and do the best you can at your actual job.

    If they’re not secure in their job, continue to take Phil’s money while they look for another better job.

    Either way, Phil is irrational and I don’t see much chance of his perspective on this changing.

  15. Archaeopteryx*

    Correct him, every time. If he says he doesn’t want you screwing around, say, “actually, I was using the bathroom.” If he says someone is not working, say, “No, he’s working from home, he’s done x and y today and I know he’s available by email.” Don’t let those comments pass without pushback.

    1. Mama Bear*

      And I think everyone on the team should start doing this. Also, remind him about those emails he’s not reading. “I cc’d you on the llama report on Monday.”

    2. OP*

      Rest assured that I do push back on the comments but nothing really sticks. He has a bad habit of making a comment or asking a question, letting the person start to speak, and then speaking over them or just not acknowleding what was said. EX:

      Phil: Where were you? I called you and it went to voicemail.
      OP: I was in–
      Phil: I need you at your computer and not screwing around.
      OP: I wasn’t, I got up to–
      Phil: Are you working? What are you working on?
      OP: I am working on X, I was in the bathroom when you called.
      Phil: When you’re done with X, you need to do Y. Work on that please thank you.

      He does this to everyone, even senior employees.

      1. revueller*

        Oh lordy, you have a REALLY bad case of Your Boss Sucks And Is Never Gonna Change. I’m almost glad he’s so tech-illiterate as you describe elsewhere; I can’t imagine what he’d do with the spyware and Baby Cams for Adults tools out there. Best I recommend is to conspicuously flush the next time he does this particular situation to you. I’m sorry to have no further advice beyond Alison’s — just lots of sympathy.

      2. MissDisplaced*

        I wish I had better advice for you OP, but sadly I don’t think it will matter what you say or present him with. Phil sucks and you probably can’t change him.

        I won’t say run, because that doesn’t help either. The best you can do is refute when you can, or ignore to survive. If there is anyone higher up than Phil, perhaps you can have them intercede. But I’d consider moving on at a future point if you feel you can no longer stand it.

        1. Axel*

          @A.S. Not helpful. ADHD doesn’t make you a controlling jerk or a bad boss. Phil may or may not have ADHD, but this is irrelevant to the problem at hand, which is that he’s an intolerable unpleasant person to work for. That’s not a ‘potential learning disability’ problem that’s a Phil problem.

        2. Random IT person*

          That`s keyboard diagnosing.
          He could simply be a bad manager, bad person, or just clueless…

  16. sofar*

    A few others have flagged the not-reading-email thing. This may be WAY off, but I wonder if Phil has reading problems and/or tech illiteracy. I worked for a small company like this, where the founder/CEO was did NOT read his email and was constantly stopping by desks for updates (despite being CC’d) on everything. He’d also frequently ask for e-mails to be read aloud to him. New employees were trained quickly by to NEVER say any variation of, “I cc’d you” or “I emailed you.”

    One of our accounting people once had to WFH to care for her husband after surgery, and our CEO exhibited a lot of Phil-like behavior. Granted this was years ago, before WFH became a norm. But I had constant conversations with my version of Phil, where he’d bluster about an accounting matter not being done because Sue was “off,” and I’d have to say, “Sue just e-mailed me about it. An hour ago. And now I’m literally completing my part of the paperwork, because Sue sent it to me. An hour ago. Via the internet.”

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I worked somewhere where we had a very good regular employee in a job where the Most Important Part of His Duties was reliably being there at a godawful hour in the morning. But tons of his work wasn’t done because he was a functional illiterate, and if you pointed out that he hadn’t done something, he’d get snippy and irritated with you until you backed down. And since he wasn’t in our department, but he processed some paperwork for our department, we suffered the consequences of missing paperwork but couldn’t do anything to manage him because we weren’t his supervisor.

      It was tough.

      1. Temperance*

        Okay, I just have to know …. how is someone with no functional literacy processing paperwork and considered a good employee? How does that work?

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Especially if he’s rude and snippy about people telling him he hasn’t done things.

    2. many bells down*

      I had to help my grandboss with a computer issue and while I was on his screen I saw he had 4500 unread emails. He also hates email. A lot.

    3. MsMaryMary*

      That is a good point. Some small business CEO types have been out of the trenches for a long time, so they either are rusty with technology or never learned how to use it. The CEO of OldJob founded his company in the 80s and always had an assistant (or more than one). He never learned out to use Outlook, Word, Excel… Once smart phones and tablets were invented he could send and read email, but nothing beyond that. He had a giant desk in his office and the only things on it were his ipad and his office phone.

    4. WorkingGirl*

      Ugh, people like this infuriate me. It’s almost always the higher-ups, usually older, who almost always have been in the business for ages, because no way would a younger/newer person even get hired if they couldn’t read email!

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yup. And it’s not that they *can’t* read email or learn to use basic office tech – people with actual disabilities like visual impairments usually use some sort of assistive technology for what they can. It’s that they’re too lazy and they prefer to inconvenience everyone around them instead.

        Some of them see it as “beneath them” or “secretarial work” – generally also meaning “women’s work”. Some of them are just incompetents who somehow lucked into money and decided they wanted to play entrepreneur despite their lack of actual skills and knowledge. (See also: the post from the other day about clueless rich jerks who run art galleries.)

    5. OP*

      Yes, 100%. He has self-admitted language issues and is very bad with technology (which is part of why I was hired, I’m basically an error-catcher and facilitator for all of our company’s procedures, much of which requires me to coach him through a lot of computer-related functions since he’s the final gatekeeper on deliverables). He won’t give anyone else access to his email for sorting, though, which means that if something ever gets sent to him without another person CCd, it’s basically gone forever.

      The other frustrating side of it is that he’ll call one of us (on the phone or into his office) for an update on Complex Task A, which puts us on the spot to suddenly recall all details of Complex Task A, and if we have to take a second to check on those details then he gets all bent out of shape about us not working/focusing hard enough, which then feeds into his micromanaging impulse even more. Wouldn’t be an issue with email where we could remind ourselves of the details before we replied.

      1. leeapeea*

        Sounds like old-school printed memos might be the answer here (the pre-email”cya email”.)

  17. DaisyC*

    I can’t read the answer. Following the link, I get: “You’ve reached your monthly article limit.”
    Does anyone else get this message? I don’t go to this site very often so I wonder what this is about.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      You get three free views a month, and then after that, you have to pay. It’s how they pay their writers, like Alison.

    2. Laney Boggs*

      You can copy the link into a private/incognito window.

      Many news websites like the New Yorker, NYT, and WaPo will allow you to read a handful of free articles per month and then require you to subscribe.

        1. virago*

          It’s not just a news website problem, either.

          In an earlier comment, Sam said:

          “I was super frustrated to see the other day that Costco has a paywall too! If you exceed some small amount of free sample food, you actually have to pay for the food you want to take home. Super frustrating.”

  18. Jedi Squirrel*

    “Oh, Phil, just read your email. You’ll see that we’re working.”

    And then walk away, doing the gradually increasing evil laugh thing. (I’m thinking Vincent Price from the end of “Thriller”.)

  19. Artemesia*

    While it is difficult to get new jobs in a pandemic — it may not be impossible. The OP has a job which apparently is easily quantifiable — and is good at it. I would start building the world’s greatest cover letter and resume and begin a leisurely search for something better. Maybe it will take months — but she has months and this guy will never trust her or others to be competent self directed adult humans. Who needs this?

  20. Whatever it takes*

    Some warped part of my brain wants to butter up the nincompoop and gush about how absolutely * b r I l l I a n t * he was to hire a whole team who are so obviously adjusting “in these difficult times”.

  21. BadWolf*

    Boy, it would be quite tempting for everyone working from home to actually start slacking…and when everything crashes and burns, be all, “Well we were working hard at home, but you kept saying we weren’t…so we didn’t.”

  22. RabbitRabbit*

    My division’s boss was not real fond of WFH before the pandemic; it was very much a “you need to request this far in advance and it should probably be For A Real Reason” sort of a thing. We used to have to prepare a worksheet with time breakdowns of what we worked on, so I pushed it one step further and created a detailed spreadsheet that would record everything to the nearest minute (and didn’t take that long to fill out once I had it set up), and attach it as an appendix to show my entire work day. Eventually the time reporting requirement got dropped, but we were told to expect spot-checks on a random basis, which is fine.

    I’m happy that not only, post-pandemic, have we been doing well with WFH, we’re actually not returning to the office at least until fall as a result of our good productivity.

    1. MistOrMister*

      The spreadsheets..ugh! I had a dept where you had to do those and it was such a time suck. You had to put so much information that sometimes adding a task to the spreadsheet took more time than doing the task itself. It was maddening.

  23. WellRed*

    I am livid on your behalf. I’d have a hard time not saying something to the effect of, “I am working X hours per day, my productivity is X, etc. How is that not working?” asshat douche canoe

    1. Blueberry*

      Heartily seconded. Which I’m not recommending! But I would also be so tempted to respond exactly that way. Maybe even with the last three words.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        Indeed. “asshat douche canoe” has just become a part of my vocabulary.

  24. Pumpa Rumpa*

    I was allowed to WFH one day a week at my old job. I once mentioned to a co-worker that I had taken a bike ride during my lunch break. My director overheard the conversation and made some “jokes” about me not really working. I had worked with him long enough to know that he wasn’t actually joking. Even though I had done nothing wrong, he made me feel so bad that I never so much as went on a walk on days I worked from home.

  25. Coffee Please*

    I agree to what folks have said above. I also think the pandemic is causing managers to try to exert control over their employees since they’re feeling a loss of control elsewhere. This is NOT a reflection of the employees’ performance, just a manager not handling this crisis in a professional manner.

  26. MarchwasMay*

    But if you’re NOT working better from home? Normally, when WFH was once a week — I was normally more productive. (I’m a tech writer with very long deadlines for our guides, which will then be stopped in a bottleneck for months and months before they get released.) But depression/etc. is a slog, my executive dysfunction is horrendous (I know what I SHOULD do, and I know all the tips and strategies — I’m just not DOING these things), so many days I *am* just pretending to work — wiggling the mouse enough so Skype doesn’t drop me into “away” status, and hoping I’ll have enough “good days” to hit my end of month deadline, or to have enough work done to ask for a reasonable extension.

    Closer management wouldn’t help, and my state is NOT read to re-open, I’m just basically an awful worker, basically. (I was told this job would be much more collaborative when I was hired in late 2018, but it’s not. 4 of us on separate projects with no overlap. Collaboration can often short-circuit my worst tendencies, as can an appreciative end-user, but there is no feedback here.)

    Sorry to rant. I just get bummed seeing ideal employees being MORE ideal.

    1. starsaphire*

      Just sending hugs, because I hear you. I struggle too, and I just have to let the bad days be bad days and not punish myself by “working” longer hours each day when I am at 10% productivity instead of 100%.

      Wishing you a bouquet of better days!

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      It comes and goes for all of us. Onsite, I’m able to take some time to do a 5S pass (“sort, standardize, straighten, shine, sustain”). Off-site, I find myself feeling guilty if I do that while I’m logged in. And yet, I feel better for having tackled something concrete like that.
      Good luck!

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      If it helps, go back to the last letter and look up the user “Seven hobbits are highly effective, people”. You are not alone.

      The AAM readership has a strong skew, but we do know that not everyone is the same, and what works for some is hard for others. Be kind to yourself, and do what you can.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, I’ve also long been disheartened by the AAM commentariat’s skew toward self-proclaimed superstar employees, although I suspect a lot of that skew is self-serving bias. I’m mediocre *at best* and I have long known it.

        1. WellRed*

          Interesting take. THere’s a lot of that, sure, but there’s also so many folks with ANXIETY and other concerns that I feel a lot of comments skew that way, to the point they overlook the substance of what letter writers are asking about. FWIW, today I am a very mediocre employee. Hoping to pick it back up tomorrow.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          The skew I meant was more ‘prefers wfh / doesn’t do the social stuff easily’ but I didn’t want to label it ‘introverted / misanthropic’, as I don’t think that’s the actual split. I’m neither, but I don’t mix work / social, because social outside of geeks is hard for me.

          I’m a good employee – consistently in the 2nd tier in assessments – but not a superstar, and I don’t see most of the others here proclaiming superstardom. I see mostly people like me, who are doing pretty well, but are interested in what it takes to do better.

    4. BRR*

      Know that you’re not alone. A lot of people really really really don’t like working from home or aren’t as productive working from home. I believe there was at least one Thursday ask the readers column that might help or post on the Friday open thread.

    5. Ryan Howard*

      Just chiming in to say same. I’m relieved to see there are others that feel this way. Everyone else is talking about how much more productive they are, and I’m miserable and unfocused.

    6. emmelemm*

      Don’t worry, I feel you here. I also have very long and non-immediate deadlines and it’s really hard to make progress from home, for a variety of reasons, distraction, etc., plus the fatalistic “well, does anything matter anyway in two months?” thoughts…

    7. Tau*

      All the hugs. I am 100% less productive and more miserable at home, and it’s not fun hearing all my coworkers go on about how great it’s working for them. (I also had to move back in with my parents because otherwise executive function would make my life a nightmare so, fun.)

      The thing being that I expect my company to let me WFH anyway, because although my productivity is worse it’s still within the realm of reason and hello, it’s a global pandemic! At the moment, my contribution to the overall infection rate in our society is in fact more important than my contribution to my (nonessential) job!

      …Phil annoys me.

    8. pamplemousse*

      I’m very similar to you — do well with collaboration, praise, and attentive management, have always known I’d do badly in a full-time WFH situation, have diagnosed ADHD (terrible executive functioning), etc. — and a lot of my days look like yours right now. I’ve never been the most consistent worker, but have always had an excellent reputation regardless because my good days are REALLY good. But now I’m not having many good days. It sucks. I’m sorry. You aren’t alone.

    9. MissDisplaced*

      I’d say maybe what you have is a poor job fit more than WFH/WFO thing.
      I do somewhat similar work, and it can be frustrating, boring, or you get writers block, so yes, I do have WFH days like that. But I also had in-office days like that, and sometimes those were way worse because you’d have to sit there with everyone around you.

      1. MayLou*

        I’m having issues because my job is split over two roles. One is an admin position and 90% of my work has vanished because we’re not in the office (one colleague who is 100% admin full time is working from the office and dealing with the post, and in everything else we’ve finally gone paperless). The other role used to involve booked appointments with clients, and those have been suspended due to the pandemic. The result is that I have about two hours of substantive work to do each day and six hours of feeling like a waste of space but being semi-chained to my desk in case something happens. It’s awful and I need to talk to my manager about it quite seriously. I was only just adequately-worked before, and now I’m dramatically under-worked. I can’t be productive without the pressure of lots of other things to get done.

    10. J.B.*

      I’m sorry. I think that work from home right now is more effective for a fairly narrow group of people: those whose jobs require concentration and work that can be done mostly independently (with enough connectivity when needed to consult) who do not also have major distractions at home. I am good on the first count, but have kids. So not very effective here.

      Anxiety is normally my biggest barrier when it raises its head at work. The best coping strategy is to go easy on myself – remember that when your lizard brain gets activated you do very hard physical work and need to rest. So rest when possible.

    11. OP*

      Oh goodness, I hope I didn’t accidentally come across obnoxiously in my letter. If what I said about my performance was exclusionary or otherwise unpleasant, I really do apologize. I am extremely fortunate to be thriving while WFH and I know that’s not the case for everybody. I live alone with no kids and quiet neighbors and I have a very good home computer. It is by pure luck that I am finding myself with motivation and a good environment. If anyone is putting you down by comparing you to your coworkers, they’re big giant douche wagons that need to take the first train to mind-their-own-business-ville.

      1. MarchwasMay*

        It wasn’t you — it just seems that MANY list themselves as superstars, and

        Wrong fit overall — definitely! I took this to get out of adjuncting for 12 years, which suited me temperamentally, but I really need some full-time pay. Just before the pandemic hit, I was thinking that I want a job back in the world of colleges/universities, ideally in course-hybridization/LMS support, but open to anything where I would be working with students & faculty. (Disability support services would be a great way to build on my experience at this current position, working with assistive technology.) Right now, so many schools near me are on a hiring freeze, that I am probably parked here for another year at least.

        Thank you everyone for your commiseration! It definitely helps.

        Also, through the rest of the week, I’ll be dividing this one “User Guide” into the 8-10 “Quick Tasks” I’m kind of writing it as (but I’m bouncing around which chunk I’m working on), and see if my team lead is open to me altering my deadline so that, for example, 3-4 QTs will be completely drafted by the end of the month, 3 in the next 2 weeks, 3 2 weeks after that. [Otherwise I’ll just need to request one BIG extension.] It will give ME some smaller projects that are still “real”; it will give my department/team more specific documents to announce (so we appear way more productive; and end users SEEM to prefer shorter, focused documents . (In the past, my team lead doesn’t think we can create Quick Tasks without being SMEs, but each of my Quick Tasks are based on existing documents aimed at non-assistive-tech using employees).

  27. Batgirl*

    “My guess is that because Phil isn’t physically seeing us work, he assumes we aren’t working. CCing him on stuff to leave “proof” doesn’t work because he doesn’t read his email”
    I think he’s a pretty visual person. Seeing is literally believing to this guy. The lack of email reading is concerning, but sometimes people are very bad at one particular communication method. Its possible he might respond to another.
    What about dropping him the odd quick video call (I do this on WhatsApp) just to try and mitigate this lack of inference? He gets to see your workstation and lack of background distractions (Which isn’t a problem for most of us but would be a good thing to show him) and just address the concern: “Hey you wanted to know what I was working on today. I’ve finished x and sent you the finished product on email. I’m going to work on y unless there’s another priority?”
    If he prefers in person communication where he can get visual facial feedback while being nudged to check email, this may do it. It’s more managing up than most people would want to do, though.

    1. Batgirl*

      But obviously clear it first: “If you want a check in I can video call you when I’m done”

  28. Richard Hershberger*

    It will be fascinating to see how WFH plays out, once we are out of lockdown. How will the Phils of the world try to go back to the good old days? Will they succeed, or will this become such a red flag that the Phils can’t hire good employees?

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Another Alison and I went back and forth on this in the last note. Right now, I’m on ‘the ability to choose WFH / WFO and move back and forth between them seamlessly’ will become a hiring advantage, but still really questioning my assumptions.

    2. Delta Delta*

      I think in some industries we’re going to see businesses shrink their rental spaces as they realize they don’t always need so many people present all the time. Good businesses, when they return to Normal Times, may assess what happened during The Weirdness and figure out what to keep and to integrate going forward. I think that could become a big point for companies in hiring.

      1. Windchime*

        This is what my office is doing. They ended their lease on our expensive, downtown office space early. We need to make appointments to go pick up our personal items. In the future we will be 100% WFH except for once or twice a month when we need to go in for team meetings. When that happens, we will have hotelling. I am so, so relieved that I will no longer have to do that horrible commute.

    3. RemoteHealthWorker*

      Honestly given the number of companies not even letting people work from home now and the “be grateful you even have a job” attitude returning with a vengence I’m skepticle.

      Maybe if unions were becoming common gain.

  29. MistOrMister*

    I have to say, I find the washing hands every 20 minutes thing bizarre. Seems to me it makes more sense to wash your hands based on what you come into contact with, not based on how long it’s been since your last wash!

    My boss is really good about leaving us be with WFH. If she’s tracking us she is doing so in a super low key way because I haven’t noticed it. A boss outside my department went the opposite way, requiring a lot of check ins at multiple tines a day and some changes that make it easier for her to see if you’re actively on your computer. She’s not as bad as Phil, but I wonder how much of that is because we’re bigger and she can’t make people come in against the general work from home order for the company.

    OP you have my sympathy and I hope you are able to push back successfully and get Phil to back off. I don’t understand these employers who assume WFH can’t be done in a tustworthy manner. It’s like they don’t understand how to track the work. And while there are certainly distractions at home, there are plenty at work too!!

    1. Amethystmoon*

      I have never heard of every twenty minutes . I heard it was you counted twenty seconds. Like one Mississippi, two Mississippi, etc. I maybe could see it in food service but in an office?

      1. OP*

        Every 20-30 mins is more accurate, and it isn’t so much a timed requirement as it is him coming to our desks regularly and saying “Wash your hands, it’s been a while since you washed your hands, finish X and then go wash them, tell Travis to do it after you.” He has calmed down a bit on this in the past couple weeks.

        1. MistOrMister*

          Still seems kind of crazy to me! I suppose it could maybe be helpful if there’s a lot of moving around the office, touching shared supplies. Otherwise I don’t understand it. I generally only wash my hands after touching something that isn’t on my desk. If I go to the copier i’ll wash my hands or use sanitizer. If I’m at my own computer for an hour without moving, I’m not going to stop to wash/sanitize…I don’t much see the point.

        2. tangerineRose*

          Phil sounds very ineffective and like someone who doesn’t get much real work done.

    2. Kettricken Farseer*

      I have an employee who has been working from home for a few years because his immune system is compromised. Recently he was complaining about having to wash his hands every 20 minutes during the workday. He lives alone. He doesn’t have visitors. I asked why he was washing his hands when hasn’t come in contact with any people, and he said, “I thought that’s what we were supposed to do.” No thought as to the ‘why’ of it.

  30. Annie Hanson*

    I would agree with what the writer has indicated-that working from home has actually increased their productivity. I have had a similar experience. I was really struggling at work prior to COVID-19 striking, to the point I had actually been put on a performance improvement plan back in February, and ironically our agency’s critical role in the coronavirus response (I work for the health department in my state) has forced me to be much better in my position. As the leave management coordinator, I play a key role in the process of how employees qualify for and use paid COVID leave, and when I get a break from those responsibilities my work on other leaves of absence (FMLA, etc) has really improved! I may just keep my job after the COVID response has started to wind down!

    I wish you success in having a candid and positive conversation with your manager! More than ever, now is the time to advocate for ourselves in the workplace, regardless of that actual location! I know we’re weary of the phrase but working from home really is “the new normal”.

    1. James*

      I second that WFH can increase productivity. I don’t have to worry about a commute, or coordinating my schedule with my kids. I have better coffee. And I can turn on my music, tone out the world, and dig into projects in a way that I can’t in an office where people are constantly popping in to ask for information.

      It saves the company money too. Think of the overhead they’re not wasting. Office rentals aren’t cheap. Utilities aren’t cheap. Amenities like coffee, paper, pens, and the like add up. If you’re working from home the company can get as much productivity out of you and lower their overhead, increasing their margins. Okay, it’s a risk–some folks will slack off–but with risk comes rewards. Who doesn’t want to be the CEO that earned an extra 10% margin above the quarterly goal?

  31. BRR*

    This is somewhat alluded to in the letter but isn’t explicitly stated. While YOU can tell when anyone is slacking, can Phil? If you/your coworkers have easily tracked metrics/productivity, make sure Phil can see them and use them to prove your point.

    My boss, my grandboss even more, and my employer do not like WFH and we don’t really have it (except when we have to work nights or weekends to finish things, isn’t that weird?). When we were notified the office was closing my grandboss reminded us work from home is still work. It was incredibly insulting because when I started in my role last year, I set up a system to track my work. We have to send weekly summaries of what we did and thankfully I can easily say I did a, b, and c but I’m an adult. An adult that will be keeping this in mind when my field is hiring again.

    1. Batgirl*

      Going by what OP says upthread about the handwashing, Phil probably feels like he himself is slacking if he’s not bothering his employees every 20 minutes. I don’t think he has the first idea what a manager does and confuses managing with being a presence and source of pressure. Like a lot of insecure managers, he’s mostly worried about what he is doing, and doing rather too much of what’s necessary.

  32. Fikly*

    This has nothing to do with OP, and everything to do with Phil, but sadly, nothing is going to change Phil here.

  33. JustMyOpinion*

    Welcome to the federal government. We are at 100% telework during this pandemic. Despite our productivity being such that several have said they can’t even tell we are teleworking, our higher ups have basically said they simply hate teleworking and to not get used to it. Our jobs are not customer facing and easily done from home. This is why I’m looking for a new job (or at least a more forward thinking agency).

    1. My Boss is Dumber Than Yours*

      Fortunately, it’s not all of the federal government, but it definitely sucks that you’re in this situation. My mother is SES , and she’s definitely been vocal is pushing work from home for everyone who can do it (which it’s only so much for DOJ…)

  34. Amethystmoon*

    I’ve seen this before. Had a boss where if you worked from home, you had to email when you started, email when you ended, and email what you did that day. My current job is so transparent, everyone has access to what we do & is highly visible. If work didn’t get done, people would complain loudly. So I work. Plus there is the being unemployed in 14+% unemployment hanging over our heads. Why risk it?

  35. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Managers like this are my worst nightmare. I’ve had one. She claimed that she couldn’t see what I was doing when I wasn’t in the office. The truth was that I got more work done from home because I didn’t have someone stopping at my desk every 5 minutes and didn’t have to listen to her chatting with everyone around me. Unless your manager is standing over your shoulder all day every day, they have no idea what you’re doing every second.

    And as an aside, if you’re not coming into contact with others outside of your office, working from home a few days a week is pointless – if someone contracts the virus and is asymptomatic, staying home 2 days a week won’t help the situation.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      This. I can’t get anything done at the office because of constant interruptions.

      But, yes staying home 2 days a week does reduce the amount of contact time you have with someone, and so there is less of a window for possible transmission.

  36. Andy*

    Off Topic/ Related:
    there are a couple of people above commenting with work-arounds for the paywall. You guys. That’s kind of someone’s job you’re messing with.
    Allison’s job.
    Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

    1. anon for this one*

      Yeah, I think people think it’s like saying “If you want to read the book without buying it, you can just get it from the library,” but it’s more like “If you want to read the book without buying it, just run into a bookstore and steal it — information wants to be free, it’s fine!”

      1. londonedit*

        Totally. I recently had to explain to a friend who was sharing a PDF of a particular book around that you really shouldn’t do that, because publishing companies like the one I work for make their money from actual sales of physical books and ebooks, and if everyone just distributes the content among themselves, that’s kind of stealing. She absolutely hadn’t even considered the fact that there was an organisation staffed by actual people behind the production of said book – she just saw it as ‘Hey! Free book!’

  37. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    We had a Phil. Our Phil was a huge drain on the morals, and tended to generate a lot of extra busywork to make sure that tabs were being properly kept on everybody. Thankfully our Phil was laid off six months before the lockdowns started. You cannot change a Phil. I’d be looking, to be honest (if the market in OP’s field allows, of course). If the CEO of the company makes it clear that he does not trust any of his employees to do their job unless they’re, as the old joke goes, “under constant supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap”, then what else does he not trust them with? How will it factor into the company’s business decisions, raises, promotions etc? How can his employees trust him to do anything right, when his judgment is so far off on something so basic?

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Typo: A huge drain on the morale, of course. Our morals were not impacted by Phil. This is embarrassing!

      1. Indy Dem*

        lol at morals change from Phil – Phil made us do things we never would have thought of doing. Carol from accounting started to shoplift! Stan from shipping embezzled! Karen from HR… no, she was always awful, that’s not on Phil.

  38. Kettricken Farseer*

    I wonder if he’s had an issue before with people on the team actually blowing off work while working from home. I had an employee a few years ago who would call her work from home day a “day off”. Once I was looking for her, and finally had to text her to ask her where she was. Apparently she was out running errands – and it wasn’t during a regular lunch hour or anything like that. I asked her if she would just up and leave the workplace without telling anyone if she was working in the office and she agreed that she wouldn’t. She retired shortly after.

    Thankfully, the rest of my team are all WFH full-time with no end in sight and they’re all great.

    1. Blueberry*

      Yeah, such a worker would be the very definition of Why We Can’t Have Nice Things. OTOH one would think Phil could eventually recognize the difference between such a person and his hardworking crew now.

      1. Faith*

        Yeah, we had a person like that who lost us our WFH privileges pre-COVID. Managers didn’t want to or couldn’t manage her, even though it was obvious she wasn’t working outside of the office (the rest of us would continually be stuck waiting on her for things), so they just took WFH from all of us in our department to make her come in. It was stupid, and if it weren’t for other things at work being decent, I’d have started to look elsewhere.

        At least now we all have our WFH back.

    2. OP*

      As far as I know, we have never had office workers WFH before. Phil does some financial stuff at home infrequently and some of our field workers bleed their field tasks into home tasks occasionally, but as an organized thing this is unprecedented.

  39. Free Meerkats*

    It sounds like you have hard data on how productive you and your coworkers have been. Lay out this data in whatever form your boss likes and lay it out for him in black and white (and maybe colorful graphs!) “Here’s the data on how WFH has affected productivity; it shows we should be doing more of it, not less.”

    Good luck.

    1. OP*

      Our job isn’t quantifiable in the traditional sense (i.e. not able to be shown in an excel sheet) but it’s easy to tell when one piece isn’t working since our procedures are lock-step. If Tammy doesn’t do her work, Brenda can’t proceed with her work, so on and so forth until Phil gets an angry call from VIP Bob because a deliverable is late. My job is to make sure there are no delays in our procedures (sort of an error-catcher), meaning I’m the first person to know when there is a delay. I determine if the delay is in our hands or not and I either fix it myself or delegate it. I consult with Phil on big fixes for bad mistakes or repeated delays.

      The deliverables in our industry are kinda huge nebulous things that are also hard to present in a “ta-da!” fashion. The best I could do would be a big list of individually completed tasks but I don’t know if that would be worth the time it would take to compile.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I know that presenting the data seems to be a good way to convince managers WFH can be productive. However, in my experience, the people who are so irrational will never be convinced, no matter what data or how much data you show. Because they just don’t “like” WFH but won’t admit that.

      I have a situation like this with a superior at work that’s not about WFH. I produced all sorts of industry research, trends and data, and basically the person still has a conniption every time they see it. I think they just don’t want to admit they were wrong.

      1. revueller*

        Yep, from OP’s comments and discussion of reasonable pushback, this boss is a stubborn, set-in-his-ways micromanager who will not change (especially not from employee pressure).

  40. Erin*

    If Phil isn’t even reading his emails, it might be more about what he’s doing right now.
    I changed jobs recently, and just in time, because I hear my ex boss is behaving this way.
    But we worked closely enough and I know the way they work, and actually they don’t. Which is why they’re sure no one else is, either.
    I wonder if that’s what’s going on with Phil, too.

  41. TiredMama*

    Gah, so dumb. My best guess is that HE does not work from home when he says he is working from home or has trouble working from home and therefore assumes that everyone does.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      Yes, I have to admit that I suspect it is either this, or what someone said above about how he has had that problem with a remote worker in the past and it’s influencing him now.

      My ex boss Umbridge was a Phil – she left a year ago so I never got the opportunity to see how she would have responded to the pandemic, but while discussing this recently with a friend she said that she thought Umbridge wouldn’t have let us work from home (although I don’t know if she would have been overruled by grandboss) and that sometimes Umbridge did non work things while working from home.

      In this particular case, Umbridge had dropped the ball on managing a remote worker in the past – when she took over as manager she inherited an arrangement set up by her predecessor that Minerva worked remotely for all bar one afternoon per week. Minerva only did finance, which Umbridge didn’t understand, and Umbridge pretty much just left her to get on with it and managed her in name only, where she micromanaged the rest of us. This led to a situation where Umbridge had no real handle on what Minerva did.

      This blew up when Umbridge agreed for Minerva to take on the finance for another team, without saying anything to her first, and because Umbridge didn’t know what Minerva did, she couldn’t understand why Minerva couldn’t fit that into her 15 hour working week. When Minerva tried to explain, Umbridge realised she dropped the ball and needed to get a better idea of what Minerva did. Unfortunately she worded it in such a way that it came across as though she was accusing Minerva of slacking. It got way out of hand and ended up in both employees leaving.

  42. Quill*

    LW, your CEO gives me hives.

    And now they’re erupting, and, oh no – they’re full of evil bees!

  43. Erstwhile Lurker*

    I recently worked for a Phil. Nice guy, but his insistence on micromanagement summoned forth levels of rage heretofore unseen.

    In the end I just had to challenge him on it, and ask him to put himself in my shoes. It did work to make him back off, but you could tell he was just bursting with frustration as he tried to suppress that desire to interfere every 5 minutes.

    I actually felt sorry for him to be honest, if he was in any way secure there would be no need to try and control everyone and everything in sight.

  44. JP*

    My ex boss was like this as well. Fortunately she is not longer my boss, but she basically froze me out when I started working from home because of COVID. She refused to answer any emails I sent her, to the point where I had to go to a couple VPs whose work I couldn’t complete because of her lack of response. A coworker emailed her about a billing issue that involved me, and she responded to him (cc’ing me) that I was working from home and that he would have to wait until I was back in the office to address the issue. Except I was sitting in front of my work computer, you know, working, and I addressed the issue immediately, making sure to cc her on my response. Coworker seemed to pick up on the vibe as well, and responded with a rather overenthusiastic thank you to me, with her cc’ed again.

    I still puzzle over aspects of her behavior, but I think the work from home thing was about control for her. I think it was just an ego thing. She felt threatened by her employees’ ability to work competently and independently from her control.

  45. La Triviata*

    I’ve been hearing about companies that require people working from home to install tracking software, so they can see what they’re actually doing. This strikes me as being a good way to drive off people who want to do the work, but want or need to work from home.

    I guess I’m lucky where I am – I can’t work from home, so I come into the office every day, but everyone else is working from home, although one person occasionally comes in to deal with some paperwork. They appreciate my being here, since I’m working with our accounting people to get checks deposited, as well as my usual work. I’m also doing things like watering the plants, making sure the water in our dispensers don’t go stagnant, the dishwasher doesn’t get mildew and things like that.

  46. Nonprofit Nancy*

    I think the there is a strong correlation between a boss who likes to yell across the office and a boss who doesn’t see any value in working from home.

  47. ITisnotEZ*

    Gee, I’d love to read this answer, but I guess you need to subscribe to The Cut to read the article.

  48. LCH*

    dear god, with all the other explanations about how it is to work for Phil in the comments, i would just leave. run far away.

Comments are closed.