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What your Boss Really Thinks of Remote Work

What your Boss Really Thinks of Remote Work


Lawrence Haywood 03 Oct 2022 8 min read

‘Pretend to work somewhere else’.

Those were the pretty famous and very damning words of Elon Musk, who in mid-2022, offered the strongest public rebuttal to the concept of remote work.

In short, he’s not a fan.

‘The office must be the actual place where your colleagues are located, not some remote pseudo office. If you don’t show up, we will assume you have resigned’.

It’s safe to say that Musk’s memo put a full stop on the idea of remote work at Tesla.

But you don’t work at Tesla, and the world’s richest man is not your boss. So the question is – what does your boss think about remote work?

Well, me and him/her go way back, so let me fill you in…

A Micromanager’s Nightmare

… fine, so I don’t know your boss.

But it’s probably fair to say that if they agree with Elon Musk’s stance on remote work, they’re an advocate of micromanagement.

If you often find them standing over your shoulder, reminding you to CC them into every email or demanding detailed reports for tasks that take you 5 minutes to do but half an hour to evaluate, you know your boss is a Musk.

And if that’s the case, I can almost guarantee that your boss is against remote work.

Why? Because micromanaging is so much harder with a remote team. They can’t tap persistently on your shoulder or aggressively count the minutes per day you spend in the bathroom.

Not that that’s stopped them from trying. Some of the more extreme cases of ‘overbearing boss’ syndrome came out of lockdown, with apocalyptic-sounding ‘bossware‘ that can track your monitor and even read your messages to determine how ‘happy’ you are.

The irony, of course, being that you’d be much, much happier if none of this was happening.

How to handle a micromanaging boss when WFH - CNN
Image courtesy of CNN.

This lack of trust from leaders translates to fear, high turnover and a purge of creativity from remote workers. Basically, no one is happy in a micromanaged workspace, and as a result, no one is productive.

But that’s not what you want to show to your autocratic boss, is it? You want to project the image of someone who works well under pressure and someone who refuses to look away from their computer even when they hear concerning guttural noises from their dog.

So what do you do? You become one of the millions of workers worldwide who waste 67 minutes a day doing inane work simply to make it look like they’re doing something.

If you’ve ever found yourself messaging on Slack, or moving random tasks around a kanban board, just to explicitly show your management that you haven’t returned to bed with a Netflix controller, then you’re absolutely being micromanaged. Or you’re just very insecure about your job position.

In the memo to his workers, Musk said ‘the more senior you are, the more visible must be your presence’. That’s because, at Tesla, a boss’ ‘presence’ is their authority. The more present they are, the more pressure there is for those underneath them to be present, too.

But also, those senior members being more present makes it easier for their seniors, including Musk, to keep an eye on them. It’s quite the tyrannical loop.

What’s clear is that this kind of tyranny is really hard to enforce with everyone so dispersed.

So, do your micromanaging boss a favour. Get to the office, glue your eyes to your screen and don’t even think about going to the bathroom, you’ve already filled your quota for the day.

A Team Builder’s Nightmare

Teams that play together, slay together.

Though I just made that quote on the spot, there’s quite a bit of truth to it. Bosses want their team members to gel because this leads to higher productivity in a very natural way, non-corporate way.

More often than not, they encourage this through team building games, activities, nights out and retreats. Very few of these are possible in a remote workspace.

As a result, your management can perceive your team as less cohesive and less cooperative. Which, to be honest, is totally justified, and can lead to a lot of problems like mismanaged workflows, low team morale and high turnover.

But the worst one of all is loneliness. Loneliness is the root of myriad problems in the remote work space and is the biggest contributor to unhappiness while working from home.

The solution? Virtual team building.

Though activity options are more limited online, they’re far from impossible. In fact, we’ve got 14 super easy remote team building games to try right here.

But there’s more to team building than games. Anything that improves communication and collaboration between you and your team can be considered team building, and there’s a lot that bosses can do to facilitate that online:

  • Cooking classes
  • Book clubs
  • Show and tells
  • Talent competitions
  • Tracking running times on leaderboards
  • Culture days hosted by team members from different parts of the world 👇
The AhaSlides office celebrating Indian culture day, hosted by our remote worker, Lakshmi.

The default position of most bosses is to see a list of virtual team builders and pursue none of them.

Sure they’re a pain to arrange, especially when it comes to the cost and the need to find the right time for everyone across multiple time zones. But any steps taken towards eradicating loneliness at work are very important steps for any company to take.

A Flexibility Dream

So the world’s richest man doesn’t like remote work, but what about the world’s strangest man?

Mark Zuckerberg is on a mission to take his company, Meta, to the very extremes of remote work.

Now, Tesla and Meta are two very different companies, so it’s not entirely surprising that their two CEOs have polar opposite opinions on remote work.

In Musk’s eyes, Tesla’s physical product requires a physical presence, whereas it would be a shock if, on his mission to build the virtual reality internet, Zuckerberg demanded that everyone involved be in one place to do so.

Regardless of the product or service your company pushes out, repeated studies side with Zuck on this one:

You are more productive when you’re flexible.

All you ever need to know about Remote Work
Image courtesy of Brightful.

One study from those long-lost years before the pandemic found that 77% of people are more productive when working remotely, with 30% managing to do more work in less time (ConnectSolutions).

If you’re still wondering how that could be, consider this: how much time do you spend doing non-work related stuff in the office?

You might not be able to say, but the data puts you and other office workers at spending around 8 hours per week doing non-work related stuff, including scrolling through social media, doing online shopping and engaging in personal tasks.

Bosses like Elon Musk are consistently blaming remote workers for a lack of effort, but in any normal office environment, that same lack of effort is pretty much built into the foundations, and it happens right under their noses. People cannot work consistently for 2 blocks of 4 or 5 hours and it’s unrealistic to expect them to do so.

All your boss can do is be flexible. Within reason, they should allow workers to choose their location, choose their hours, choose their breaks and choose to get stuck down a YouTube rabbit hole about fireflies while researching this article (sorry to my boss, Dave).

The end point of all that freedom in work is simply a lot more happiness. When you’re happy, you have less stress, more enthusiasm for work and more staying power on tasks and at your company.

The best bosses are those that centre their efforts around the happiness of their employees. Once that’s achieved, everything else will fall into place.

A Recruiter’s Dream

The first contact you had with remote work (or ‘telework’) was likely with Peter, the affable Indian fellow who would call you from a call centre in Bangalore and ask if you needed extended warranty on your chopping board.

Back in the 80s and early 90s, outsourcing like this was the only kind of ‘remote work’ there was. Given that your chopping board has long since been binned, the efficacy of outsourcing is up for debate, but it most certainly paved the way for the globe-spanning recruitment that many modern companies engage in today.

Zuckerberg’s Meta is one of the best examples of recruiting without geographical limits. At least count (June 2022) they had about 83,500 employees working across 80 different cities.

And it’s not just them. Pretty much every big dog you can think of, from Amazon to Zapier, has accessed a global talent pool and handpicked the best remote workers for the job.

You might be tempted to think that, with all this increased competition, your job is now constantly in peril of being passed onto another Peter from India, who could do the same work for a much lower cost.

Well, here’s two things to reassure you:

  1. It’s way more expensive to hire a new recruit than to keep you.
  2. This opportunity for global work benefits you, too.

The first one is fairly common knowledge, but we often seem blinded by fear to the second one.

The fact that more and more companies are hiring remotely is good news for your prospects going forward. You have access to so many more jobs than the ones directly within your country, city and district. As long as you can manage the time difference, you can work for any remote company in the world.

And even if you can’t manage the time differences, you can always work freelance. In the US, the ‘gig economy’ is growing 3 times faster than the actual workforce, meaning that if your ideal job isn’t up for freelance grabs now, it might well be in the future.

Freelance work has been a lifesaver for companies with some work to get done, but not enough to hire a full-time in-house member of staff.

It’s also a lifesaver for people who don’t mind forgoing a few company perks for the most extreme kind of work flexibility there is.

So no matter which way you look at it, remote work has been a revolution in recruiting. If neither you nor your company has felt the benefits yet, don’t worry, you will pretty soon.

Remote Work: Dream or Nightmare?

Remote Working vs Office: Pros and Cons for Recruiters - Eclipse Software
Image courtesy of Eclipse Software.

Unless you work at either Tesla or Meta, it’s unlikely you’ve experienced either end of the spectrum when it comes to anti-remote vs pro-remote workplaces.

The bottom line is that when we’re micromanaged and directed what to do, we have a hard time doing it. When we’re free to make our own decisions as to where and when we work, we’re so much more productive.

But even total independence from the office has its drawbacks. You’re more likely to feel lonely, and according to one study, less likely to be productive working remotely if you don’t like your job.

So it makes sense to see a trend in which bosses are balancing office work with remote work, and giving freedom to workers on how they want to split that up.

The perfect formula? According to this study3 days in the office and 2 remote – because the benefits of remote working start to dive after about 15 hours a week at home.

Just, whatever you do during those work hours, don’t tell your boss.

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