Here's a roundup of answers to four questions from readers.
1. Our remote staff want the same perks we give to in-office staff
I work for a company that has both in-office employees and work-from-home employees. When we plan events in the office such as chair massages and catered lunches, we offer work-from-home employees the opportunity to work in the office and participate in whatever event we are having, though they rarely come in for them.
More often than not, I get emails from work-from-home staff complaining that we do lots of events for the office staff but we don't have events that work-from-home staff can do remotely.
I feel that is part of working remotely. I personally can't come into the office in a tank top and sweatpants, yet they can answer calls in whatever they want to wear at home. That is part of working in the office. They are given the opportunity to come in and work in the office if they want to participate.
When asked, they suggest the company just offer them gift cards to restaurants when we cater lunch, and gift cards to massage locations. Do I need to cater to them if they don't come into the office?
As you point out, your remote employees get many benefits from working from home that in-office staff don't get -- but yes, sometimes there might be something going on at the office that they'll miss out on if they don't choose to come in for it. This is part of the deal with working from home versus in the office.
Try saying, "It's true that we sometimes do events at the office, and if you'd like to participate in them, you're welcome to work from the office during those days. But working from home full-time is a significant benefit that offers a lot of perks that our in-office staff don't have access to. And our goal isn't to try to make each set-up perfectly mirror the other."
That said, you should try to find some perks for your remote staff as well. You shouldn't need to send food to their homes every time you offer lunch to your on-site staff if you do those lunches regularly. But doing it once or twice a year might go a long way toward building good will.
2. New hire wants to print everything and not use screens
We recently hired a contractor, Ann, who says she is unable to read anything on screens. She has to print everything -- schedules, deliverable matrices, design outputs, emails -- before she can review or give feedback. This is particularly challenging because half our internal team and our client are all located across several cities. We have to review all content, both internally and with our clients, via teleconference.
Ann has derailed pretty much every review meeting we've had, including with clients, because she has to check the screen against the materials she's printed or because she has not had an opportunity to print the materials to be reviewed. She complains constantly about the fact that we're creating and tracking all of our work digitally (five or six times in every meeting, plus another eight to 10 times throughout the rest of the day). And she has asked if she can schedule multiple trips across the country to work in person with people, because she has trouble doing the work via her laptop. While we have some budget for travel, it was not intended to be used as a prerequisite to complete our daily work. I have concerns about her ability to be seen as trustworthy by the client if she shows up every other week complaining about having to work on a laptop, expecting them to work with her on a stack of disorganized papers instead.
This is not the only issue with her, but this is one I've never encountered before and am struggling to address. I want to make sure I'm being sensitive to any physical reasons she might not be able to the work and offer what accommodations I can (although from her comments to date, I think this is a preference, not a physical limitation), while also making it clear that part of the ability to succeed at this job is the ability to effectively telework with remote teams.
Be direct about what you expect and ask if there are any obstacles to her doing that. For example: "We do most of our work electronically here, especially since so many team members and the client are spread out across different cities. We don't typically work with many printouts. I know you've mentioned that you prefer printing things out, but that isn't always practical or efficient with the way we work. While I know it's not your preference, is working mainly digitally something you're able to do?" The idea is to spell out how you'd like her to operate and to give her a chance to tell you if there's a medical issue behind this.
If there is a medical issue in play, at that point you could brainstorm with her about how to accommodate that while minimizing the impact on the work and the client. Be clear about what you can't do (like flying her around the country to meet in person), and what she can't do (like complaining to the client or complaining throughout the day about your office's digital tracking systems).
But if it's just a preference, it's reasonable to say, "To succeed in this role, you need to get comfortable with working on screens. Is that something you can do?" And then hold her to that.
3. Should we tell a client their employee has applied for a job with us?
An employee of a client has inquired about a position that is open with us and has interviewed for it, but cannot commit until they resign from their current job. But they have requested that the current employer not be informed about their search, for fear of being terminated immediately before they decide to move.
Should we inform the client anyway? We want to preserve the privacy of this employee, but as a vendor of this client, do we owe a fiduciary obligation to break a privacy rule with this employee?
No, you do not have a fiduciary obligation to violate this candidate's privacy and inform your client, possibly putting the person's job at risk. And under no circumstances should you put someone's job at risk that way, that would be an unforgivable breach of trust.
If you decide that you don't want to risk upsetting the client if they feel you hired away their employee, that's your prerogative. But in that case, you should let the candidate know that you can't proceed with them without their employer's OK -- and leave it up to them to decide if that's something they want to pursue or not.
4. Handling email build-up during maternity leave
I work at a tiny organization (three people total) but we do a ton of work with outside clients and venues. Almost everything is over email. I'm pregnant and planning to take two months away from the office. The pregnancy has brought to the surface lots of my own fears around work and responsibilities -- it's scary to imagine stepping away for this long but I'm getting there. What I can't wrap my head around is my email, and the backlog that's going to be waiting for me when I return. I'll have an out-of-office message up, but it's our practice to cc each other on lots of correspondence and usually, it's an excellent system. But the idea of coming back to thousands of emails is terrifying!
Do I just hunker down and read through everything when I come back? Do I ask my coworkers to leave me off anything that's not extremely pressing, and then give a recap when I return (which would be time consuming on both ends)? We do keep a running database on our clients but it's nowhere as detailed as our email correspondence.
Good lord, do not ask to continue being cc'd on everything while you're away! That will be way too much email to come back to, and lots of it will be things that are already resolved and that you don't need to review when you're back.
People on maternity leave typically aren't expected to read every email that was exchanged while they were gone. You don't need to relive every single thing that happened during that time -- you probably only need to know about 10 percent of it, if that. So yes, ask your coworkers not to cc you on anything other than extremely important things that you'll absolutely need to be in the loop on when you return -- and those should be the exception, not anything that's happening daily. When you come back, ask for a recap of highlights -- but just highlights, not the complete blow-by-blow. That's reasonable to ask for and will probably be less time-consuming than you think. (And it will be a huge favor to yourself not to return to masses of email, and a favor to your coworkers to trust that they'll have kept things running smoothly in your absence.)
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