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  1. #1
    perdu fleur par bologne Martoon's Avatar
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    Default Martoon stresses out - boss wants me in-office, with people

    All my posts here up to this point have been silly and/or discussion oriented in nature. This is my first "I'm posting because I'm freaking out" post. Apologies in advance.

    I started my current job about three years ago. I'm a programmer for a "serious games" studio (games for training people). Initially, it was just myself and another programmer I've worked with in the past (we were both in the commercial games industry). The studio is in the campus of a tech college, associated with the college. Toonia and I lived 40 miles from the campus, and my boss was okay with me coming in a 2-3 days a week, and telecommuting the rest.

    Shift to the present. The studio has grown - we now have two artists and a producer. Following the death of our landlord (and subsequent sale of the rental house), toonia and I moved in with my sister and her husband, 1.5 hours from where I work (i.e., 3 hours round trip). The idea is to get some debt paid off and get into a position to buy a house. I explained this to my boss, and asked if he was okay with me coming in one day a week. I told him it was a temporary situation. He was okay with it, and that's what I've been doing for the past few months.

    I actually work a lot better from home, where I can focus on writing code without being surrounded by people. At work, our desks are against the walls, so there's always people moving around and talking behind me, and watching me work. It's good for me to go in once a week to communicate with everyone and stay on the same page (and I like all the people there), but I get little or no actual work produced while there. I'm also not fond of having 3 hours sucked out of my day with the commute (with my age and low energy, I don't have much stamina for long days).

    We've also discovered that there's a lot more work for toonia around here (more potential harp students and gigs, etc.), and houses cost literally half what they do where we were (closer to my work). It's almost certain this is where we'll be settling.

    Anyway, my boss just sent out an email reminding everyone to turn in our signed timesheets by Monday. I replied and asked if I could just bring mine with me to a client's place we'll both be going to Monday afternoon. He replied in the affirmative, but ended his email with this:
    On a somewhat related note, I believe that physical presence on campus is important for team cohesion/relationships and to promote public perception that the Center is actually in business. That's mainly why I prefer to limit telecommuting. As I recall our conversation about you reducing on-campus time to one day a week, it was going to be a short-term arrangement. When do you expect to increase that time again?
    I need to reply to this sometime today, hence I am stressed.

    Here's the thing: The boss has been very pleased with what myself and the other programmer have done in the couple years we've been there. The other programmer and I are used to the insane pace and demands of the commercial games industry (where working miracles daily is part of the job description), so we've been able to exceed expectations in excess. The studio is really busy now, and we could actually use another experienced, competent game programmer or two, but it's impossible to get anyone to move to the area. The upshot of all this is that my boss is in absolutely no position to let me go for any reason. I'm critically essential to the studio.

    Basically, this means I can tell my boss that I'll be continuing to only come in once a week, indefinitely, and still keep my job. But I really hate to do this. I've had a continuously amicable relationship with him, and I'd like to keep it that way. I can tell this "being in the office" thing is important to him.

    Anyway, that's all I got. Thanks for listening.
    I'm not a procrastinator. I'm a long-term planner.

  2. #2
    Strongly Ambivalent Ivy's Avatar
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    Yikes. That is an uncomfortable situation. Does he know what's going on with you guys?

    If it were me I'd probably start looking for work closer to where you think you'll settle, but it might not be wise to roll the dice and maybe get a less accomodating employer next time.
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  3. #3
    insert random title here Randomnity's Avatar
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    Have you tried explaining your position? If you have an amicable relationship already, maybe he just hasn't thought of how beneficial it's been for you.

    If you're comfortable with it, you could also suggest a compromise of something like 2 days a week, and see if he'll accept that.

    Also maybe you could address his reasons for wanting you on-site and come up with alternate ways to accomplish these things, if possible.

    It sounds like a stressful situation. It's good that you're in a position to be able to bargain though.

  4. #4
    Senior Member ptgatsby's Avatar
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    That's a difficult situation...

    You have the right attitude, in part - you are doing your job and you are doing it well... but it is possible that the boss is also worried about something he didn't bring up here. The first step is create a dialogue on his needs so that you can address them (this assumes he is a reasonable person and a good manager).

    In the worst case, you can explain that you need to be live away for family reasons and that you took this job under the understanding that this would be acceptable (?)... This should follow after discussing his needs and concerns, and if there is no bending, doing something along the lines of "I feel proud of the work I have done to date and believe I have continued to exceed the requirements of my job. I understand your situation, but I have to consider my family life as well. I'm worried this creates and impossible situation for both of us". You need to think through the possible actions in advance (how far you are willing to go - one extra day? or what does he need? More feedback on progress? More teamwork?) so that you know where the lines can be drawn (are you willing to walk away from the job? Are you able to?). This is just so that you can negotiate with confidence. If you are worried things are going downhill... just end the conversation with "I see where you are coming from, please give me some time to think how this will affect me/let us resolve it/whatever".

    Just be sure you have something to give him so that it's not one sided. If his concerns aren't legitimate, then you don't have much of an outlet and it will turn into a negative-sum game. If he does have concerns that you might be able to soothe, then you might be able to walk out net-positive.

    I will offer one other piece of advice - try to do this in person. Email is a horrible way of resolving these kinds of situations. Most of the sale will be through giving and taking and have heavy amounts of empathy involved. You lose a huge advantage doing it in email. (This also gives you more time to think it out and talk it out, rather than respond from a stressed mindset.)

  5. #5
    Plumage and Moult proteanmix's Avatar
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    I think it would in your best interests to outline and emphasize how telecommuting benefits your employer and do less focusing on hardships you face by coming in to work. I don't mean to sound harsh by saying this but telling them what your situation is and them accommodating will only last a few months (as it has). At my work place, people get antsy when a woman has been out on maternity leave for more than 8 weeks.

    You could compare/contrast your productivity levels before and after you began telecommuting. You mentioned that your office has grown. Can you emphasize that the type of work you do is better suited in a quiet environment (don't mention your home, this is implicit). How are the space needs in your office? Is it cheaper or more expensive for them for you to telecommute? Stuff like that.

    From the employers POV and those of other employees, I would wonder how someone qualifies for telecommuting. Believe it or not, the ability to work from home is viewed as a privilege and other coworkers may be disgruntled about why you "get" to work from home while they have to come in. It creates resentment and at my job HR recently implemented clearer guidelines on compressed work weeks/telecommuting.

    Ultimately, since they're understaffed I think you're in a good negotiating position. I definitely think you should address your employers concerns of team cohesion. Emphasize your willingness to work with other people, but most importantly emphasize how you benefit them. I'm currently seeing the effects of have a team that's compartmentalized and fractured and it's not cool. You have to enlist the division director just to get access to a database.
    Relationships have normal ebbs and flows. They do not automatically get better and better when the participants learn more and more about each other. Instead, the participants have to work through the tensions of the relationship (the dialectic) while they learn and group themselves and a parties in a relationships. At times the relationships is very open and sharing. Other time, one or both parties to the relationship need their space, or have other concerns, and the relationship is less open. The theory posits that these cycles occur throughout the life of the relationship as the persons try to balance their needs for privacy and open relationship.
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  6. #6
    On a mission Usehername's Avatar
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    How about this formula for the email?

    *Voice that you're still trying to figure stuff out and therefore still have uncertainties
    *Voice how much you appreciate the job's positives (and indirectly tie in how well this allows you to contribute to the team)
    *Ask if the two of you can sit down one time together and discuss where each of you are coming from (i.e. the more info you have from each of each other, the better possibility of coming up with a solution). Do not imply that you will resolve the issue at this discussion.

    I would expect that you're better at thinking things out slowly and rationally rather than in person like an extravert... perhaps a concrete list would be helpful when discussing this in person. Then, with all the information (and seeing where he's coming from) you can make a better decision.
    Also, your boss will more accurately see where you're coming from, making the ease of "no, i'm not going to have it your way" should it arise less of a blow and cushioning the relationship between the two of you.

    I also think pt is right in that you need the in-person benefits going for you. But don't lay yourself out there if you're going to be an inferior version of your decision-making self if all you need is time to sit and reflect on things.
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  7. #7
    @.~*virinaĉo*~.@ Totenkindly's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Randomnity View Post
    Have you tried explaining your position? If you have an amicable relationship already, maybe he just hasn't thought of how beneficial it's been for you. If you're comfortable with it, you could also suggest a compromise of something like 2 days a week, and see if he'll accept that. Also maybe you could address his reasons for wanting you on-site and come up with alternate ways to accomplish these things, if possible.
    That is what I would do as well.

    It's good you have a lot of capital to burn with your boss, Martoon. If he's very pleased with your work, you're very productive at home, and he would have trouble replacing you, then I think you should resist the temptation to flex to one of the offered solutions (telecommuting w/ 1 day in a week OR coming a lot more days).

    You have a lot of room to negotiate, and you want to convey to your boss how seriously you take his position and sensitive you are being. At the same time, you want to give him information about what really helps you, so that he can flex in turn if possible.

    iow, be open, put all your cards on the table, and see if you can both settle on a compromise. Perhaps some weeks, you can come in 2-3 times? Or perhaps you could stay overnight somewhere occasionally, to cut the travel time? Obviously Toonia's needs come into play there too... but it sounds like you have a lot of room to offer alternate solutions.
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

  8. #8
    perdu fleur par bologne Martoon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ivy View Post
    Yikes. That is an uncomfortable situation. Does he know what's going on with you guys?
    When we moved and I told him about it, I explained that we were doing it to get rid of debt so we could afford a mortgage on a house, so he knows that. Of course, he doesn't know yet that we're likely to buy a house here.
    If it were me I'd probably start looking for work closer to where you think you'll settle, but it might not be wise to roll the dice and maybe get a less accomodating employer next time.
    Well, the thing is, I really need to keep this job. I'm a skilled programmer, but I'm literally incapable of doing a job I don't find interesting. Game development, I can get into. It's a "programming as art" kinda thing. Business applications, database programming, etc., bore me silly. I worked for a life insurance corp for a while, and was really depressed. I was only working 25 hours a week, and I couldn't even stand that. I completely shut down. It's just not the kind of thing I can keep doing. The commercial games industry, while exciting, I'm just getting too old for. It's incredibly high-pressure and stressful (80 hour weeks when you're in crunch time to ship a game before Christmas, etc.). Now, I'm employed by the state, which is union controlled so I'm actually not allowed to work more than 40 hours/week. This isn't a job I can replace.

    Quote Originally Posted by Randomnity View Post
    Also maybe you could address his reasons for wanting you on-site and come up with alternate ways to accomplish these things, if possible.
    Yeah, I'm actually looking into teleconferencing/collaboration options now (desktop application sharing, etc.).

    Quote Originally Posted by ptgatsby View Post
    but it is possible that the boss is also worried about something he didn't bring up here. The first step is create a dialogue on his needs so that you can address them (this assumes he is a reasonable person and a good manager).
    I don't think there's anything "behind the scenes" he hasn't brought up yet. I think it's pretty much what he's stated - he wants people in the office to be seen and to maintain communication. And yes, he is a reasonable person and a very good manager (yet another reason to keep this job).
    In the worst case, you can explain that you need to be live away for family reasons and that you took this job under the understanding that this would be acceptable (?)...
    Unfortunately, when I took the job it was assumed I would be there all the time. He approved me coming in 2-3 days a week after I'd been there a while.
    Just be sure you have something to give him so that it's not one sided. If his concerns aren't legitimate, then you don't have much of an outlet and it will turn into a negative-sum game. If he does have concerns that you might be able to soothe, then you might be able to walk out net-positive.
    Good point. Thanks.
    I will offer one other piece of advice - try to do this in person. Email is a horrible way of resolving these kinds of situations. Most of the sale will be through giving and taking and have heavy amounts of empathy involved. You lose a huge advantage doing it in email. (This also gives you more time to think it out and talk it out, rather than respond from a stressed mindset.)
    I completely agree. I just need to send some kind of reply to the email today to hold the discussion off until I'm in the office next week. I'm thinking something along the lines of "Things are still pretty unsure for us, so I don't have a concrete answer just yet" (which is, in fact, true). Then suggest we talk about it more next week.
    I'm not a procrastinator. I'm a long-term planner.

  9. #9
    Senior Member ptgatsby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Martoon View Post
    I don't think there's anything "behind the scenes" he hasn't brought up yet. I think it's pretty much what he's stated - he wants people in the office to be seen and to maintain communication. And yes, he is a reasonable person and a very good manager (yet another reason to keep this job).

    Unfortunately, when I took the job it was assumed I would be there all the time. He approved me coming in 2-3 days a week after I'd been there a while.
    Hmm, this weakens your position a lot. The best strategy is to approach it from the POV that he is being tolerant now and that while you have power because of his needs, you are in fact the one imposing (and taking advantage of your power) on him.

    This, however, means that you will need to comprimise and be extra careful in ensuring positive communication (you really don't want to lead it to technicalities - the best case is that he keeps you until he finds a replacement).

    I completely agree. I just need to send some kind of reply to the email today to hold the discussion off until I'm in the office next week. I'm thinking something along the lines of "Things are still pretty unsure for us, so I don't have a concrete answer just yet" (which is, in fact, true). Then suggest we talk about it more next week.
    That sounds good in this situation, however I'd be more proactive - go in an extra day just to talk about this. More along the lines of "Things are still pretty unsure for us, but I'll discuss it with the wife this weekend. Are you free on Monday to talk about it? If not, let me know when a good time is and we can sit down to talk about it".

    But reading what you wrote (and how you value this job), I expect you will need to give something up... or you will be using up all of your "power" for just this one issue (and woe if the balance of power changes - he won't be as nice the next time.) Convey your love for the job and willingness to find middle ground and the situation should resolve fairly well, if not ideally (but it sounds like he's give you a lot already, so "not ideal" is still pretty good relative to your peers).

  10. #10
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    The others all are providing good input. Mainly: Negotiate.

    Quote Originally Posted by Martoon View Post
    I explained this to my boss, and asked if he was okay with me coming in one day a week. I told him it was a temporary situation. He was okay with it, and that's what I've been doing for the past few months.
    I think that this is your problem area ^^^^. You and you boss came to an agreement that the current arrangement was temporary and would revert back to the previous arrangement after a period of time. But since then your situation has changed a bit and you want to make the temporary situation a permanent one. However you forgot to keep your boss apprised of your situation, and he is still operating according the to rules and assumptions of the old agreement.

    Basically, I would say that the fault is on your end: You should have been renegotiating the agreement as the situation changed at your end, rather than keeping your boss in the dark until the boss called upon you to keep up your end of the original agreement.

    Still, there is lots of room for compromise. Your boss has plenty of reason to keep you happy. And as long as you're not set in stone about every little thing you mentioned, there is probably room to find some middle ground.

    First thing I would do is go to the boss and admit that your situation has changed since you made the agreement and you've erred by not keeping him up to date. But if he is willing to work with you, you would like to have a sit-down with him and discuss where to go from here. (That would be your immediate response for today--temporize a bit, and schedule a meeting where you two can get updated on your needs, the company's WAH (work at home) policy, etc.)

    From there, anything is possible. Maybe once the boss is updated on your situation properly, he'll work with you and find a way to make your WAH arrangement permanent. Maybe he'll look into a promotion or a moving bonus to make a move and a house purchase in the area more feasible in order to bring you in-house (i.e., maybe he's been penalizing you in terms of wages because of the WAH arrangement anyway, and would be amenable to offering more money for an in-house staffer as opposed to a WAH employee). Maybe he'll consider an office or cubicle for a top producer (to give you the privacy you need).

    Basically, I would ask to schedule a meeting and them prep for it like you're going into a big negotiation for new employment or a big raise. You've been doing WAH for a while, and you may rate some extra privileges and perks if you come back in-house. Conversely, if you ask for privileges and perks for in-house work, maybe your boss will be more willing to give you permanent WAH status.

    Mainly, I would just do as the other said: Negotiate like hell. Apologize to your boss for not living up to the terms of the original agreement, but explain that things have changed since you negotiated the first agreement. Show a little flexibility and willingness to consider the company's side, and ask the boss to do the same thing for you on behalf of the company.

    If you're a valued employee and offer more experience and skill than other in-house workers, then the boss should be willing to hear you out. It may be that you have some extra perks coming, anyway. IOW, it may be a good time to sit down and do some inventory-taking with the boss.

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