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Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Working from home: The future of business is remote

This company's Zoom policy may be the worst I've ever heard

Working from home has made many companies reassess how they manage. Some manage to make things worse.

Zoom

Oh, look. Marius is applying moisturizer.

I tend to believe in the goodness of humanity.

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Except when it comes to love and money.

Especially except when it comes to the love of money.

So when working from home became compulsory for many, I worried some companies might take advantage.

Some fine bosses have decided this is the perfect moment to spy on their employees, with the rise of helpfully intrusive new software.

And then there's this. The company that insists employees are on Zoom all the time.

Writing to workplace advice columnist Alison Green in New York magazine's The Cut, a troubled employee revealed that her -- unnamed, for obvious reasons -- company was now on one lifelong Zoom call.

Speaking of her boss, the employee said: "He framed it as being for our benefit: useful for 'establishing a work-life balance' and so we can 'see our co-workers and feel like we're back in the office.'"

Some might feel establishing a work-life balance doesn't involve revealing your apartment/bedroom/living room to everyone at work. All day. Some might also feel that being on camera all the time isn't entirely like being back in the office, but being back in the USSR circa 1958.

This boss, though, seems to believe Zooming permanence has a multitude of benefits.

"Plus, it's supposedly so we can 'ask questions without having to take meetings,'" explained the employee. And there I was thinking that the way most people used to ask questions in offices was via Slack or IM.

Oddly, this company didn't, pre-pandemic, have all its employees in a single office anyway. Yet here they are actually being required to be on constant, and very candid, camera, dressed for work.

The more heartless managers might marvel just how much this could save on buying snooping software. Instead, you can instantly peer into your employees' homes through existing laptops and computers.

Human beings, on the other hand, might observe that such an idea smears a patina of distaste upon an already difficult work sandwich.

It's enough to open some part of your home to your bosses and co-workers. It's quite another for them to now have a CCTV camera at their disposal, there to watch you picking your nose for their own entertainment.

This particular employee worries that finding another job is hard, so could there possibly be a way of finessing the boss to a more sanguine style of management?

Of course, one idea is to get all the employees to band together and protest, in as delicate a way as possible.

Green also suggests a more technical solution: "You certainly wouldn't be the first person whose internet bandwidth doesn't support staying on video all day long -- especially if there are other people in your house using it, like a spouse who's also working from home or kids doing online learning."

"Comcast won't let me," is certainly an ingenious solution.

Green admits this isn't the first company she's heard employing this zoomingly unpleasant idea. She does, though, offer some more generous ideas about what this boss's thought-process might be. Perhaps, for example, he wasn't a very talented manager even when employees were officed. Perhaps he has little experience of remote working.

Or perhaps he's a bulbous bozo.

Please forgive me, but I struggle to be remotely as sympathetic. If there's ever been a time for more empathetic management, I don't remember it.

More than ever, bosses should be considering the whole of their employees' lives and understanding them.

Yet, as recent Microsoft research revealed, working from home has resulted in more than 50% of IMs being sent between 6pm and midnight. Well, at Microsoft it has.

Insisting that your employees are always on camera smacks of human ignorance, never mind distrust. Why would you ever think that any employee would believe this a good thing?

I do, though, have an idea for this boss. In order to test his marvelous brainwave out, he alone should be on Zoom all the time.

My, would the employees learn a lot about him and how the company is really run.