someone left a self-help book on my desk, requiring an employee to be in the office more, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Someone anonymously left a self-help book on my desk

I got into work this morning to find a self-help book sitting on my desk (the “organize your life” kind). I asked my manager if she left a book on desk for me and she told me she didn’t leave it. I didn’t elaborate at all about what kind of book and she didn’t ask. The coworker who sits in the cube next to me didn’t notice anyone dropping it off, and I had a vacation day yesterday, which was visible on my Outlook calendar, so anyone could have known I’d be gone and dropped it off.

How should I handle this? I know my manager is happy with my performance and organization level (and I’ve actually done a lot of the organizing for our shared team materials and started our brand book). For now, I just set the book aside and am planning to ignore it (or leave it in the break room if someone else wants it?), but I’m also worried I missed something, because someone obviously must be concerned about my work or work ethic.

I wouldn’t assume that’s what it means! There are so many other possibilities here, like that the person who left it didn’t even intend to leave it there but put it down while doing something else and forgot to pick it back up … or that people know you’ve done a lot of organizing for your team and thought you’d enjoy the book … or someone came into possession of it thought “Jane does a lot of this kind of work so maybe she would find this useful” … or who knows what else.

Leaving you a book on organizing as a way to say “hey, you suck at being organized” would be so incredibly rude that I’d put that possibility pretty low down on the list of explanations — and especially since you aren’t someone with glaring problems being organized.

(For anyone wondering why this answer has a different tenor than my answer to the letter earlier this year from someone who anonymously received breath mints, in that case the letter-writer thought it was likely that she did indeed have bad breath.)

2. Requiring an employee to be in the office more

I manage a small IT team and I’m curious how you would approach a conversation with a direct report in this situation. Over a year ago, I needed support in my position as an IT project manager to have more thorough QA and analysis work. We found the right fit with a former customer care rep and as part of it, she negotiated working remotely.

She proved to be very effective and she ended up stepping into my role while I was on maternity leave. When I returned from leave, we were able to convert her role into a full-time salaried employee and my direct report. I mentioned at that point that as part of this role that she would need to be present in the office more, but this has proved a little difficult, because we are bursting at the seams and she doesn’t have anywhere to sit on a regular basis. She lives close to the office and does a good job at coming in for meetings or if I request her to/suggest that it would aid a project.

My own manager does not really approve of remote work. He’s old school in the sense that he thinks people are more productive and communicate better in the office and that increases in productivity working from home are exaggerated. I disagree, as I worked from home for six years in a previous job, but have decided that it’s not a “battle” I want to pick with him, as I currently am in a situation where I much prefer coming into the office and leaving my work there.

At the end of the summer, our office is expanding so we WILL have enough room for her to have a desk. My boss asked me if I’ll be having this employee come in regularly since we now have space for her. After thinking it through, I believe that I DO want her to be in the office on a regular basis. That said, I don’t need it to be full time. I should also mention that despite my manager wanting people in the office, he is very liberal about setting your own schedule and letting people step out for appointments. As long as work is getting done and you are in the office for a reasonable amount of time each day, he doesn’t ask questions. My dilemma is how to approach the conversation of being in the office more with my direct report, when I’m not really sure what it is I want. I’m considering saying that I’d like her to be in the office 30 out of 40 hours, because I think that would be enough face time for what I want to accomplish. I’m worried that my manager will perceive this as giving her a benefit that other employees (his team) doesn’t have. What are your thoughts?

First, figure out exactly what you do want her to do so that she’s not having to try to guess at what you’re asking for her for. It’s fine to come up with a range (like “I’d really like her to be in the office 3/4 of the time, but if it’s a sticking point for her, I could live with half-time”); you just need to be really clear in your own head so that you can convey it to her.

Second, once you’ve figured that out, talk to your boss before you talk to your employee. Explain to him that you understand his views on remote work, but that this employee negotiated remote work as part of her original offer and she’d done a great job, been highly productive, etc. (assuming that’s true). Say that you do agree that as part of her new role, you want her to be in the office more than before, but that you’ve given it a lot of thought and she can do what you need from her if she’s in the office X% of the time. Say you plan to arrange that with her, and want to make sure he’s comfortable with that before you do.

If it turns out that he’s not okay with that, you want to know that before you talk to your employee so that you’re not telling her one thing and then having to go back with a different message later.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. A former coworker messaged me to say he applied for the job I just started

Over a year ago, I worked as an intern in an office with several professional staff members and other interns. A member of the professional staff frequently expressed unhappiness with his job to the interns.

I began a new professional position a couple of months ago, and recently received a LinkedIn request and message from the former coworker asking if my current coworkers or supervisor had told me that they also interviewed him for the role. They did not tell me, and the message took me by surprise. The message was friendly and also congratulated me on my new role, but am I wrong for thinking that it is inappropriate of him to have contacted me about this? I know that this individual was probably extremely disappointed because he has been “stuck” in his current role for a long while, but I would never even consider contacting anyone that was chosen for a position over me and cannot figure out what his motive may be.

I want to reply to acknowledge his message, but I am unsure of how to appropriately address the question of whether or not I knew that they had interviewed for my position. Do you have any suggestions on what an appropriate response may be, or if I should acknowledge the message at all?

That’s pretty much guaranteed to make you feel awkward. It’s possible that he meant it conversationally — like “this is an interesting piece of trivia!” — but it certainly doesn’t come across that way. And there’s an added layer of awkwardness around you being a former intern who beat him out for a job he wanted.

In any case, you’re not obligated to respond to that part of the message directly at all. You could simply say something vague like, “Great to hear from you and hope things are going well there. Thanks for the congratulations on the new job — I’m really excited about it.” Or, if you don’t care about preserving the relationship, you could even not respond at all. But I think a vague, perfunctorily friendly response that doesn’t answer his question is a good middle ground.

4. I accidentally emailed porn to myself at work

I have a big problem. I was using my mobile as scanner, then sent the scanned files from my personal email to my work email. By mistake, I attached a sexual video that was in my mobile with these attachments to my work email. When I saw it, I directly deleted the attachment and the email from everywhere.

I know that my boss has access to see our work mail. I am afraid I will be fired if my manager saw this video. How do I delete this video from everywhere? How do I know if my boss knows about this video? What should be my answer if he ask me why I sent it to my work computer and email?

It will probably be fine. The fact that your employer can access your email doesn’t mean that they’re looking at every message, and there’s a pretty good chance that this will pass unnoticed.

But if your boss does raise it with you, all you can do is explain that it was a mistake when you were pulling scanned files off of your phone, that you were mortified when you realized what happened, and that you immediately deleted it from everywhere you could find it. Stress that you’d never intentionally send files like that using work servers, and that you’re horrified by the mistake.

5. Someone put a very generous wedding gift on my desk and I don’t know who it’s from

In February, I became engaged. I am getting married in September and let only a few people know in the office. Of course, this spread like wildfire and I got many congratulations. Five months later, today, I come into work and see an envelope on my desk with my name typed on it. Inside the envelope was a typed note that said “For help with your wedding.” I looked in the envelope and saw $400 in cash. What is the best way to inquire about who did this? I don’t want it to get out again that someone gave me money, but this can’t go unacknowledged!

It’s more likely that it was a group gift than $400 from a single person. I’d just send an email out to your team or the people you work most closely with saying something like, “I’m not sure who’s responsible for the generous wedding gift I found on my desk today, so I wanted to send out a group thank-you. Thank you so much for thinking of me; it means a lot to me.”

If it turns out that it really was just one person, this is still a perfectly appropriate email to send — and it will be very understandable that you assumed it was from a group, since that’s how these things are usually done.

{ 270 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    #1 gave me dread-flashbacks. But I agree, OP, that this was likely a misplaced book and not a veiled message. And if it was indeed a veiled message, then whoever left it can wallow in their own passive-aggressive mire. You don’t have to join them.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Also, people can assume being good at something means you’d like to read books about it. I can imagine someone thinking: oh Ramona is really into being organised, she might like this. (When I probably wouldn’t, because there’s a lot of duff productivity advice out there.)

      1. Lora*

        Yes! The local recycling center has a swap shop type of thing and I drop off the popular science books people give me every so often. On the one hand, it’s sort of, “seriously? would you give a children’s pop-up anatomy book to your doctor like they don’t know what a stomach does?” On the other hand, people really are that uneducated about science, and many doctors tell me they have patients waving nonsense they found on Google University at them, so…

        OP, most likely someone spaced out and left it there and it was a total accident. Not that I haven’t been tempted to leave a copy of How To Win Friends And Influence People or The No Asshole Rule on certain Personalities’ desks, but in real life I would hand it to them and say, “please read this. No, really PLEASE read this.” And that’s because throwing things isn’t nice.

      2. Paige Turner*

        I used to work at a bookstore and people do this a lot- “Jane likes X, I’ll buy her a book about X for her birthday.” Then they pick out some bestseller that anyone who is interested in X has likely already read :/

    2. Engineer Girl*

      If it is from a passive aggressive person then treating it as though it were innocent will drive them crazy. Score!

      1. Mookie*

        Yes. If it is indeed intended as a message* or an overture to correct perceived deficiencies in the LW’s performance, don’t reward it with attention.

        *I’m trusting the LW that she knows there’s no context for this, beyond that she’s a team member involved in organization at the moment; either it’s meant to be benevolent and helpful, it’s a mistake, or it’s like when you pointedly give a carpool driver a huge selection of playlists you’ve ‘curated’ so your tastes can dictate the general mood on the ride to and from work (so, a presumptuous, neg-like powerplay worth resisting and ignoring).

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        My guess was a passive aggressive message from someone who isn’t organized enough to hit the right desk.

        But someone passing on a book they themselves were gifted and didn’t want to someone they perceive as liking this organizing stuff is probably more likely. Or one of Alison’s suggestions.

      1. Blue Anne*

        I’m reminded of a real estate post I saw recently; a flipper posted “before” pictures of a really terrible hoarder house, including the bathroom, which had two books on feng shui sitting on the toilet lid.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Well, they do tell you to keep the toilet lid down in feng shui! But it sounds like that was the only sentence they read! :D

      2. Kelly White*

        I have bought a particular book on organization three times because I keep losing it.

        Perhaps I should try a different book.

      3. teclatrans*

        Yes, this is what I was thinking when reading Alison’ s suggestion that someone might have left it there by mistake. From personal knowledge, I can say that the person who needs organizational help might be more prone to misplacing it.

    3. Liane*

      My first thought was to put it in the breakroom with a “Is this your missing book?” or even “Free to good home” Post It.

      1. Admin of Sys*

        Ooh, good idea! I was thinking of an email with the same message, but the break room is even better!

      2. JulieBulie*

        This is exactly what I would do.

        If I left a book for someone on purpose, I would also leave a note (even if anonymous*) “This is for you, OP! Hope you enjoy/learn from it!” to confirm that it wasn’t an accident. For it to be anonymously abandoned, noteless and without explanation, it’s not worth wondering what (if anything) it means. Just put it back into circulation. If someone was trying to communicate something to you, they’ll have to find a clearer and more effective way to do it.

        *It wouldn’t be anonymous, though.

    4. always in email jail*

      I can easily see cleaning out my bookshelf (everywhere I’ve worked it is full of books from the previous folks in my office), finding a book like that, and thinking “so and so always gets tasked with having to organize everything, maybe they’d enjoy this/find it useful” and leaving it on their desk

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Without a note though? That’s the part that is weird to me. I’d stick a post-it on there and say “found this and thought you’d enjoy it!” or something.

        1. SKA*

          Maybe they didn’t have any scrap paper handy (and/or didn’t think to grab any because they didn’t realize LW was out of the office) and intended to stop by LW’s desk once she was back in the office to say “Hey, I left a book here for you.”

      2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        Me too, although I would certainly leave a note to that effect. I’m pretty organized, after all.

      3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I had a coworker at OldJob who did this to me pretty routinely. We had a “take one, leave one” bookshelf in the cafeteria which was mostly full of bad Harlequins and westerns, but she saw me grab a fantasy book she’d left one time…. and then after that she just decided to bypass the shelf and dump all her fantasy books directly on my desk.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Mostly bad. Her taste was terrible and she didn’t actually ask me if I was interested in any of them. I wound up taking the vast majority right to the thrift store.

      4. always in email jail*

        I could see being too lazy to get a note at the time and thinking “oh I’ll tell her I dropped it off on Tuesday” and then forgetting.

      5. Elizabeth H.*

        I like reading books about things I’m good at! Including organization! I usually conclude that my way is better than whatever is espoused in the book, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them.

    5. Rebecca in Dallas*

      Something like this happened to me once! I came in and there was a printout on my desk, some article about divorce. I was like, “What on earth? Who would have left this for me?” I rarely even mentioned my husband at work, much less anything about our relationship. I threw it away but kept wondering if someone had left it for me.

      Months later, I noticed a “How to file for divorce” book on another coworker’s desk, it turned out that she and her husband were splitting up. I never mentioned anything to her, but figured she must have been the one researching divorce and for whatever reason set that article down on my desk and forgot about it. (She had a shared desk at the time and I didn’t, so it’s possible she was using my desk for privacy or something.)

      Point of the story is, never attribute to malice what can be attributed to absent-mindedness!

    6. enviro econ*

      My thoughts for OP1 was that it was intentional – otherwise they would have left a note? When s/he said they had done a lot of organizing for the team, I’m guessing someone didn’t like her process/results and this was a petty revenge. I’d leave it in the break room unless someone came by and said they left it on purpose as a gift.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, is 30 hours how much time you’d like for work reasons, or to placate your manager? If I had negotiated remote work, and coming up to full-time was contingent on spending the vast majority of my work-time in office, I would probably feel it was a bit bait-and-switchy. I’m not accusing you of that—of course work arrangements change for any number of valid reasons, including because of a GrandBoss’s preferences. But 30 hours is awfully close to “full time.” Has your report indicated she’d be ok with the switch? Does she want to go full-time if it means being in-office more often? Was she in-office when she covered your mat leave? (You don’t have to answer any of those questions—they’re just all the things that came immediately to mind for me.)

    Of course, follow Alison’s advice and line things up so that offering her remote work is still a possibility. But if you’re going to go to bat for her, I think it’s worth figuring out how many hours you actually want/need in-office and how many hours she wants/needs to be in-office. Maybe this is terrible advice, but I think it could make sense to have a frank conversation with her where you make no promises (and explicitly say you can’t make promises) but explain what you’d need to change about her arrangement in order to bring her up to full-time.

    1. Fern*

      The 30 hours being nearly full time is a really good point. I’d assume she negotiated working remotely because it was an important benefit to her. Removing it may make the job less attractive in the long run- and because people are only human, you might get less out of her after altering the deal.

      So yes, definitely worth examining what’s driving that number- do you feel a 30/10 split is the minimum needed to be effective in the role, or is that the minimum needed to appease your manager? Is she a team member you want to retain for a long time?

      (And maybe it is driven primarily by getting grandboss off your back and you move forward, but it’s far better to have looked at your own motivations with a critical eye and weighed those against the possible short and long term outcomes.)

      1. Shay*

        Eh, I think stressing this is a little strange because working full time wasn’t her original — she agreed to work part time, them later accepted (the promotion?) the change to full-time work. It certainly isn’t presented as being anything other than a mutually agreed upon advancement/promotion, so now OP is correct in at least using the full-time template for setting a workable remote schedule than using the part-time work schedule to set remote hours.

        1. Jady*

          My issue with that take though is that the full time transition was done awhile ago. It happened, it’s been settled, there was no discussed change of hours. Changing terms on the employee now is in my opinion bait-n-switch.

          What if the employee would have rejected going full time if it required X hours in the office? What’s going to happen if they protest to the change? Are they going to force it? Are they willing to risk losing a reportedly great employee over this? What’s the actual tangible reason for it – the OP phrases the situation as a “because I want it this way”. Are they going to make up the loss of this benefit in any way to the employee?

          Obviously they can and will do whatever they want, but as an employee this situation would make me furious.

          1. LBK*

            You seem to pose these all as threats/ultimatums, but they’re genuine questions to which the OP might decide the answer is “yes, I’m willing to lose an employee who’s not willing to perform the job as I need it performed.” I’m certainly on board with not arbitrarily forcing people to work in the office, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean you can expect to be given free reign over telework. There isn’t really a strong justification for why I have to work in the office, but I’m happy to accept my 1 WFH day per week and having the flexibility to WFH other days as needed as a compromise for a job where WFH just isn’t really part of our culture.

            1. Kyrielle*

              Yes, but I hear Jady’s point. When $OldJob was bought and the new owners wanted everyone in the office all the time, and was looking at rescinding my variant schedule, I was looking at going from three days of being in the office a week to five. I hadn’t changed terms to that; well, neither has this employee changed terms. (If they had been offered full time ‘but you have to be in the office 30 hours a week’ and accepted it, I would consider that quite reasonable; it’s dumping it on them later.)

              If the employer decides they need it, they can and will do it, of course. But it’s important to think through whether it’s really needed – OP’s letter sounds like it’s to appease a boss who wants it that way just-because (and in fact, just-because-we-want-it was the reason the new owners wanted it at my previous job, as far as I could tell).

              I would have left $OldJob for other reasons anyway after the change in ownership – but if none of those other reasons had existed, the shift from 3 to 5 days a week in the office would have also caused me to leave. And the fact that I perceived it as arbitrary would have made it worse; if there were reasons that I understood, that would have helped. (But not enough to stay – I had a bad commute, due to an office move made after we bought our house, and three times a week was already more times a week than I wanted to make that commute.)

              1. LBK*

                (If they had been offered full time ‘but you have to be in the office 30 hours a week’ and accepted it, I would consider that quite reasonable; it’s dumping it on them later.)

                It wasn’t dumped on her later, though. She was told she’d be expected to show up more and she basically only got away with still having minimal office presence because there wasn’t anywhere to put her in a more permanent location. As I said elsewhere, I suppose you can argue that they should’ve pre-defined the hours even at that point, but the OP has confirmed in a follow up comment that they didn’t know there would be additional space for her until a couple weeks ago.

                I don’t think a reasonable employee will see this as a bait and switch since she was clearly told she needed to be in the office more; it’s more like “the loophole has closed, so now we need to solidify what I’d told you before”. It might still be annoying, sure, but it’s not unreasonable.

                1. Kyrielle*

                  Fair enough. I would see “more” and “30 hours” as pretty wildly divergent statements, but then again, if someone said “more” to me I’d ask how much more, if working from home was important to me. It sounds like that was never quantified – given that 30 hours is just shy of the lower threshold of what I normally see treated as “full time” (32 hours), that seems like a pretty large shift to me.

                2. LBK*

                  FWIW, the 30 hour number in the letter seems like an arbitrarily selected example hedged on the side of what she thought would appease her boss, not the number she’d officially decided on.

                3. Kyrielle*

                  Which I think says a lot about how necessary it isn’t. Some of OP’s comments make it sound more important that she be there, but the 30 hours is completely arbitrary to make the boss happy, not to accomplish anything else. That part makes it read to me as very arbitrary and probably unfair.

                  And it remains that I would see “more” and “30 hours” as different, and I think many people would (and many others would not!), and I think that’s useful information for the OP to consider.

      2. Jady*

        This is my immediate thought too. OP doesn’t present an actual reason that the status quo needs to change. The remote employee is great, does great work, comes in when needed and sounds like maybe even when not needed just to appease people.

        Regardless of her role in the company and how it’s changed over time, it sounds like no one has ever said “here’s a promotion to X and accepting this promotion requires Y hours in the office a week”.

        And no, I don’t agree going full time earlier counts. That happened, it’s done, and there was no discussion THEN on changing the situation. Trying a “so now that you’re full time…” is a bait and switch.

        So forcing this change on the remote employee fairly out of the blue (ie not terms of an official promotion) is pretty high risk to employee unhappiness for what sounds like no significant gains here.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The OP said in the letter that after thinking about it, she realized she does want the person in the office more, given the work she needs to accomplish. And she says in the comments here that she needs her to be more present so that other people in the organization take issues directly to her, rather than going through the OP.

          It’s not a bait and switch; the employee was told at the time they made her full-time that she’d need to be in the office more, but there hasn’t been space until now to make that happen.

          1. OPnumber2*

            Thanks – I also realize that I should clarify that before the role was created as a full-time salaried position, she was hourly and consistently logging 40 hours a week (but I didn’t have any budget for her to go overtime which can be strenuous at times in IT). There is no change in hours worked. The permanent role I created was a promotion, but about 20-30% of her current role is still doing some entry-level processing work. I think that type of work she benefits (and is more productive) by doing it remotely. In fact, from my own experience working remotely, I’ll bet that she routinely puts in more than 40 hours worth of work! (And that is one of the main reasons that I benefit and currently prefer coming into the office is that it helps me maintain a healthier balance.)

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              This is so helpful, OP—thank you for coming back and clarifying the need for the shift!

            2. Green Goose*

              As someone who was originally allowed to work remotely 1-2 days a week, and then had that revoked about 15 months into my job, I would recommend that you lay out clearly why the employee has to be at the office more. I agree with others that if its a “because my manager says so” reason, it may be a deal breaker for her. Multiple people from my team quit when our remote working was revoked because it was a really great benefit and people planned their lives around being able to do so, but we got a “shiny new office” as well and then suddenly the higher ups decided that they wanted us at the office “because”.

              1. JM60*

                I know I’m late to the party, but I wanted to add that one of the biggest, most underrated factors that has been proven to significantly influence life happiness is commute. So if my employer made us come into the office 5 days a week instead of 3, I would see this as a huge paycut in a way. The main ‘big picture’ question when it comes to whether or not I like a job is how good my life would be with that job vs with another job. Part of that is how much I like or dislike the work itself, the compensation, how the job would affect my personal life, etc. I think that making me come in 5 days a week instead of 3 would require a substantial pay increase (e.g. 30-40%) to keep my general life happiness and satisfaction the same.

              2. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

                Yup, I’d quit if I had to go from WFH all the time to Butts In Seats 30 hours a week. No doubt about it.

            3. Arjay*

              Yes, my concern is about what those 30 hours look like. It sounded a little bit like you want her in the office five days a week, for maybe 6 hours a day? To me, if I have to come into the office every day, that’s really rescinding the perk part entirely. Especially for a salaried employee, it ends up sounding like, “Come into work nearly all day every day, AND then we’ll encourage you to continue to work when you get home too!”

    2. CBH*

      I agree with this that the scenario seems a bit like a bait and switch. OP I’m not saying this was done on purpose. To me it seems like the employee accepted the position with the understanding that they would be working from home a majority of the time. Given that they are there in the office when needed and (sounds like) a reliable, above and beyond employee I’d question if you want to take that benefit away from employee. I understand that you might prefer for employee to be in the office a bit more but as an employee I’d be a bit upset at the change especially (assumingly) if it was documented when hired.

      1. LBK*

        It sounds like that was the arrangement when she started in her original role, but she’s since been transitioned into a different role. I suppose you can argue that if it wasn’t re-negotiated at the time then that implies the old arrangement was still standing, but I also think it’s not unreasonable for a manager to decide after you’ve been performing a new role for a little while that it’s not working out the way they want to have you remote so often.

        1. Mike C.*

          It feels a bit disingenuous to make the argument that “it’s not working” when the work output is fine and the real issue is that the grand boss “just doesn’t like it”. If the OP has to, I don’t see an issue with being honest with the reason.

      2. Red Reader*

        Same here. She’s been full-time and salaried and working remotely in this position since the LW came back from leave, is how I read it, and doing great work that way. The reason for demanding more butt-in-seat time now appears to be solely that “at the end of the summer, we will have a seat for her to put her butt in” – no reasoning is given for why the current situation isn’t working out, aside from “my boss thinks she should be here more.” Is that arbitrary ‘concern’ worth poking holes in this woman’s morale?

        1. Antilles*

          The woman will absolutely take a morale hit and be irritated about it. I mean, based on OP’s letter, the pro/con list for working remotely looks something like this:
          Pro: Woman is perfectly fine at working remotely, is already operating in that new role that requires more face time, and clearly prefers to work remotely. Her direct manager has no concerns with her performance or availability.
          Con: The grandboss doesn’t believe in telework. Also, we, uh bought some extra desks this month.

          1. Antilles*

            (note: OP’s clarification below makes it seem like there’s a much stronger business case for it, so it’s less arbitrary…but the woman will still probably take a morale hit if she really prefers remote work)

    3. always in email jail*

      I thought it was a bit odd to say “that said, I don’t need it to be full time” (referring to her time in office) then follow it with “I’d like 30 to 40 hours a week in the office”. That’s… basically full time. You may find yourself with an employee who is job searching

      1. LBK*

        To be clear, she says 30 *out of* 40 hours per week, not 30 t0 40 (I read it the same way initially).

    4. OPnumber2*

      The main motivations for having her in the office more are for work reasons. When I converted the job into a full-time, salaried role, part of the job is to take on some project management functions. As this is a small organization, most roles cross over to various departments and functions, so I have to work pretty closely with marketing, retail, and operations. Her role is to take some of the day-to-day questions and issues that still fall into my plate and I think that her being physically present would benefit that. Additionally, I think her and I could collaborate better when we’re working on some big projects by making it more fluid than can be achieved in slack (where you have to take screenshots to get a point across).

      That said, I agree that 30 hours sounds like a lot and it is a pretty arbitrary number. I really like the idea of having a frank conversation with her before figuring out what the conversation with my own boss will look like.

      1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        That makes sense. If I were you, when you have the conversation, I would not approach it as having to be in the office for X number of hours, but rather when tasks A, B, and C are being worked on and meetings D, E, and F are scheduled. That way there is flexibility because some weeks she might need to be in the office 40 hours and others 15. It also grounds the request in business need.

        1. OPnumber2*

          Thanks! I really like the idea of of talking to her about how it might vary from week to week and giving her a set of tasks that I am very clear that she needs to work on in the office.

      2. Antilles*

        That said, I agree that 30 hours sounds like a lot and it is a pretty arbitrary number.
        One way to think about it is this: Assuming you work something similar to a typical 5 days/week, 8 hr/day schedule, being in office 30 hours basically means that she’s an “office employee who works from home one day a week”, *not* a “remote worker who sometimes comes in”. If you really need an office worker not a remote worker, then that’s a fair thing to ask for – just make sure you’re honest with yourself about what you’re really asking of this woman.
        One other thing to think about and discuss with her (and your boss too) is what exactly “X hours per week” means. 30 hours per week is 30 hours per week…but there’s a huge difference between “5-6 hours every day” and “consistently work from home on Friday”.

        1. Mononymous*

          Totally agree. I’m 100% remote right now and if that arrangement were to change, to me there’s absolutely no difference between “spend half of each day in the office” and “spend every working moment in the office”. Benefits to me of being remote: I get to skip the commute time/hassle of traffic/transportation costs, skip doing my hair and face, skip business casual dress, and instead sleep an extra couple of hours then work on my couch in my comfies. If I have to get up each day and shower, style, dress and commute, I may as well just stay in the office for the whole day. (And then job search because that’s not what I signed up for.) OTOH if I was asked to be in office so many days per week and remote the other (full) days, that might be tenable for me, depending on the job and if there were other perks to make up for the loss of some WFH days.

          OP, you get to decide what the job is and where it’s performed, but please know exactly what you want (and why) before talking to her, and be prepared for the employee to potentially decide that doesn’t work for her and move on.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This totally makes sense, OP. I agree with Antilles that it may be worth reframing how you’re thinking of the position, as well. It sounds like it’s an office job that allows some remote work, as opposed to a remote job with some time in office. But you’ve mentioned really legitimate and specific reasons for why in-office time is necessary.

        I think providing a big picture description of the job that clearly connects specific job functions/tasks to being in office will help make the conversation smoother. If you have a written job description, you could work off of that so that you each have a copy that helps spell out the differences between her prior role and what her new role would be if she accepts the promotion (if you have a job description of her previous role, bring that, too!). It will also make 30 hours sound less arbitrary and more connected to tasks. From what you’ve described, you’re expecting about 20% of her time, max, to be spent on remote data entry. That’s about 8 hours/week, in which case 30-32 hours in-office totally makes sense and doesn’t really have to do with facetime.

        If she has a clear understanding of the business case for why the position is essentially being reclassified as non-remote, I think the conversation will feel less like something is being taken away (remote work) and more like a completely different job opportunity with different needs. That helps take the emotional sting out of it. She may decide the role shift is not for her, but at least you’ll both have a clear sense of why the position needs to be in-office.

    5. self employed*

      Experienced in remote here, and I think 10 hours in office would be acceptable to me, if I were in the employee’s position. 30 hours would be such a demotion that I’d likely start looking elsewhere.

    6. heismanpat*

      Exactly. This type of crap is why good employees leave bad employers. That individual negotiated for something that was very important to them, and you’re now reneging on that promise. (30 hours is a huge amount of time to be in the office for a “remote” position). In my opinion, this isn’t any different than changing someone’s titles/job responsibilities after they accept a position or changing their negotiated benefits/salary.

      If your boss is against remote work, why on earth were they approved to work remotely in the first place? You should have been upfront with them when they were hired instead of saying what was needed at the time and then moving the goalposts as soon as it became convenient for you. And go to bat for your employee!

    7. Chatterby*

      I thought LW2 was skipping a vital step: asking the employee.

      What the boss thinks is moot if the employee has little to no interest in switching to almost full-time office work and giving up her work-from-home perk.
      If this were me, I’d definitely be angry and start job searching, especially if I was excluded from the conversation.

    8. nonymous*

      Assuming that the employee has a good performance record to date, I’d be inclined to say that the minimum on in-person time is the difference in hours from her part time status + meetings as necessary. Also, depending on personalities involved, it may be worthwhile to lowball the hours OP#2 wants employee in the building so that the Boss can “convince” her to increase it.

      My logic is that if employee is working X hours remotely with great success, if the on-campus time is greater than 40-X, it implies that employee’s previous work was not on par with company expectations. They can’t have it both ways – either her part-time remote work was excellent and this aspect does not need to change, even as her hours increase, or her previous work was subpar due to being off-site.

    9. Jennifer Thneed*

      I think that 30 hours is an oddball number of hours. Does OP think that her employee would be in the office 6 hours each day and do 2 more hours of work at home? That works out exactly but still has the employee having to put on shoes and get herself to work every single day. For me (and maybe for most folks?) the big perk of wfh is getting to skip those things.

      If OP is actually thinking that her employee will be in the office 4 days, that’s 32 hours. OP needs to be very clear exactly what she wants from her employee. Not just a set number of hours to be butt-in-seat; but which specific hours the butt is in which seat.

      Also, every building project I’ve been part of (even building out office interiors in existing buildings) has finished later than scheduled. It might be that OP won’t have an empty desk for her employee as soon as she thinks. Is it useful for the OP to bring this up now, while the dates are still nebulous?

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, it’s weird for the former coworker to have told you he also interviewed for the job, especially because you weren’t working together when you applied, you’re not going to be working together (so far), and there’s no normal/valid reason for him to disclose that information other than extreme social awkwardness (but I don’t think the last issue holds because he explicitly asked you if your new coworkers/boss told you about him, which goes beyond “oh haha, I also interviewed”).

    It’s also super weird that he’s asking you if others disclosed that information to you. Frankly, I’d ignore that part of his LinkedIn request, and if he pushes the issue, you can decide if you want to answer his question. Fwiw, I would be inclined to answer with a question like, “Why do you ask?”, but I recognize that that just keeps the intrigue going and might make you sound like you’re dodgy/hiding something. But it’s really really strange and borderline inappropriate for him to ask you for that information.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Personally I would not reply to this at all. Someone who crosses boundaries is potentially likely to misinterpret whatever OP says or otherwise continue to make them feel uncomfortable. I’d ignore.

      1. Alison Read*

        I can easily see myself sending that note not realizing the nefarious implications – in my mind it’s more of: “Hey! I know this person!” The person felt comfortable enough with the OP when she was an intern to confess their unhappiness with their job. Unless the OP works in a very restricted field or small town where knowing others is taken for granted; I would think this was just an awkward attempt at saying hi to someone they felt they had a (however remote) connection with.

        1. Chaordic One*

          I tend to agree with Alison Read. The person probably considers the OP to be a closer friend than the OP does and just wanted to share in a harmless gossipy way. I think that the suggestions about responding by saying “thanks” are on target and I wouldn’t have any problem saying something like, “no, I didn’t know you had applied for the job.” You might even add something along the lines of, “I didn’t know you were looking, but good luck” or something along those lines.

          Then, that’s it. No more contact. If he continues you can give him a more direct kiss-off, but at this point I don’t think there was anything nefarious about it or to worry about.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think mentioning you interviewed is socially awkward but understandable. I’ve seen people blurt this out or not think it all the way through, but their intentions have always been good.

          But then asking the person who got the job if their new coworkers and boss told them that you had interviewed is super strange. That’s not a normal way to share “oh hey, I also applied! Happy you got the job.” Asking if others mentioned your “success” at applying for the same job makes this whole thing sound more off than normal social awkwardness.

        3. Ramona Flowers*

          I guess. Like: oh hey, I also applied, I wonder if it came up… I suppose I can see how that might sound chatty in someone’s head.

          I still wouldn’t reply, personally.

          1. Midge*

            I’ve applied but not been hired for internal positions. I definitely don’t tell the incoming person that I also applied, and I’d be mortified to find out my candidacy just “came up” in their interview. Unless you’re literally running around the office telling everyone that you applied for the job, I would hope the hiring manager wouldn’t mention it!

        4. always in email jail*

          I think saying “by the way, I applied for that position too!” is different than “did they tell you I applied?” The question is what makes it weird to me. Why would they tell you who else applied?!

          1. LBK*

            Huh, I actually have the opposite read on it – “did they tell you I applied?” sounds more like friendly conversation to me, like “just think it was funny we both applied for this, wondering if it came up”. On the flipside, “by the way, I applied too” sounds more bitter to me – “by the way” has a heavier implication that this somehow information meant to be to the OP’s benefit.

        5. Falling Diphthong*

          My guess was something along the lines of “I should congratulate Arya on the new position… Oh wait, does she know I applied? That could seem weird if she does and I don’t mention it… Oooh, wait, now my message doesn’t make sense if she doesn’t know? Would people tell her? I should probably just add that part…. okay, send.”

          1. tigerlily*

            Agreed. I can also just imagine someone writing in with the opposite happening: “My former co-worker congratulated me on my new job. The weird thing is, I know they applied for the position, too, but they didn’t say anything to me about it. Why are they trying to hide that information? Should I let them know that I know? Are they trying to sabotage me?”

        6. Kathleen Adams*

          Like Alison Read, I too can definitely see myself sending a message like this without intending anything weird – and I don’t think I have any problem understanding people’s boundaries. My feeling would be, “Eh, she’s probably going to find out anyway, so I’d rather she hear it from me.” I find needless secrets kind of irritating, actually.

          So it could be boundary-crossing, but quite possibly not.

    2. Peanut*

      Yeah, I wondered if maybe a critical piece of info was missing from this letter, like somehow the place LW works now is connected somehow to the place she interned (where former coworker presumably still works).

      Otherwise why in the world would any company mention to a new hire who the other applicants were, even if the hiring people had time to notice that new hire’s resume lists a company in common with another applicant?!?

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        The more I think about it, the more weird I find this. Why would they mention it to OP, as you say, unless the world revolves around this person?

        Honestly, the whole thing is really creepy and weird. I think I might actually block the person, at the very least.

      2. Bea*

        I’m half asleep so maybe I’m reading wrong but the message was on Linkin so the guy knew from her update that she got a job there and knew it was one he applied for. Nobody would need to share the info with him to know.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think Peanut is asking why Company B, who hired OP, would ever tell OP that Candidate Former Coworker from Company A also interviewed. Peanut is pointing out that it would be pretty strange for HR to share with one candidate details/information about another candidate, period, let alone put in the effort required to find the connection between OP and Candidate Former Coworker.

      3. Ramona Flowers*

        In fact it is possible this person has a problem with an intern getting “his” job?

        1. JulieBulie*

          That’s what I was thinking. If he’s not bitter about it, he might try to get OP to help him get into the company in some other role. But he might be very bitter and wanting to start some mischief?

      4. Alice*

        But he didn’t just apply — it says that he interviewed. In my field an interview means a full day of different meetings with perhaps 10-20 people total and a presentation that anyone in the organization can come to. If OP is in a similar field, there could be lots of people who know that OP’s old co-worker was interviewed. It’s not a secret.

      5. OPnumber3*

        OP here. The companies are not connected, and the only commonality was that we both had the other company and department listed on our resumes.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I might reply, “Thanks for the congrats–I’m enjoying the job. No, no one mentioned you’d applied also; they’ve been very discreet. Best of luck in your search; sorry this one didn’t work out for you.”

      1. Mookie*

        This is excellent, particularly because it’s giving the co-worker a generous benefit-of-the-doubt out, working from the assumption that he’s seeking reassurance rather than trying to stir the pot (for whatever reason). Unless he delights in extended cringe-y conversation, this should put the matter to rest.

      2. Not a Morning Person*

        I like this response and was thinking along the same lines. Perhaps in addition to the congratulations, the message was also intended to find out how discreet, or not, the company was being in their hiring process. Most job seekers want that to be secret from their current manager and maybe he/she was worried word will get out about the job hunting, although it sounds like they were not discrete in sharing about being unhappy in the current job!

    4. Alice*

      They won’t be working together at OP’s new job (btw congrats and good luck!) — but if it’s a small field in which everyone knows everyone, or if it’s a field where it’s expected that people from different organizations serve together on professional committees, then I don’t see why it’s socially awkward to acknowledge that the former coworker was in the running for the job too. I know that other people are interpreting this a violating a norm about boundaries, but I disagree. Interviewing-for-but-not-getting-a-job is not something to be ashamed of, and getting-a-job-that-others-applied-for isn’t either.
      Of course there’s a difference between “Congrats! Maybe Tom and Jane mentioned that I interviewed for the same job? The organization has a great reputation and I’m sure you’ll be successful there” and “Did Tom tell you? Did Jane tell you? Did anyone tell you? Tell me if anyone told you! Oh and also congrats.”
      My suggestion for OP — someone sending a LinkedIn message doesn’t mean you have to reply; someone asking a question doesn’t mean you have to answer; if you’re not comfortable you don’t need to follow up.

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        I agree that it just doesn’t sound that weird to me. If the former coworker applied but didn’t interview for the job, chances are nobody aside from HR need ever know about it, but if he interviewed…

        …Look, all I can say is that there’s *no* way it could be kept a secret around my office, unless they interviewed him off-site or something. No doubt other places are different, but that’s the way it is around here. So he probably figured that the OP would probably hear sooner or later that he’d interviewed and decided it would be best if she heard it from him rather than through the grapevine. I think it’s very possible that he was trying to make it less awkward rather than more awkward.

        But then, as I mentioned above, I find myself very irritated by a lot of needless, hush-hush secret keeping. Why should someone have to keep it a secret that they applied for a job if they don’t want to?

    5. OPnumber3*

      Thank you everyone for all of the advice! I do not believe that the message was intended to be malicious in any way. My main concern with it was how to go about crafting a reply that made an uncomfortable conversation less awkward . I appreciate all of the comments addressing how I can appropriately respond!

  4. Ramona Flowers*

    #2 Okay, so you like going to the office and leaving work there. So do I, as it happens. And it makes sense that you don’t want to fight that battle for yourself.

    But you have a direct report who negotiated remote work when she started, whose productivity has never been in question, who didn’t have a space when she started (so it’s not comparable with other team members).

    If you aren’t willing to go to bat for her, you may lose her, or at the very least damage your relationship with her. You asked her to come in more, but didn’t have space for that – it is going to seem arbitrary if you suddenly insist on it once you have space, if you’ve never actually been clear that it’s a problem before.

    I would ask yourself if 30 hours is truly what you want, or what you think will appease your boss. Why 30 out of 40 hours – why not think in whole days, so 24 or 32? And are you willing to lose a good employee over this?

    1. Artemesia*

      I agree. She negotiated work from home. She has been great at it. You might find her not feeling baited and switched if you asked her to be in 15 or 20 hours since you have already hinted at this change. But if the only reason for nearly full time is ‘old school’ boss you really owe it to her to more aggressively protect her agreement.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      I also agree. OP, you are reneging on a promise. If things have changed then you better have a really good reason for it. “I don’t want to go to bat for you” is a really poor reason. Especially since that is your job as manager.
      Your report is doing things right. Don’t punish her for it.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        She’s not reneging on a promise. She says that when they changed her role, they told her she would need to be present in the office more as part of that. (I’m assuming that the employee agreed to that since the OP doesn’t say otherwise, although maybe that’s an incorrect assumption.)

        1. Engineer Girl*

          I disagree a bit. The employee is already coming in to the office and may think that the frequency and duration are sufficient. I would argue that 30 hours a week is quite different than what is already occurring in a full time role.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            I’m also biased. My last assignment had people all over the world. Almost all of the work was remote. I never knew what some team members looked like until I saw their profiles on LinkedIn.

        2. OPnumber2*

          Thanks Alison, that is the correct assumption. When the role was created, one of the goals was to get her taking on some junior project management type work and be the person to handle day-to-day inquiries, freeing me up to focus on higher level things. I think that since I am in the office and the person people see, a lot of these things still fall to me to address (or at least communicate over to her as an assignment).

          I’m also very willing to go “to bat” for her with my own manager concerning her getting to work from home – I just haven’t waded into that pool yet! Any suggestions on framing that conversation? (Once I’ve decided what I truly want and expect from her on this. As previously suggested, I think that a conversation with her is definitely in order without making any promises.)

          1. Mike C.*

            Focus on results of work and how responsive your employee is. Those are usually the main concerns of people who hate teleworking.

          2. Free Meerkats (formerly Gene)*

            one of the goals was to get her taking on some junior project management type work and be the person to handle day-to-day inquiries

            People all over the world do this type of work remotely every day. I think part of the problem is that you have taken on the job of passing things on to her. When someone comes up and starts to talk about the xenomorph, your reply shouldn’t be, “OK, I’ll pass that on to Ripley.” but should be, “Please ask Ripley.” You’ve trained the staff to ask you and you’ll refer it to her, now it’s time to train them the other way. This may take a little time with her in the office so they get used to asking her.

        3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          I’d also like to push back on the general “bait and switch” complaint that comes up here a lot. Not everything that can come up can or should be addressed in an interview/hiring process.

          Like — the dog-friendly office with the new hire who was allergic? It’s not a bait-and-switch to no longer allow dogs in order to accommodate a new hire; it’s just the natural evolution of a situation.

          I don’t know whether the concerns the OP has that are driving her to want the employee in the office more were knowable at the time they moved the employee into a full-time, salaried position. It’s reasonable for her to have not been able to predict how much it would matter to have the employee in the office, given the new project management aspects of her job. It’s ok to have an honest conversation about that (“You’ve been doing a great job, but I’m realizing that a lot of our colleagues are still coming to me about this and I need them to go to you. I think your being in the office on a more consistent basis will help with that. Can we work out a schedule of when you’ll be here and see if that helps things?”)

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s interesting to me that so many people are interpreting the letter that way. I read it as the OP saying that she told the employee from the outset that when changing to the new role, she would need to be in the office more. That’s been hard to do because of their space issues, but now that the space issues are resolving, she wants to stick to that — not because of her boss, but because the new role does require more time present among others.

      If I’m wrong about that and it’s all much more arbitrary, I’d have a different answer — but I read the letter as saying that the new role had a legitimate need for more office time.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I actually read it that way, too, but OP’s suggested “in-office” time doesn’t seem to match the other information we’ve been given. If the employee has been working 20 hours remotely, then I can understand saying the other 20 hours need to be in-office in order to come up to full time. Or, if there are specific job functions that come with being full-time that require more time in-office, then a greater-than-20-hours shift could also make sense—for example, when the employee was covering OP’s parental leave.

        But saying, 30 hours provides enough “face time” sounds like one of a few things: (1) A move to placate OP’s boss; (2) A move that may not match her employee’s expectations (but maybe it does—I think OP should ask her); or (3) necessary for the slightly-different role the employee will play if she comes on full-time. It’s not clear from the letter what the work-related reason is for that added face time, other than placating the GrandBoss. I think that may be why folks are pushing on OP to articulate the basis for the 30-hours.

      2. CE*

        It feels arbitary because a lot of the letter is about the boss’ dislike of remote working and there is a big difference between “mentioning” that someone will need to be present “more” and announcing, “I want you to come in for 3/4 of your time”. I might be wrong, but my suspicion is that the 30 hours face time is being proposed more to keep the boss happy than for any real productivity related reasons, especially as the OP says she doesn’t know what she wants.

        If I were the employee I would want it clearly laid out as to what being present 3/4 of the time would achieve that couldn’t be achieved from a 50:50 or less split.

        1. LBK*

          But again, as Alison says, the exact nature of that increased office presence has been kind of up in the air because of the lack of space. I suppose you can argue that she should’ve said something back when the employee changed roles like “We can continue to bring you in just as needed until we have more desk space, at which point I’ll need you to be in the office X days per week”. But it may not also have been clear at the time that there was ever going to be additional desk space, so it would’ve been kind of a weird nebulous request.

        2. OPnumber2*

          It feels arbitrary….because it is? I do want her to be more present so that other people in the organization will take day-to-day type issues directly to her, rather than feeling the need to come through me (even though I’ve gotten very accomplished at listening to the issue, asking a few questions, and ultimately saying “let me take that to “Poppy” for further investigation). I also hope that with the projects we’re collaborating on, that it might be more fluid to have her present, rather than having to schedule a specific meeting.

          I’m just not sure how much time that is? Ideally, I’d be able to tell her that she’s an adult, we now have a space for you, these are the reasons I think it would be beneficial for you to be present more/on a regular basis, and she can decide/learn through what schedule works best. However, I’m not sure how to convince my own boss that this is the right thing? Any advice on making that case? I realize I might have come across as unwilling to go “to bat” for her, but I totally am!

          1. fposte*

            I would put the cards on the table with this employee and see what you can work out together. Rather than coming to her with a fully formed plan, I’d have some ideas–core hours, maybe?–that you can use in creating a projected work schedule together. I also think you should think through your own nice to haves and must haves–I have a staffer who does a lot of remote work, and I’m always weighing the “It would be good for me to have him here” against the “Remote work is important to him for this job and I don’t want to undermine that for just-in-case presence.” Think also about what this means for her future–is there a kind of presence that’s necessary for her to advance at this company, and does she care?

            But mostly I think you can treat a solid employee as a partner in the discussion. That way you can find out what might work for her and what she’d feel was too great a change for her to tolerate, and you can take the plan you work out together to your boss as the thing to defend if to retain a good employee.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I like this advice and wish it had occurred to me, earlier. I vote for this approach!

          2. CM*

            So when I first read Alison’s advice saying to go to your boss first and figure out what’s acceptable, and then talk to your employee, I thought it was wise to avoid having to go back and forth. But since you’re not even sure what to ask for, I wonder if it would be better to talk to the employee first. You could remind her that the new role requires her to be in the office more, and be transparent that you’re not sure what would be acceptable for management, but want to check with her about what she would ideally like. That way you can figure out, for example, if it’s important for her to work an entire day at home versus a partial day, or if there are particular days and times when she really wants to be home, or if anything above 25 hours in the office will make her want to quit. I think that if you’re very clear that you can’t guarantee anything yet, but just want to get a sense of what’s important to her, that could work out. Then you could go to your boss with a proposal.

          3. LBK*

            What’s the WFH arrangement like with your other employees? Is she the only one who gets this level of flexibility? I wonder if it might make sense to visit your boss’s attitude about telework as a whole rather than trying to get a special exception for this one employee; frankly, if I were a strong employee on your team, I’d be a little annoyed if I’d come to accept that WFH wasn’t part of my job but then someone who started out as a part-time worker got grandfathered into a special arrangement when they became full-time and put into the same role as me, pretty much solely because she lucked out and the seating wasn’t able to accommodate her when she’d become full-time.

            1. OPnumber2*

              Right, so this is a little complicated. My boss is a director and I’m among his original team of 4. Because of growth, each of us has now made the case to add a supporting role headcount. However, because it is IT and I also report to the president, I’m the only one who’s supporting role person is my direct report. Everyone on his team (now 7) is in general full-time in the office, with the flexibility that I mentioned in my letter.

              1. LBK*

                Gotcha – so if I’m understanding correctly, there isn’t really anyone at her peer level on the hierarchy, because you’re the only one among your peer level that has direct reports?

                If you and your coworkers are all full-time in the office plus flexibility, I think it’s pretty reasonable to expect her to match that.

          4. Xarcady*

            I just wanted to point out that if you want people to take various concerns/issues directly to Poppy, saying “let me take that to Poppy” is not the best way to go.

            Perhaps if you tried, “Sounds like you should take that to Poppy!” people would start to get the message that Poppy is now handling those issues, not you. And this does not depend on whether she is in the office or WFH.

            1. LBK*

              I think that can kind of sound like passing the buck, especially if it is something the OP is capable of handling/has handled in the past. And there is something to be said for the thinking of “I know Poppy is handling this now but it’s something quick, Jane is here and Poppy isn’t, so I’ll just swing by Jane’s office so I don’t have to spend time chasing Poppy down on IM/email/phone.”

              1. Chinook*

                I agree that ““Sounds like you should take that to Poppy!” sounds like passing the buck, so maybe reword that to “That is something Poppy now takes care of.” The OP wants to retrain people to go to Poppy and there is no way to do that without sounding like passing the buck because that is exactly what you are doing (just with good reasons).

                The same goes for chasing people down electronically instead of in person. OP needs to retrain them into thinking that in-person is not the most efficient method of getting something done. I do this all the time because I often miss details if someone comes to me in person with what they want done. My response is often “can you email me with the information” or “let me you email you the chart with all my questions so I don’t’ have to go back and forth with you” even though I am perfectly capable of taking their information down when they give it to me verbally. The end result is that these same people eventually just email me their requests even if they are sitting next to me (which means I can deal with them on my time frame or forward them on to the person who can better deal with it). It also means that those I support who are in different locations can get the same priority response as those who are able to walk to my desk.

                In person (and by phone) is great for building the relationships and understanding someone’s quirks when it comes to their requests as well as for fleshing out details and ideas, but that electronic summary is perfect once details have been hammered out and it needs to be clear what needs to be done. and all of this can be done with a WFH employee if office employees are encouraged to interact in ways other than walking to someone’s desk and interrupting them.

              2. Toph*

                If Poppy is OP’s direct report, then I don’t think there should be concern about “passing the buck”. If OP and Poppy were same level, I agree it could sound like passing the buck, but since OP manages Poppy, it sort of can’t be? If a manager is saying “please direct this to my subordinate”, especially when it’s something OP has handled in the past, it’s a clear way of saying “that is now Poppy’s responsibility” and buck-passing isn’t really an issue. When a new role is created it’s natural some things will come off OP’s plate and onto Poppy’s. So I think this is a normal way to communicate “here’s your new process”.

              1. BF50*

                I also think it’s possible that once you have trained other people to go directly to your direct report, the need to have here in the office might also go down.

          5. Kyrielle*

            Definitely talk to her. Some people who want to WFH will do better under a partial day schedule (possibly offset to avoid bad commute times), others will do better with some days in and out of the office, and everyone will have a different threshold for what amount of time is reasonable vs ideal.

            (Actually, if the commute length is not a problem and she wouldn’t mind being in office part of a day each work day, just for increasing visibility a part-day schedule might be ideal for what you’re describing here in the comments. If people get used to “‘Poppy’ will be in at 10 am; I can take this to her then” – it might actually serve to reduce the amount that comes to you as much as if she were there all day. Especially if that’s your response to someone asking you about those things also. But if a part-day in is as much an issue for her as a full day, such as with a longer commute, that would still not be a good solution.)

            1. LBK*

              Yeah, I had a team lead who lived next door to one of our other offices, so we got used to her routine of working a couple hours in that office every morning, then commuting over to our office around 10. People generally knew that if you wanted to talk to her in person you could just wait until then.

          6. nonymous*

            >even though I’ve gotten very accomplished at listening to the issue, asking a few questions, and ultimately saying “let me take that to “Poppy” for further investigation).

            If the task falls to Poppy because that is her role, I think you are doing her a disservice by performing an initial intake. Certainly, it may be that when people come to you it is not immediately apparent whether it is your area or hers. However, once that classification is apparent, you should be stopping the conversation and immediately looping Poppy in. A casual approach is “Oh! teapot spouts are now Poppy’s domain. You should talk to her.”

            >I also hope that with the projects we’re collaborating on, that it might be more fluid to have her present, rather than having to schedule a specific meeting.

            Why do you need to schedule? I’m a remote employee and my coworkers can tell if I’m available due to my IM status. It’s literally the virtual equivalent of sticking your head in someone’s cubicle to see if they’re free. If you’re facing the situation of multiple people onsite wanting to meet virtually at the same time with this offsite employee, try setting up a conference room with all the necessary A/V equipment. That way when a hallway convo turns into a “we need Poppy’s input”, they can just adjourn into a space that has the necessary equipment (in my world, just a conference speakerphone and video pointed at the whiteboard). If Poppy is planning to come in 1 or 2 days a week for the scheduled meetings, she should make a point of doing “rounds” when she is on site.

            Frankly, since my group switched to 50% remote employees, I’ve seen an uptick in the use of virtual systems by the on-site staff both during ad-hoc telework and while on campus. For example, if coworker is staying home because they are supervising a contractor, they still can take impromptu meetings. If someone is working on a different floor they can IM instead of taking an extra block of time to wander to a cubicle. Even during working groups, questions for third parties may come up and resolved immediately.

          7. Green Goose*

            Could you set up a ticketing system? Our IT team just set that up so that all IT questions go to, then Poppy could answer the questions that pertain to her directly. People might still go to you with questions initially, like at my office but if you continue to correct them, they will eventually use the ticketing system.

      3. kittymommy*

        That’s actually how I read it as well, that the new, renegotiated terms haven’t been able to truly take effect due to the space issues but now that hindrance is about to be removed the new terms can start. Although it also sounds like neither party truly looked at what the new in-office hours would be, just that they would be more

        1. OPnumber2*

          Right – there was also a good chance that we wouldn’t be expanding this year until a few weeks ago. We recently got the confirmation that it was going to work out to expand and decisions on the new arrangements are happening right now. The office is currently very open concept, but the other half of the building has large offices (could comfortably fit 2 people and a small collaboration table), and I requested one of those.

      4. The Other Dawn*

        I read it the same way as you. OP mentioned it to her direct report that as part of the new role she’d need to be in the office more. It just hasn’t happened because there isn’t enough room for her. I do think, however, that 30 out of 40 hours seems like a lot. Might as well have her there 40 hours if that’s the case. Maybe OP can ask her to come in 3 out of 5 days a week, or something similar. Depends on what OP’s business needs are.

        1. OPnumber2*

          I like this point a lot. When I was thinking 30 hours as an amount of time, my intention was that she’d be in the office several full days, with some flexibility. As I think about it, that might be too much and could start to hinder her productivity as some of her work benefits from long stretches of uninterrupted work.

          After reading Alison’s feedback and the comments here, I am definitely planning to have a conversation with her and get her opinions! I will be careful to not make any promises.

          1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

            I’ve been through something like this a few times in my career. I’d consider offering her a somewhat regular schedule of certain days in office vs. days at home so she gains the needed visibility from your boss but continues to have her remote agreement. Say, two or three days a week and let her pick based on her flow. Even half days of core hours (say, 10-3) could work depending on her schedule. Be Creative, Be Consistent.

            Regardless of the agreement, stick with it. Don’t let your boss insist on more hours once he gets used to seeing her, and be firm when he asks where she is (“This is her scheduled remote day.”). Once a boss gets the productivity = visibility idea in his head, it’s hard to dislodge.

      5. Jady*

        I read it differently. They told the employee she would need to be in the office more. OP then proceeds to explain the employee has always come into the office when needed or when requested and has been great about that.

        So, …. why change? Why pick an arbitrary time period to force her in the office? Especially 30/40 hours.

        Plus this was a negotiated benefit up front. If she’s a great employee and there’s been no reported and discussed problems, and she’s getting everything done well, the status quo doesn’t need changing.

        And changing it is likely to cause problems or resentment with the employee because setting specific metrics of office time wasn’t discussed with the transition.

        As an employee myself, “You’ll need to be in the office more” translates as “As usual, when you are needed, you will be in the office.”

        Which OP says they’ve been doing…. so…. I only see big risks and negatives with changing that arrangement.

      6. Mike C.*

        To be honest I think you just have a lot of us that have been through the whole, “my role would be fine for telework and it would be a huge improvement in my life but someone in upper management is stuck in the 1950s so we’re not allowed” thing. It seems the OP’s situation is a little more complicated than that, but it’s still going to feel very familiar.

        1. LBK*

          Conversely, though, I do think there’s plenty of people (certainly myself included sometimes) who are disingenuous about just how equivalent your productivity and responsiveness are when working from home. Even with all the various telecommunication options available these days, I personally don’t find an impromptu Skype meeting to be a true, proper substitute for just swinging by someone’s desk. I’ll be the first to admit that part of the reason I covet my WFH time is because I’m less available – which I do find to be a benefit sometimes because I’m therefore less prone to being interrupted, which makes it easier to get heavy focus work done. But it does validate the concerns about WFH hampering communication.

          1. Dulf*

            There are plenty of people who benefit unreservedly from working from home, though. Every job has different demands. I don’t think your personal experiences with working from home warrant painting a whole swath of people as being disingenuous about their experiences working from home.

            1. LBK*

              The OP has said she believes there would be benefits to this employee being in the office and I think she’s better positioned to assess that than we are.

              1. LBK*

                (And this isn’t just my personal experience, it’s a pretty common sentiment across a lot of people I’ve talked to about it, especially the part about being less available.)

                1. Dulf*

                  I don’t think the perception of reduced availability being an inevitable negative consequence of remote work is universal – it certainly isn’t in my field. And even if it were, I don’t think it’s enough to characterize people who do work remotely as being disingenuous in their motivations or rationales for wanting to work remotely.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yeah, this is a weird thing that I thought a lot about last night. I thought the letter was pretty clear that the OP said she’d decided there were work-related reasons to have the employee in the office more (and she confirmed the comments this morning), but clearly lots of people didn’t read it that way. I was trying to figure out whether reading 60+ letters from readers a day gives me a good feel for “no, she’s saying X” and for “it’s implied but she didn’t spell it out because it didn’t occur to her she’d need to” — because I do often find myself saying those things here (and it’s usually, although not always, borne out once the letter writers share more in the comments). But I also think it’s there are certain hot-button topics that people are just primed to read through the lens of their own experience — and managers wanting face time without work justification is one of those. There’s also a tendency in the comments toward “well, she didn’t share her reasons for wanting an employee to do X so therefore it must not be legitimate,” which is frankly crap (and shows a lack of understanding of how normal humans write these letters).

                I really, really ask people to try to be aware of both these things, because it can be a crappy experience for letter writers, as well as leading to a less useful conversation here.

                1. Dulf*

                  The OP did mention that the higher-ups don’t like remote work in general and also don’t seem to have strong justification for disliking it. That may have led the comments here to turn into a more general one about the utility of remote work, and I think a lot of people are responding to that.

                2. Dulf*

                  (I also think it’s much more of a reach to conclude that the employee was “[getting] away” with something than to conclude that having her in the office might be more about satisfying seemingly arbitrary requirements than about the specific demands of the role.)

                3. OPnumber2*

                  Thanks Alison, I do believe there are some advantages to being present in the office. I wonder if people are picking up on my own frustration with his lack of support for remote work. It irritates me that he might be doubting my abilities to manage because I want to allow her to continue to work remotely to a certain degree and set up a schedule that works for both of us.

                4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  FWIW, I think the “prime” was in OP’s letter—by framing the issue around her boss’s rejection of WFH arrangements, it became difficult to determine whether the hours suggested were related to the change in the employee’s role or the boss’s beliefs re: remote work.

                  I don’t think that means OP’s reasons weren’t legitimate or that she owed the commentariat a thorough explanation; it just meant that it wasn’t clear which reason was driving her decisions, which means there’s going to be a bit more speculation in the comments as folks try to craft helpful and targeted advice. Frankly, either reason (boss requires it v. role has changed) are legitimate reasons to change a remote work schedule, but I think the advice does change, slightly, based on which one is the lead cause.

                  I’m also so sympathetic to OP#2. Most of my jobs don’t allow remote work, and I am not strongly in favor of in-office v. remote. But I did once have a job where the ability to work remotely up to one day/week was really helpful for preventing burnout, only to have that arrangement revoked when a new boss came in who hated remote work for no defensible business reason (and often worked remotely himself). That was pretty frustrating and demoralizing.

  5. TootsNYC*

    OP#1, the “organize your life” book

    Is it remotely possible that you ever had a conversation about this sort of topic with someone?
    Even in passing? Maybe they thought you’d be interested because you made some comment about, “I’ve never read that Kondo ‘Life-Changing Magic’ book,” and they thought you might like this book, whatever it is.

    Also, that’s not the sort of “you need to improve yourself because you annoy me” message people tend to send. They send messages about being loud, or having bad breath, or “don’t be narcissistic.”
    But organizing your life is just not the sort of thing that impacts other people that much, especially if you aren’t particularly UNorganized at work.

    But, organizing IS something that people think of as a hobby, almost. That people who are interested in it in one way are interested in reading about it other ways.

    1. just sayin'*

      Agree! I’m a school librarian and VERY organized at work—it’s a big part of the job!— and when Kondo’s book first came out, I had a few different colleagues mention it to me because they assumed I was interested in all things organizational as a hobby.

    2. Ms. Meow*

      This was the exact same thought I had. If you’re known around the office as someone who organizes stuff, there’s a chance that someone saw that book and thought you might like to read it. I’d see it as a positive thing since it would mean you’ve made a good impression on your coworkers, rather than a bad one.

      I’m know in the office as the person who likes corny jokes, so whenever anyone hears one they stop by my desk to tell me. Similar, but not quite the same, I know. But it still has that flavor of camaraderie that I think might be demonstrated here.

    3. Not a Morning Person*

      Yes, I think this is very likely. I do try to be organized and had a pretty good reputation for being organized at a former job. When I moved on to another role, my former manager gave me a ‘going away’ present, a book on organization because she said, “I know you like to be organized.” I actually did like that book and didn’t interpret it as “You need help,” but as, “Here’s something on a topic I know you are interested in.” I hope that’s the same intent for your anonymous gifter. Assume good intent.

    4. Soon to be former fed*

      I always put a sticky note on items I unexpectedly left on coworker desks. That eliminates confusion.

      1. fposte*

        I’d say it eliminates confusion the 60% of the time it stays put; the other 40% it turns up on somebody’s shoe or phone or paperwork, judging by my office :-).

  6. TootsNYC*

    #2, asking a formerly remote employee to be in the office more

    Is it possible your employee will have some ideas of her own about what would be useful?

    Maybe there are certain functions that are best done in the office, and you could cluster those to make it worthwhile. And she might have insight that’s valuable.

    Also, since you don’t care THAT much, and some of it is for optics, consider strategizing with her to balance the need to be visible vs. the need to not commute every day.

    1. Not a Morning Person*

      This is great advice! Include her! She’ll likely be much happier with whatever you come up with if she’s involved in the decision/negotiation for how much time and when to spend time in the office.

    2. OPnumber2*

      Yes, I really like this and will totally have a conversation with her. I am concerned about the conversation with my own manager and having him trust that I’m making a good decision.

      I’m wondering if pointing out to him the morale issue this might cause?

      I suspect that she won’t be opposed to being in the office more since we discussed it at the point that she became full-time and we have a space for her, but will make a good point that too much in office could hinder productivity.

      1. Kyrielle*

        What The Other Dawn says, and also, if your boss is dubious but willing to consider it, one thing you could say is, “Her productivity was really good when working remotely before, so I think this could work well; I’d like to give it a try for two months and we can see how it goes.” (Pick a time frame that will give her and everyone a chance to get used to the schedule, and you a chance to evaluate how well it’s working after that happens. But framing it as something to be revisited, while maybe not ideal from Poppy’s point of view, may bring your boss around if he’s dubious about it. It will signal to him also that you’re looking for what will work, not _only_ what will make Poppy happy.)

    3. The Other Dawn*

      Great idea!

      OP, once you have this information I think you’ll have a strong business case that you can present to your boss. It’s hard to argue with logic and a well-thought out plan. I mean, yeah, people CAN argue with it, but the probability decreases and you’ll be able to defend your position.

    4. OPnumber2*

      Yes, I definitely think this is the way to go.

      I also feel more confident that if I frame this correctly and listen to her concerns that it won’t be a negative experience or a demotion, but rather an opportunity within the organization.

  7. TootsNYC*

    #5: the typed note with the wedding gift

    wow, $400 is very generous! I hope it’s a group gift.

    However, the fact that the note was typed says to me that the giver very much wants to remain anonymous. And I think a group gift wouldn’t have that same level of secrecy.

    I would send the group email and say, “I’m not sure who is responsible for the generous gift for my wedding that someone left on my desk, so I’m sending this to everyone. To that person (or people), thank you very much! And if you weren’t that person, I just wanted to say thanks for the good wishes that all of you have expressed to me; they mean a lot!”

    1. OrangeYouGlad*

      When I got married my boss at the time gave me an envelope with $250 cash in it “for your wedding”. I was very grateful…and never mentioned it again. It was during a private one-on-one to discuss coverage while I was out of the office for my honeymoon.

      My coworker at the same level as me was getting married 2 weeks after my wedding and I have no idea if my boss gave her a similar gift? I didn’t want to risk saying something and cause drama!

      1. OrangeYouGlad*

        My point is: I didn’t know if it was a personal gift from my boss? Or from all the managers? I didn’t thank anyone but him because of my coworker.

        1. Nox*

          similar happened to me when I received 400 dollars for my house warming groom the owners of the company. No one else got anything similar.

        2. JulieBulie*

          It sounds like a personal gift, because it was presented privately and didn’t come with a card signed by all your coworkers. Saying something publicly probably would have caused drama!

        3. TootsNYC*

          Hmm, that’s an argument for NOT sending any group email.

          And maybe I agree.
          Think of it this way–if they really wanted to be thanked, they’d have signed it or handed it to you personally.

          So wait until they mention it, maybe.

  8. Jael*

    OP #2: Your caving for optics would be a deal-breaker for me, and I would probably start looking for something else immediately. I wouldn’t trust that you would back me up for other things like $$ increases, bonuses or promotions.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      That seems like kind of a severe conclusion to draw. The OP hasn’t said she’s opposed to fighting for her staff for things like raises, bonuses or promotions—she’s just not willing to pick a full-on battle against her boss’s in-office preference because she doesn’t think it’s worth it. I would certainly be disappointed if I’d negotiated remote work and it was really important to me, but I don’t think I’d assume my boss would never back me up on other significant issues where she thought she had the ability to actually “win.”

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        It also seems entirely possible that at this point several years later, the direct report might not mind being in the office with flexible hours so long as she actually has a desk. It would make sense to ask her… so long as OP first figures out which things are flexible and which aren’t.

      2. paul*


        I can understand it being a dealbreaker for other reasons, but managers don’t have infinite political capital either, and sometimes they have to know what battles to fight and when it just isn’t winnable (or when it isn’t worth it0.

        Going from “they won’t go to the mat on this issue” to “they’ll never have my back” seems premature. Now if there’s a history of it, yeah, that becomes a logical conclusion but for one issue?

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, and this has been in the pipeline for a while. I mean sure, it’s possible that the employee hoped the change wouldn’t happen and considers any more in-office time to be a dealbreaker, but that would still be one of those amicable reasons for parting; it’s not a betrayal for a job to change, especially when it’s a change that’s been stated is upcoming.

    2. Had Matter's Pea Tarty*

      Is ‘optics’ a new thing? I started seeing it on AAM maybe a month ago and now it’s everywhere… And, because of my long stay in fandom, I can’t read it as anything other than ‘Transformer eyeballs’.

      1. Jessica*

        It seems to be the latest repellent business gibberish. I learned it here too. Why can’t people just say it’s about appearances instead of having to repurpose a word that has a completely different meaning? I continue to think this sounds idiotic.

        1. LBK*

          Really quick searching finds me some examples of that usage that are over 10 years old, so it’s not especially new. I used to hear it/use it all the time in retail 5ish years ago (it’s a big deal in retail management because of the optics of managers being off in offices somewhere while expecting employees to be chained to the sales floor).

    3. OPnumber2*

      Oooof, but point taken. I do hope that since we had talked about it at the point that her job was made into a full-time, salaried position that this won’t be coming out of left-field. I’m not unwilling to have some difficult conversations with my own boss, I just haven’t gotten into it on the topic of remote work. Also, it’s not just appeasing him or for optics, I do think it will benefit her ability to do her job well and help us collaborate.

  9. sap*

    OP#2–Is it possible that you’re running of an IT team within a larger, non-IT organization and that your direct boss isn’t an IT-focused (or exclusively focused) person? I’m asking because maybe your employee’s grandboss isn’t aware that the employee can probably find a similar position that’s much, much more remote, and if so it might be helpful to flag that since at least a large chunk of her job can (and has for a long time) be performed very successfully by a remote employee, and generous WFH policies are common within the tech industry at large… not offering at least some flexibility will make it more difficult to compete for experienced IT people unless your boss is willing to pay them more (at least with employees who have a proven track record of consistent productivity while remote, who didn’t even have a desk assigned to them for a long time…)

    I work in a very IT-industry heavy town as a non-IT person with a techie spouse, and the default assumptions around remote work even in a town where 95% of my friends have remote work schedules are extremely different in my industry, to the point where my employers have been surprised by the concept of an IT spouse who works remotely at least half the time.

    1. OPnumber2*

      How’d you know? I’m feeling a lot more confident that if I frame this correctly that she shouldn’t feel like it is a demotion and we can keep lines of communication open to avoid a morale hit.

      This comment also helps me prepare some points for when I’m having the conversation with my boss. I probably won’t be able to convince him of how great remote work is, but at least he can understand that I’ve considered this from a lot of different angles and I’m using sound judgement to do what I think is best.

      1. sap*

        Hahaha. There’s something about big orgs that doesn’t get that young techie employees actually know their market relatively well…

        Glad to help though. It’s always a bit dicey because “IT” can mean anything from “person who does onsite physical hardware support” to “team that we hired to do in-house app development for our teapot timers.”

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I don’t think anyone is taking offense at the note? OP is just trying to figure out how to respond to an awkward message.

    2. Mookie*

      The discomfort has to do with professional decorum, not the medium in which the decorum was violated. It’s weird to want to re-kindle a connection on the grounds that your interlocutor was hired for a position you wanted and that you think they should know this if they don’t already.

      1. MommyMD*

        I don’t see it as sinister. I think it was just a “we have this in common” message. I think too much is being read into it.

        1. Mookie*

          That’s fine. My point is, this isn’t about LinkedIn. He’s asking her a question, rather than relating a fact.

          1. Benefit...AND MORE!*

            I agree with Mommy MD here. The message originated on LinkedIn. It’s kind of making a mountain out of an anthill. People come up in my “you may know…” section all the time who have either had my current position or worked at a prior company in another department. It’s not a sinister conspiracy theory. Awkward at best, yes but innocuous over all.

            1. Mookie*

              I don’t think it’s sinister, either. I simply don’t agree with MommyMD that the reason the LW, Alison, or some of the commentariat objecting to the message are objecting to it because it was delivered through LinkedIn. It’s the content of the message that’s under discussion, not the medium of delivery.

        2. Elsajeni*

          I don’t think anyone else is saying it’s sinister either, it’s just weird. It’s a slightly awkward “we have this in common” thing to lead with, because of the imbalance that’s involved — “the thing we have in common is that we both wanted X, but you achieved it and I didn’t!” And asking if the new employer mentioned that he applied is weirder, unless there’s some obvious connection the OP didn’t mention (like that the new employer is actually a branch of the company where OP interned), because… how would they even know that these two people know each other? The fact it’s on LinkedIn doesn’t have anything to do with it; this would also be a weird question to ask over Facebook or when they ran into each other in the grocery store.

    3. Snark*

      Dunno. There’s no good reason to mention that you were also interviewed for the same job, in the weird “did anyone tell you” way the person did it. Just, why? Why would you mention it in that fashion unless there were an axe to grind?

  10. LS*

    OP1 – a teapot design colleague of mine has done work on, let’s say, lids. I saw an interesting article on best practice for lid design, because I thought it would be useful to her. She assumed that it was a veiled suggestion that her work needed improvement :-/ sounds similarto your situation. My guess is, people know you have an interest in organising type things.

    OP2, as someone who hugely values work flexibility, I think it would be a mistake to place unnecessary restrictions on your employee and take away something that she negotiated for as part of her working conditions. Figure out how much you really need her in the office and don’t make it more to mollify other people. I once left a company because my manager wouldn’t allow me to take advantage of the company part-time policy. Not because of our workload – there wasn’t enough work to go round. But because “other people might not like it”. Different but similar.

  11. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP2 – it’s worth thinking about how much you actually need her in the office. In her shoes, I wouldn’t mind at all “because of new position, I need you to be here for these regular meetings” but would not like “because of new position, I need you to be here to do all the work you have shown you are capable of doing at home.”

    It would feel as if I was not trusted and wasn’t regarded as as professional as I had been in the past. Definitely not a “I’m leaving!” situation… but probably “hmm, I wonder if I should update my CV and see what else is out there….?” thoughts would occur.

    1. Purplesaurus*

      I agree. I would be frustrated if I were being asked to do the same work in the office that I’ve been successful at from home just because there’s a desk now. However, I would totally understand a different role, and presumably different work, would require more office time.

      I would also suggest that OP could revisit how much face-time this new role requires after her employee has been doing it for a while. That way her employee doesn’t have a “this situation is permanent” mentality.

      1. OPnumber2*

        Definitely! An earlier comment gave the suggestion of some weeks might be 15hrs, but other the full 40. I’m thinking that rather than discussing how much she still gets to do remotely, I can discuss with her what is the minimum that I’d need her in the office each week to accomplish the collaboration and presence that I’ve mentioned above. I’m also hoping that I can help her understand that this will benefit her as well.

  12. David St. Hubbins*

    #1 – I would take it to reception and say I found it lying around, and let them handle it from there. Or drop it in the lost & found box, if you have one.
    Then, forget about it.

    1. JanetM*

      Ah! Your comment sparked this thought: maybe someone found the book and thought, “Oh, OP1 is so organized, I bet this is one of her reference books!”

    2. Camry*

      Please don’t treat reception as a dumping ground! People do that to me all the time and it’s annoying. I don’t want the random books you found in your desk drawer or a company coffee mug from the 1998 sales retreat. I have no where to put it and it clutters my desk until I have a spare moment to deal with it (usually 3-4 days later). My job is to greet and direct clients, not deal with office trash.

      Your friendly neighborhood receptionist

      1. Michelle*

        I’m the admin and deal with this a lot. We have a coworker who likes to regularly purge his home of stuff he’s had for years (I suspect he is a hoarder). The most random, oldest things are always showing up in the office supply room. Recent things he has brought in: graph paper from the 80’s, clear storage bins so old they have a yellow tint on them and some other item that I have no idea what it is.

  13. MommyMD*

    Even if employee had been promised she could work remotely, situations change. As long as she was given some notice, it’s the employer’s right to require she work in office.

    1. Cookie*

      It’s always the employer’s right to change the requirements of the job, but rarely does a letter writer ask if they have the right to change the job, rather the question is would it be wise to do so. The answer is only if the letter writer is prepared to seek a replacement because an employee who sought remote work is unlikely to be thrilled with the change, particularly if it’s only to produce certain optics and has nothing to do with the job itself.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      It’s also the employee’s right to decide if this is an acceptable option for her, so the LW is right to tread thoughtfully. If the employee is a good worker and a high performer, it’s fair and correct to consider her opinion when making such a big change to her work environment, especially since this was the result of negotiations at the very beginning. I think it’s safe to assume that working remotely was an important factor in the employee accepting the job– that shouldn’t be pushed aside simply because an employer is correct in asking her to come in.

      1. LBK*

        C’mon, this is unnecessarily snarky and also pretty demeaning to HR reps who are not just mindless robots repeating company policy (of which I believe we have several among the commentariat).

  14. Soon to be former fed*

    OP 1, I would send out a group message to coworkers asking if someone is missing their book. It was likely misplaced. If nobody claims it, I would then leave it in the break room to be taken by whomever wants it. This likely means nothing.

    1. Delta Delta*

      Especially if it was a book about being organized. Possibly the owner is disorganized enough that s/he mislaid the book.

    2. hbc*

      And if someone was trying to send a message, they deserve to hear that they were unsuccessful.

      Maybe if OP still suspects that there was an issue, s/he could leave it in the breakroom with a copy of Difficult Conversations.

  15. Literary Engineer*

    1. It could be that they thought you’d like the book as well. I’m a bit of an organization nerd and have had coworkers leave me things on my desk because they thought of me. Usually it also had a note on it, though.

    5. What a wonderful gift! :) I think that a group email would be perfectly fine. If you guys have a team message board or breakroom leaving a little group thank you card would be sweet. Totally not needed, but if you really felt like an email was too impersonal. One of our team members got married recently and he stuck a nice thankyou on our pinboard. It was sweet and we all enjoyed seeing it, even if it wasn’t needed.

  16. LQ*

    #1 I have been the leaver of things lately. I have a coworker who is semi retired so he’s only here a couple days a week. I have left a couple of books, several fortune cookie fortunes, a newspaper and something else on his desk. I assumed he’d know they were from me because who else would leave them there? (Plus in the 6 steps from his desk to mine I am almost always stopped so I can’t walk back to my desk grab a sticky and write a note about it and walk back without entirely forgetting what I was doing 45 minutes ago now.) I would definitely guess it is someone thinking of you and assuming you’d like it because you are great at organizing so you must love those books.

    (And because it is about organization it might be that the person who got it is not very organized and got it to help themselves get better, decided that it was far too advanced and so they wanted to give it to you but they (like me) weren’t organized enough to have the forethought to put the sticky on it saying who it was from.)

  17. Observer*

    #4 – If you were using a work phone, get a personal phone THIS MINUTE. Using a work phone for stuff like this is never a good idea. When it’s something that could get you fired, it’s the career equivalent of driving drunk.

    If this was a personal phone, ask your boss for a work phone or a scanner, whichever makes more sense in your context. While it’s obviously always a good idea to be careful, there is no reason you should have to put yourself at risk.

    This incident is a perfect example of why it makes sense to keep personal and work phones separate.

    1. Holly*

      This is a bit over-the-top. Making a small mistake like this at work is not in any way similar to driving drunk. Driving drunk could kill you or someone else. You could get a criminal record and that could mess up so much of your life.

      The LW may not be able to get a work phone depending on their position. Not every job has you making calls all the time such that a work phone is needed.

      Getting fired for something stupid like this is not the end of the world.

      1. Observer*

        Sending the file is not the problem. Putting material that could get you fired on a workplace phone is what is like driving drunk or walking a high rope without a net. Because what happened to the OP is not surprising – it’s almost inevitable.

        Getting fired IS a big deal. And getting fired for something you know is a firing offense before you do it is hard to recover from. It’s stupid.

  18. paul*

    Remote work OP: Do you have a firm handle on your employees preferences on this? 30/40 seems like an odd number of hours; I’d go with something divisible by 8 or 4 so they can be there a set number of full days per week (am I making sense?).

    I’d also look at seeing if her role will change when she’s there full time: would this be an expansion of her duties or responsibilities?

    1. OPnumber2*

      Thanks paul, I agree that 30 out of 40 was pretty arbitrary. I do like the idea of divisible by 8 or 4, thank you!

  19. OP1*

    Thanks for the advice and comments!

    I don’t believe I’ve chatted with anyone about this book or other self-help books recently, but I am known as someone who likes reading, and I have borrowed/lent (fantasy/sci-fi) books with coworkers. I know a lot of the office has seen/heard the book exchanges and recaps, so maybe the “she’s a reader” combined with “organizing” led us to this book :)

    For the moment, I left it obviously on my desk so if someone did forget it, they’ll hopefully see it… Otherwise, it’ll probably join the other books on my shelf (and I don’t know if I’ll ever read it – those types of books feel like homework to me rather than something enjoyable).

    I struggled with organization A TON growing up (like almost having to repeat a grade because I ALWAYS misplaced my homework), and that kind of grew into really precise over-organization as an adult, with a healthy dose of “am I forgetting things?!” Probably helped with my jumping to conclusions… Hahaha.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Life’s easier in general if you assume honest mistake over malicious intent. Or even misplaced good intentions. I was left the worst book after a family tragedy, absolutely full of religious sanctimonious crap, but the person who sent it legitimately thought it would help.

      I keep it in the part of my shelf dedicated to weird gifted literature, next to some Chick Tracts I got in Las Vegas, an acquaintance’s self published fantasy novel, and the Jehovah’s Witness “how to talk to people” manual that someone accidentally left on my car.

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        the part of my shelf dedicated to weird gifted literature

        Can I just tell you how much I love that classification? I think I need a section like that too!

        1. Amber Rose*

          It became necessary once “Amber likes books” turned into “give Amber books as gifts, but never ask about her reading preferences.”

          To be fair, I do often get books I end up liking a lot. But I also get Obsolete Absolution. Don’t ask me what that means, I still haven’t figured it out.

        1. Amber Rose*

          Yep. Didn’t think they were around anymore. I was way more excited than anyone should be about getting one. They exist in that special category of so awful that it’s hard to convince some people that they exist unless you have a copy.

          Like that Whoopee Goldberg movie where she’s a detective and her partner is a dinosaur in a trench coat.

          1. Rebecca in Dallas*

            I’m not aware of this genre or this Whoopi Goldberg movie and now I’m off to Google both…

  20. Sue Wilson*

    #2: With your clarification, I actually think you’ve hit on a great way to approach this: your employee isn’t as visible in the company when she works from home, and questions that should automatically be going to her, are coming to you, because you’re there. So I would do this:
    1) Make sure your boss will be okay with some WFH. If he’s going to penalize her or you for any WFH, you should know now. I would also try to tease out how much he’s comfortable with, but I understand if you want to talk to your employee first.
    2) Try to figure out where she’s really needed on projects. It might be that she needs to be there for the beginning of projects 4 or 3 days a week, so that everyone knows who she is and that she is available, but for the middle and end of the projects she only needs to be there 3 or 2 days. It might be that to keep things running smoothly, she needs to be there a set number of days.
    3) Decide what equipment and space she needs to make being in the office as comfortable as possible. Does she need her own office (is that feasible if she’s not going to be in there much). Does she needs set desk or can she hotdesk?

    All this is to say, figure out what you want to get out of her being in the office and structure how much she’s there around that. And to help with morale, make her being there as comfortable as possible. I disagree with everyone saying that just because it’s worked fine, you shouldn’t change it. It’s quite possible that in person interactions can facilitate her job. But you should try to make coming in as easy as possible.

    1. LBK*

      I kinda get this and I agree that you should try to keep good employees happy…but I do also think they’ve already done a lot for her by bringing her on full-time in recognition of the good work she did while the OP was out. That’s a big step that sounds like it took place fairly recently and it feels like many people are kind of taking that for granted in their comments in terms of what the company “owes” the employee to reward her for her work. I don’t know that they need to bend over backwards to accommodate her needs, which is what all this emphasis on making her comfortable feels like to me.

      Yeah, part of being a good employee is earning the right to flexibility and autonomy, but part of moving up also means sometimes having to do burdensome crap that people with fewer responsibilities don’t have to do, like showing up in the office solely to be a visible presence. That’s the reason you get more flexibility when you move up – because it’s a trade off for the times your flexibility is taken by nature of your work.

      1. Dulf*

        Based on the OP’s letter, she ended up “stepping into the role” that OP left vacant while OP was out on leave. Giving her money and a job title that are consistent with the work she was doing doesn’t sound like a reward, necessarily, and it shouldn’t be considered one just because there are plenty of companies who wouldn’t do that.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think that’s reading something negative into it that’s not there. The OP says that they converted her to full time and changed the role.

          1. Dulf*

            I guess the confusion, to me, is over how the role was changed, and to what extent her roles/responsibilities were changed along with the conversion from part- to full-time. Regardless, I think it’s strange to describe the change in role as a “reward.”

              1. Dulf*

                To me, the letter seemed to say that she ended up doing the work described full-time first, though, and that the company decided to recognize this by converting her role to full-time. I understand that that’s not necessarily a common response to people who fill in temporarily vacated roles, but I think a promotion of that kind is not the same as a being given additional responsibilities because of good work.

                1. LBK*

                  In my experience it’s very unusual for promotions to occur for people who haven’t already taken on some of the tasks of the role they’re promoted into – the way it worked out here sounds pretty standard to me. It’s more or less how we ended up hiring one of our temps as a FTE – he’d proven himself capable of doing more advanced work while being a temp, so he got promoted.

                  I guess I’m curious how you envision promotions working and what you would consider a true reward if not being given a title and salary commensurate with your work.

                2. Dulf*

                  I certainly don’t think this system is without its flaws, but in my field, titles tend to stay the same. Title changes are the only kind of “promotion” that exists in my field, and they typically signify a change in both the focus of your work and the number of people whose work you oversee (none to some to many). People typically don’t take on the task of evaluating the work of other employees at their level before entering the higher role.

                  If I were working 40 hours a week and being paid for 20 of those, I wouldn’t consider being paid for those other 20 a reward. I find the idea that employers should focus on maximizing the work they can get from their employees while minimizing the amount they’re paid to be distasteful, and while I understand that there are many companies out there who do just that, I don’t think that makes it okay or acceptable.

                  I do consider that kind of promotion to be a “reward.” In my field, many don’t want that and are happy to stay at their current level without changes in title, so advancing a given employee is giving them something they’ve explicitly said they want that will progress their career.

        2. LBK*

          It doesn’t sound like she permanently took over that specific role, though, and covering a manager while they’re out rarely entails literally doing their entire job – you’re usually just keeping the day-to-day operations going. Rather, instead of going back to her regular job after the OP returned, they recognized that she had more potential and moved her into a new role – they weren’t “giving her money and a job title that are consistent with the work she was doing”. Moreover, though, giving people promotions is a reward, even if they clearly deserve/have earned them, and it’s weirdly entitled to suggest otherwise.

    2. OPnumber2*

      Thanks Sue! I think with point 1, you hit the nail on the head with where I want to tread carefully with my boss. While I know I may never convince him that I’m right, I do need to ensure that he’s not perceiving giving her the flexibility to work remotely as an inability on my part to manage. I need him to observe that I have thought about this from various angles and that she’s not walking all over me.

      Currently, my plan of action is to put together a couple of broad arrangements that I’d be open with, listen to her concerns or objections, talk with my own manager, try it out for a time period, and check back in with both Poppy and my boss.

  21. Matilda Jefferies*

    #4, it will probably never come up. Just because your boss *can* access your email, doesn’t mean that she *is.* That’s usually just there as a backup scenario; it’s pretty unusual for most managers to actually be looking around in their employees’ emails. So I would say there’s a greater than 99% chance that she will never find out about it.

    And the good news is, if she does find out, your audit trail clearly shows that it was a mistake. You didn’t download, or even open, the file from your work device, and you deleted it immediately after it hit your inbox. Those actions are all captured by IT (processes, not people), so it won’t be hard to demonstrate that you had no intent to look at porn on a work device.

    That said, it’s a good argument for keeping your work device separate from your personal device if at all possible. If not, then I don’t think anyone here needs to remind you to be more careful from now on – that’s the kind of mistake that most people only make once!

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Also, I wanted to add that even if someone does find out, it’s highly, highly unlikely that you would be fired over something like this. Assuming it’s the first time something like this has come up for you, and that you’re a good employee otherwise, and given that you deleted it immediately, most reasonable employers would treat this like the mistake that it was. Worst case, you might get a “be more careful next time” talk from your manager, but firing someone under these circumstances would be really extreme.

      1. edj3*

        It depends on your industry. In mine, our emails ARE scanned all the time. Something like this would get you fired where I work. We are locked down pretty tightly, and it’s not our direct managers checking. It’s Information Security.

      2. seejay*

        Also where I used to work, we cared about what you *did* with stuff like that. We wouldn’t have noticed it if it was emailed to you, but we *would* notice it if you showed it to someone and then they complained and we got called in to investigate, which is what happened to one employee after he started flashing the porn he was emailed to clients that came in (then tried to deny he had when confronted by his manager).

        IT/security generally doesn’t look at what’s going through your email unless it has a reason to check up on it because someone complained or a huge red flag was triggered and given how many false positives can be set off, they generally don’t have keyword filters set to go off just to catch things going in and out. For the most part, you’re going to be in the clear. If you get questioned, just be honest about it being a one-time accident.

        1. sap*


          I so badly want more information.

          1. seejay*

            He had a buddy from outside the company sending him porn regularly and apparently he was showing it to clients when they came in (we were a very large financial organization, I worked on the corporate fraud investigations department on the computer security/forensics team). We got wind of it when he flipped his monitor around one day with “check this out!” to an elderly client and there was a lovely fully nude picture. Client complained to the manager, manager went to the employee who denied it, it came to our department, and I pulled his email account and a few weeks history of all his incoming and outgoing email, including the one email with the image attached that the complainant had described (in detail).

            Employee didn’t have much of a leg to stand on after that. Last I heard about it though, he was just transferred to another branch. There’s… “internal politics and red tape” with crap like that. My jaw kind of dropped when I heard about it. Oh he was disciplined and all, but… not fired. :/

            There’s a reason why I don’t really like working in big corporations anymore.

            1. sap*

              What a nutjob. In my mind I’m imagining that this guy was, like, a loan officer and was showing people who applied for mortgages porn. So weird/crazy.

              1. seejay*

                You are not far off the mark…..

                And that’s surprisingly not the weirdest, most batbutt crazy story I have from corporate investigations. :/ Employees in a large (65,000+) nation-wide company do some really stupid things with work computers.

                1. sap*

                  I’m a lawyer (not the type that deals with employee misconduct outside the sense that everything an organization does is done by an employee, and I’d you are being sued someone thought at least one employee did something bad); though I think the type of “what is wrong with you, why did you do that” I encounter is probably very different than your type… I can definitely sympathize with the sentiment of people doing some pretty absurd stuff on their work computers.

      3. Izacus*

        Hmm, I distinctly remember other post on this blog where several commenters have said that porn on work computers is a clear firing offense. I’m not sure everyone would take such mail lightly and could easily use it as an excuse.

        1. Matilda Jefferies*

          Right, but context matters here. In this case, it wasn’t on the device for any length of time, and it wasn’t opened (from what I can tell.) The OP sent it, realized their mistake immediately, and took steps to delete it right away. I can’t see anything in this letter that there was intent to store or look at porn on their work device.

          Obviously I’m not OPs manager, but if I were, I would look at their behaviour around this incident, as well as their behaviour in general, before taking any disciplinary action. And if their behaviour is as described in the letter (absent any other context like industry regulations or whatever), I would still say “don’t worry about it, and don’t do it again.”

        2. seejay*

          I’d say context and also the industry you’re in matters as well. Where I currently work (both the industry and company), I’d probably get stinkface and a slap on the hand (by both my manager and IT) if I did something like this by accident. In a more conservative field, or something in law enforcement or with the potential to reach thousands of customers (financial), it might be different. Your role also might play a factor: if you’re in a position where a slip-up could potentially email a porn pic to thousands of people by mistake, people aren’t going to be happy if you make silly errors like that. If I slip up and email something by accident, chances are I’ll send it out to my immediate teammates and that’s it. I *might* get some management, but highly unlikely I’ll get upper management (outside of a virus infection taking over my email or something).

          Basically, context, industry, who you can impact and your role is all going to matter how bad a mistake will cost you.

        3. sap*

          This is like most rules–very few are appropriately enforced as zero tolerance. The general rule “porn on work computer=firing offense” is for when an employee intentionally, or at least knowingly, acts to have the porn on the work computer. Visiting a porn website on purpose or not deleting porn you’ve accidentally stumbled upon are very different from “oh shit, I sent the wrong files to myself!” Let’s delete them immediately because there should never be porn on these work servers!” In the same way that a workplace might have a “no personal phone calls on your work device, ever” and would fire someone who decided to take a 45 minute call from their husband anyway, but wouldn’t fire someone who received the call, took 30 seconds to tell the husband that they’d call back on the personal cell, even though it was a technical rule violation.

    2. embees*

      I’d add that there is an outside chance that the routine monitoring includes scanning email attachments for certain file types or, uh, keywords in the file name that may get a message flagged. Chances are, you’d already have been approached if your company does this, but it might be worth a delicate heads-up to either your manager or your IT/IS person (whoever you’re more comfortable with). You can use Allison’s script above, just phrased in the proactive tense rather than the reactive tense “Just in case it tripped any alerts, I wanted to mention that I accidentally attached an inappropriate personal file to email while working on my phone. Immediately deleted, won’t happen again, yada yada.” (“Inappropriate” will almost certainly be interpreted accurately, but is sufficiently vague that if your boss chooses to believe it was your plans for world domination, they can.)

      (Disclaimer: I’m an IT person, but probably not YOUR IT person.)

    3. Thornus67*

      At my old job, one of the boss/owners had all worker e-mails automatically forwarded to her also. And she read every single one. So if something like this had happened to me, she most definitely would have found out about it.

  22. Snark*

    #3: “The message was friendly and also congratulated me on my new role, but am I wrong for thinking that it is inappropriate of him to have contacted me about this?”

    So what the haps? Is “I want to make people incredibly uncomfortable with their own hiring process” theme of the week?

  23. Snark*

    “My own manager does not really approve of remote work. He’s old school in the sense that he thinks people are more productive and communicate better in the office and that increases in productivity working from home are exaggerated.”

    Except they’re not. Your manager needs to get a grip.

    1. Dulf*

      In my experience, such a general explanation for disliking remote work is more about hazing/expecting people to “pay their dues” etc. (you can see some of that attitude in comments upthread) than about having genuine objections to the quality of work produced by remote workers.

  24. MissDisplaced*

    #2: Where I work, our very casual work-at-home policy is now being rescinded upon a recent company move to a new office basically “just because” the grand boss doesn’t like it and wants “bodies in the office” 5 days a week. Grand boss and some other managers also live close by and walk to work (how nice for them) and don’t see why people dislike the commute. It SUCKS!

    I think you can ask what reasonable flexibility might be, and they might agree to it, but you also might lose them.
    Who knows, maybe it’s not a big deal to them.

    1. OPnumber2*

      I’m so sorry about your situation, that certainly does suck and it doesn’t sound like the higher-ups are listening to the workforce!

      I don’t think that’s what is going on here. In general, everyone is in the office, except for employees who travel. There are a few people who report directly to the president who have been here for many years and they have negotiated working from home a day or so a week. So, it is a bit of a special benefit that she negotiated, outside of the office norm.

      If we were still using her in the processing role, then I think I could easily make the case of allowing her to continue being remote (despite my boss’ resistance). However, thinking toward the future, I am working to expand the IT team and as I make the case for my own promotion, I can see her as a possible candidate for my current IT project management role.

  25. 14 years*

    For #5, I would ask your manager first, if it was a group gift, or if she knows who it was. That way, you can say thanks to the one person or email the group without any “ifs”.
    But am I the only one who would think I have to get the OP something after receiving a vague thank you email, like “Someone gave her something; should I do that, too?”

  26. Wakeen's Duck Club*

    Kinda-sorta related to #1… My freshman year in college, someone put a sheet on my desk in my residence hall about how to change habits. Someone also put a flyer on my bed with info about switching rooms at the end of the semester. Not sure if it was the same person (I had three roommates), but I took it as a hint that at least one of my roommates didn’t like me (I didn’t move out, though).

  27. Mrs. Boo*

    #1: I think an office email of #hey, someone left their copy of (organize my life) on my desk. I’m putting it on the coffee table for you to get.” Should take care of it.

  28. Radio Girl*

    No. 1 happened to me once. The boss came back from a management conference with reading material for everyone. Mine was “Life Management Tips.”

    I was highly insulted but said nothing.

    Two decades later, I realized I should have paid attention.

Comments are closed.