I hope your fall has been lovely so far. I love the fall season.
So, I had been testing negative for COVID continually all these years, even after family vacations abroad and heavy-duty in-person work. To be honest, I was beginning to quietly suspect that our family might be blessed with one of those “NOVID” genes, which some folks are jokingly saying is key to a small group of folks who seem to have special immunity against this virus.
Well, the infamous virus finally caught up with us, and one by one, my kids and I went down during the first week of back-to-school after returning from a beautiful stay in Italy. (I suspect my husband slept with his mask on in the car or something. He managed to stay clear!) Thankfully, we have all recovered since and are trying our best to reprioritize and make up for lost time.
Before COVID, in Italy with the kids
Photo credit: Chong Oh
This episode describes the idea of people going to work in their dining rooms on laptops enabled with monitoring software. The software keeps track of your computer use and keyboard activity and takes photos of your face at random times (I’ve seen this happen to my son when he was taking his Learner’s Permit test for his driver’s license online and it was jarring, to say the least!). It made me want to cry.
But the episode does a great job of surfacing a lot of important and nuanced issues related to managing a remote workforce. Here are a few points that I would love to get your thoughts on.
The idea of paying the employees only for the minutes they are actively “working,” as defined by the employer. Sure, that’s the norm for shift work, but it is more of a foreign concept for so-called white-collar employees, other than consultants. I also get paid per session for actively coaching or facilitating. But I work for myself, so I try to build into my fee (especially for corporate clients- I have a sliding scale fee) time spent on any planning, follow-up, thinking, and learning time I am not being paid for. Most remote employees do not have that say.
Many employers are not defining payable work activities properly. Legitimate and required work that is not done over the computer like reading and speaking with clients and colleagues is not included as payable work for many roles, which is nuts.
Some employees, especially women, were finding this system fair because it calls out colleagues who have managed to coast without doing any actual work. In fact, these tools found some truly derelict employees who in some extreme cases, were working more than one job at a time, (The Wall Street Journal has a crazy piece if you would like to take a read, These People Who Work From Home Have a Secret. Let me know if you need a PDF version.) watching movies or playing video games, etc.
Some workers who find working from home distracting, liked the extra motivation that productivity tracking provides to stay focused at work, like using a Fitbit to track their fitness activity.
Managers are having a really tough time trying to stay connected to their direct reports working from home. I can attest to this, as I have spoken with so many managers having trouble with unanswered Slack messages and voicemails and uncompleted projects at agreed deadlines without explanation. Its been hard for managers too.
The last point that made me crack up was the emergence of anti-tracking tools and tips and tricks developed by tracked workers. For the full range of products people are buying, check out this Slate article, The Exploding Market for Devices That Help You Evade Corporate Productivity Trackers. This reminded me of a second grader I heard about from a client. This student managed to put a video of himself, on a loop, paying attention and doing work during remote schooling. He did eventually get caught when the teacher called on him and he wouldn’t answer, but I don’t doubt this kid will grow up to do something big!
Ultimately, these ridiculous tools used by employees and controlling tactics used by employers to force everyone to work are the results of broken trust. Sigh. We know that trust is built over time through a series of small actions, and it is hard, though not impossible, to rebuild once broken. I hope that as we continue to adapt to our changing world, both sides can bring some empathy and goodwill and do our best to help each other move the work forward. Taking the extra effort to gain alignment with those we work with, not just agreement on what and how to do things, and continuing to have difficult conversations and to provide feedback will be important.
My son seems to be unable to clean our house, but he somehow shows up on weekends to clean up chicken and rabbit cages (trust me, they are as gross as they sound) and sweep the staircase (I have never seen him hold a broom!) at a local nature center because he loves animals and loves the place. He doesn’t need his supervisor to watch over him to see if he really fed that iguana.
Well, that’s enough musing for now.
Please stay healthy, and safe, and enjoy the beautiful fall.