How do I navigate working remotely request.
July 20, 2012 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Could I get advice on how to navigate the politics of switching from working in the office to working remotely? The topic has been broached and the wheels are turning but I want to ensure that they are moving ahead and not backwards.

I have been working for a medium-sized consulting firm for two years primarily on a single project which is ongoing. The project, although collaborative, has been designed, managed, and implemented by me to the extent that I have unfortunately become a silo of information regarding the finer details of the project. The steps are documented but there are technical issues that would require the company to hire someone (most likely at a higher cost) to handle the details. I work on other projects but not regularly as the responsibilities of my main work keeps me busy for 40+ hours a week on a consistent basis. I am moving out of the area (non-negotiable move) in the next several weeks to be closer to family and I had hoped to see how receptive the company would be to my continuing to work on the project as a remote employee as there are a number of people currently doing this, although most are higher level staff than me.

Initially, I had planned to speak with the person on my team whom I thought would be the best advocate for me in the company, but after weeks of not being able to schedule a meeting, I instead scheduled a meeting with my immediate supervisor, in which I told her that I was leaving the area for personal reasons, but strongly wished to continue working for the company and asked about the possibility of continuing to work for as a remote worker (while at the same time making the case that I would be able to perform my duties as a remote worker). She said that she would pass the request up the chain and requested that I outline my workload for her. The next day I heard back from her with an offer to keep me on as an employee but to switch into an hourly position (from my salary position) and lose my benefits. I would then continue to work remotely on an as-needed basis (read: until we replace your ass). Shortly afterward, I met with another superior who is more familiar with my work on the project. He felt that a no-benefits position would not be optimal for me or the project, and that there would be no way that they could effectively replace me due to my being the repository of this project. He contacted my manager and an hour later a new offer was out. This one was to continue with the company as a part-time employee and continue to receive benefits at a higher out-of-pocket cost. At a meeting with HR, I learned our tiers of employment and how I would fit in now that I would be working part-time (aside: their estimate for the hours per week necessary to deliver my full-time work product is unrealistically low). I would receive a prorated salary, with prorated benefits and no additional pay for hours over my weekly allotment. I asked if I could switch to an hourly rate to handle fluctations in hours and was told that of course I could do that, and keep my benefits (still prorated for part time status). I then asked, "could I work full time hourly?" to which HR replied, "yes, and then we would switch you back to full time status with full benefits." This left me perplexed, as she seemed to be indicating that I could continue in my same capacity, with the same compensation and benefits (albeit with tenuous job security), but this possibility was not put on the table as an option by the project managers with whom I had spoken earlier in the day.

This leads me to the advice request. Given that my goal is to remain gainfully employed for the foreseeable future (and not take a pay cut unless absolutely necessary), it sounds like staying with my current firm indefinitely is not likely and/or adviseable and I should put more energy into my job search in my new area. I would like to know if the situation reads that way to other people and, if so, how best to protect myself and negotiate for the best situation in the company going forward. My wife's salary will be enough for us to get by, but it would be difficult. Would giving up benefits and negotiating a higher hourly rate be better or worse than working part-time with benefits but potentially struggling to get everything done in a limited number of hours? Could proposing to be hired as an independent contractor work? Do I just give notice when the time comes and leave (semi-)gracefully?

Finally, any advice on how best to act as the news of my departure spreads within the company would be greatly appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
They are going to replace you within six months. It looks like you are already isolated; by working remotely you will become even more isolated.

I would keep the benefits with half-time hours, put the minimum amount of hours in, and use the free time to look for a job.

Topping up to full-time will likely mean you will work more than full-time, leaving no ability to search for a job, which will leave you hooped if when the inevitably suddenly cut your hours and involvement in the project.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:50 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I asked if I could switch to an hourly rate to handle fluctations in hours and was told that of course I could do that, and keep my benefits (still prorated for part time status). I then asked, "could I work full time hourly?" to which HR replied, "yes, and then we would switch you back to full time status with full benefits."

Sounds like you're on the right track. I'd steer in this direction. You might ultimately be successful, depending on the level of internal support that you have from people other than your supervisor, and how successful those people can be at making the case.

I'd talk to your supervisor about the fluctuation of hours and your desire to be available to the company whenever they need you, because you're so committed to the success of this project. If things are going well, broach what happens when the work goes over X hours. (If they're not going well, don't.)

Then once you move, lo and behold, you've been right all along -- the project requires more than 20 hours of work each week, and they should switch you back to a full-time position. You'll have to take this step by step: "I'm sorry, Bob, I just can't get you that output until next week, because I'm up to my 20-hour a week limit, and I already went over the last several weeks. I'll bring this up with Jane, and you may also want to let her know about the urgency of your request."

Before leaving, you should probably go back to your internal ally and let them know that you'll try to keep it to 20 hours, but as they know as well as you, that's going to be very tough, and see if they can get your supervisor to ensure the budget item for your time stays high enough.

Last, I wonder why your supervisor isn't supporting your bid to stay on remotely. It sounds like they don't understand how essential you are, don't know how much you do, or don't value the project any more. Could you continue to educate them about this? Or switch to direct communication with someone who does understand your role? Are there emotional concerns that could be remedied, e.g., are they resentful of your departure? (In that case, could you make amends?) Do they have concerns about being able to supervise from afar? (In that case, would a few weeks of actively reporting to them from afar allay those fears and boost their support?)

Another option would be to decline their offer. This isn't my style, so I don't have an instinct about whether this would work, but I can imagine someone declining the offer to work fewer hours for lower benefits, and resigning but offering to continue to help whenever they need you at your consulting rate, some high multiple of your hourly rate. This would be more risky, and it sounds like you prefer security, so the other route may be better for you to try.
posted by salvia at 10:08 AM on July 20, 2012

A flag for me was the fact that you were unable to arrange a meeting with your internal ally for months and months.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:17 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

^^ True that.
posted by salvia at 10:21 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Explain to your managers that you talked with HR and they said if you are working full time you need to have full time status and benefits. Explain that you know you are going to be working full time at least for the foreseeable future. If you don't the project will suffer, and you're afraid there will be headaches for everyone all around.

If you don't get the full time job, take the part time, and then make sure those headaches happen. Find things that need to be done and get permission to work overtime. Tell others you can't complete work for them, because you are only part time. Have them complain.

Do not suggest becoming a contractor, unless the company is going to do the right thing and pay you three times what you make now so you can get health insurance, etc. A contractor is simply an employee with no benefits or rights.

I read all of these status change offers (e.g. part time, etc.) as ways the company can get you to work but also easily lay you off in the future. Companies do not like to let go of full time employees. These numbers are tracked. Letting go of part time and contractor workers are not. The intentions are pretty clear.

In short, try to have your full time status not taken away, because it protects you to an extent. Argue that you need to work full time, at least for now. Then try your best to make the virtual stuff work. There's really no reason it shouldn't. However, there is a tendency to let go of virtual workers at some point. I wouldn't sweat that though, just explain to the next company that you were laid off because you worked virtually.

Usually, if someone wants to work virtually I recommend they take the inch by inch approach. Since you can't, remember that because you are working virtually all your commute and socializing time will instead be spent working. You are so much more productive and are doing things from home just as easily!
posted by xammerboy at 10:30 AM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

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