Alas, many bosses aren't emotionally or intellectually equipped to manage remote workers. They think that the only effective way to manage workers is to constantly monitor their behavior.
The open plan office was specifically designed to enable this kind of "walkabout micromanagement." It wasn't effective then (as evidenced by the sharp declines in productivity resulting from open plan), and it's even less effective now.
Before going any further, there is a management strategy that works well with remote workers: Management By Objective aka MBO. Unfortunately, it fell out of favor decades ago in favor of the any-idiot-can-do-it "walkabout micromanagement" strategy.
Unfortunately, all those micromanagers are still around and are completely freaked out by work-from-home, according to Slate's "Ask a Manager" advice columnist Alison Green.
"They assume that the second people aren't being watched, they'll jettison their work ethic and spend entire workdays binge-watching Netflix, even if they were previously trustworthy, responsible employees."
Green identifies the five ways that such bosses are trying to recreate the open plan office in a work-from-home environment. Here they are, along with my explanation of why these techniques are so incredibly stupid:
1. Requesting frequent status reports.
Requiring employees to provide frequent status reports focuses their attention on writing reports rather than getting the work done. This is highly demotivating and counterproductive, according to recent research from the University of Illinois: "High frequency serves to increase an individual's tendency to focus on avoiding unfavorable judgments of competence rather than on developing competence for the work at hand."
2. Monitoring employee's personal laptops.
If you intrusively monitor employees' behavior, they naturally assume that you don't trust them and thus, as a natural reaction, they assume they're working with people who can't be trusted, including their managers. As recent research from the University of South Florida put it: "under high monitoring situations, potential employees consistently rate the ethics of the organization as poor." Beyond that, it's a huge security risk to have employees using their own computers for anything other than email, and even that's a bad idea if there's anything proprietary involved.
3. Treating work-from-home like a vacation.
Paid vacations keep your employees healthy and prevent them from burning out. According to The New York Times, "those who failed to take annual vacations had a 21 percent higher risk of death from all causes and were 32 percent more likely to die of a heart attack." Rather than finding yet another way to eliminate paid vacation, smart bosses find ways to encourage (or even force) employees to take paid days off.
4. Insisting on daily video check-ins.
Two things wrong here. First, like frequent status reports, daily check-ins force employees to focus on impressing the boss rather than getting their work done. Second, one of the big advantages of working from home is that you're not forced to waste time on your clothes, hair, and general appearance.
5. Demanding a webcam in the employee's home.
When I first read this, I thought it was a joke. But it is, in fact, the logical extension of the belief that employees can't be trusted to do their work without being constantly monitored. Needless to say, this technique is a great way to demotivate employees, force them to focus on appearances rather than substance, convince them that you can't be trusted, and to ensure they'll find a different employers as soon as possible.
Just to be clear, it isn't just that trying to recreate "walkabout micromanagement" for a work-from-home environment is a dumb idea. "Walkabout micromanagement" was an equally stupid when everyone was still driving into the office. It just took Covid to spotlight how stupid it really is.