For many of us, work is at a weird transition point. Offices that went remote overnight at the start of the pandemic are now reopening, or at least starting to talk about reopening. Some workplaces are bringing everyone back full-time. Others have settled on a hybrid model, where some teams are back and others aren’t, or where people work a few days a week from home and a few from the office. People have a lot of questions about how to navigate this time, so here are answers to some of what’s landed in my inbox recently.
‘My new job said I could work from home, then changed their minds’
I have worked in tech for ten years and just started a dream role with an incredibly welcoming team. During the recruiting process, I made it very clear to the recruiter that I would only be able to go into the office (located 70 miles away, two hours each way with traffic) once a week. She said that was not a problem and that the company had invested a lot of resources during the last 15 months to ensure folks could be successful working from home.
This information, unfortunately, was not shared with my manager, which became clear to me on day two. When I talked to my manager about this, her response was, “I cannot make an exception for you, and had this information been shared, the hiring conversation would have been different.” After our conversation, a company-wide announcement was made requiring employees to come in three days a week. This would amount to 12 hours of commuting for me every week.
How can I ensure the expectations I set forth during my hiring process for working from home are respected and met? I hate the idea that I’m being a difficult employee. I want this role to work out, because I am genuinely excited about and care about the work, but commuting 12 hours per week will be bad for my mental health and ultimately prevent me from being successful. Of course, I know I’ll need to be flexible; there will undoubtedly be weeks where I need to come in more than once, but I would expect that to be the exception and not the rule. (And to be clear, I don’t blame the recruiter for this. The recruiting team here is understaffed and overworked. He was also based in another country and might not be in tune with this location’s expectations for working from home.)
I do blame the recruiter. Part of his job is to be familiar with your location’s expectations around working from home, certainly before agreeing to any work-from-home schedule for you! If nothing else, he shouldn’t have made a specific promise to you without clearing it with the hiring manager — or at least should have filled her in afterwards.
At this point, unfortunately, you might not have a lot of options. If your manager wasn’t part of the agreement the recruiter made with you, she might not be willing to be bound by it, especially since it seems counter to the company-wide policy they’ve now implemented. You can certainly try pointing out that you specifically negotiated this as part of accepting the job and you wouldn’t have accepted it otherwise (if that’s true) or would have negotiated differently if this hadn’t been agreed to. A good manager would try to make this work if you accepted the job based on the company’s promise, but the rigidity of her initial response (“I cannot make an exception for you”) isn’t encouraging.
Have the conversation, stressing that this was part of the offer negotiations, but be prepared that you might need to decide whether you still want the job if they won’t budge. That’s really unfair and I’m sorry it happened. (In the future, always get stuff like this in writing. It still won’t be binding unless it’s part of an actual contract — which most U.S. workers don’t have — but written agreements are usually taken more seriously. And sometimes simply asking for it in writing can uncover any hesitancy from the company on committing to whatever the ask is.)
‘My company still won’t let my team work remotely’
I moved to a large, private company located in the middle of nowhere right before COVID-19 hit. In moving to this company, I ended up doubling my daily commute. When I interviewed, I asked about the possibility of remote work. The answer I received was, “We don’t do that here.”
Then COVID-19 hit, and I spent an entire year holding up my department from home. We reduced our staff from eight employees to two, leaving me and an administrative employee.
We’re beginning to emerge from the pandemic chaos and are looking to re-staff. My field has a very small pool of experienced potential personnel. I have suggested to my manager that we open ourselves to the possibility of remote work, as I had requested in my interview. Obviously, I’d like this for myself as much as for any potential candidates. But I’m still being told the company won’t allow my team to work anywhere but on-site.
Am I being unreasonable in asking for us to modernize? I’ve considered looking into applying for a new job at one of the many companies now offering positions in my expertise that are 100% remote, but I hate starting over.
No, you’re not being unreasonable! Loads of employers are reconsidering their pre-pandemic attitudes about remote work, now that they’ve had a year of seeing how well it does (or doesn’t, in some cases) work for them. And many workplaces are letting people stay remote or are moving to a hybrid model where people are in the office for part of the week and working from home the rest of it.
You could try pointing out to your manager that other companies in your field are offering remote positions and you might need to do the same to attract candidates, retain current employees, and stay competitive. If they continue to balk and you have trouble generating good applicants for your open roles, you can point to that as a reason why. But ultimately, some companies are indeed committed to returning to an in-the-office-all-the-time model, and if yours holds firm to that, at some point you’d need to decide if you want to stay under those conditions or explore some of the more remote-friendly roles you’re seeing.
‘I dyed my hair blue during lockdown’
I figured lockdown was a great opportunity to experiment with my hair color in some ways I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing when I had to be in the office every day. For a while I had blue and green streaks, and now most of it is a pretty bright blue. I love it!
I’ve kept it pulled back when I’m on video calls so it hasn’t been that noticeable to anyone I work with. But now we’re gearing up to go back to the office, and I’m wondering if I need to change it back to my natural color — or at least a more natural color! My office is business casual and we’re not particularly stodgy, but I’ve also never seen anyone come in with blue or green hair so I don’t know if it would be seen as unprofessional or not. If it matters, I don’t work with clients or have a lot of public contact.
Acceptance of hair colors not found in nature has grown massively in the last 10 years or so! A ton of workplaces that a decade ago would have considered blue hair to be an obvious dress code violation no longer care. There are still some where it won’t fly (particularly in more conservative industries – there still aren’t a lot of bankers with blue hair, although I bet we’ll see that change at some point). But I wouldn’t default to assuming it’s a no-go in your office without finding out for sure.
One low-risk approach is to just ask your manager if it’s going to be a problem, so that you’re not left guessing. But there’s also an argument for just … showing up with your blue hair and seeing what happens, especially if you have a fair amount of clout. You might find it’s not a big deal at all. If it is, you can change it. But in a lot of offices, you’d be fine. (Again, not all! Adapt this advice for your office and your field.)
‘Can I work from another country now?’
I’ve been working from home since the start of the pandemic, and my section of the company quickly decided to switch to a flex-desk system and allow everyone to be remote permanently.
I live near our headquarters in the U.S. but we are a global organization with offices in many countries around the world. I would love to live in another country for a while. I also love my current job and it would be so nice to just be able to take it with me! I’m still new to professional life, and I would have considered this a pipe dream two years ago. Now I’m not so sure.
I know you can’t speak to my specific company, but I’m wondering what the feeling is like in general at organizations where remote work is newly acceptable. Is this a direction companies might go in? Are there legal reasons not to, or just logistical and cultural? Will I look super out of touch if I bring this up with my boss??
It can be tricky for companies to let people work from a different country, because it can require them to comply with an entirely different set of labor and payroll laws. (That can even be an issue with moving to another state, let alone another country.) Depending on where you move, they might also worry about significant time zone differences, or the ease of bringing you into the office periodically. A lot of offices that allow remote work still ask people to come in a few times a year — or more — and some don’t want people to move far enough away that they’d need more than a few days of notice to show up in-person.
That said, some offices would consider this for an excellent worker who’s built up a strong reputation. If you’re new, very junior, or not performing at a high level, your chances of a yes go down to the point that even just asking risks looking out-of-touch. But if you’ve been there for a while, you’re not terribly junior, and your manager values you … well, maybe. I’d give the new model some time first so that they’re more comfortable with it, but later this year if all is going well it’s something you could run by your boss and see if she’d ever consider it. (And the fact that your company already has international offices could make it an easier sell than if it didn’t.)
Order Alison Green’s book Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work here. Got a question for her? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.