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We Have a Remote-Working Policy but…

I am going to share a true story with you. Something that happened to me that, at the time, felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me.

My last corporate job was with a world-class global professional services organization. They are one of the poster children for innovative HR policies, and overall it was a great place to work. I would definitely recommend it. But sometimes even a good organization has inconsistencies within groups or departments. Let me share my story as an example.

I was asked to apply for a full-time position with this organization. I had completed a one-month temporary assignment for them a year prior, and also had done a rush-rush consulting project (completely unsupervised from home) for them, so the organization would be hiring me essentially for the third time.

I would be reporting to the woman for whom I had done those projects. It seemed like a slam dunk since they already knew me and liked my work. And she had asked me to apply for the position. I did get a job offer (after seven interviews and four months of waiting) but as we were in the very final stage of negotiating the offer, the HR person dropped a bomb on me.

My would-be manager knew that my preference was to work remotely pretty much exclusively. It had been five years since I had been in a cube farm. I was used to working alone and I was concerned that I would have trouble concentrating with all the noise and commotion. And since I was probably going to be working with our Milwaukee office primarily, what difference did it make if I sat in Chicago in the corporate office or in my Chicago home office? My boss was fine with this. I thought we had an agreement.

Her boss, however, was not on board. He was a hands-on, face-to-face kind of guy. He was a nice guy and we had a good rapport, but he absolutely would not budge: I would be required to be in the office pretty much all the time. I was beyond devastated.

How could this happen at an organization that actively promotes its policy of flexible work arrangements? I was told, “We have a remote-working policy but it doesn’t apply to your job.” I almost didn’t take the job but I figured, over time, I could earn his trust and modify the situation.

In fact, that is exactly what happened – but it was a slow slog. I did my job to the best of my abilities and consistently demonstrated to my managers that I could work with minimal supervision and meet deadlines. Over time, I was able to work remotely quite a lot and even took advantage of a reduced workweek option, which NOBODY thought could ever work for my position. But it did. I have the good reviews to prove it.

So if this happens to you, here is how you can (slowly) work toward the situation you really want:• Make your preference known about how much time you would like to be in the office and work remotely, assuming the company has a remote-working policy in place
• Assure your manager(s) that you understand that you may need to be in the office initially to build relationships and you are fine with that
• Learn how your manager likes to be updated (e-mail, phone message) and how often, and to what level of detail
• Consistently keep your manager updated according to his/her preferred schedule and method (hint: be easy to work with)
• When things come up and you have to work at home (cable guy coming, kid sick, whatever) make sure that you are productive, available, and meet deadlines
• Over time, you will find the right moment to bring up remote working again – and this time you may get a different answer

This strategy worked for me, and I did get to build some relationships that I probably wouldn’t have developed if I worked remotely completely from the beginning. Personally, I think the ideal work mix is some combination of time in the office and time working virtually. It’s the ratio that will vary from person to person.

What do you think? How do you like to work? Has this every happened to you? I would love to hear your stories.

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Guest bloggers for the TDS Business Blog.

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