when I work from home, do I have to be AT home? — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I recently (about six months ago) started a new job, which is hybrid. I work in-office Wed/Thursday/Friday, and work from home Monday/Tuesday. This hybrid schedule is a change for me, as I previously had more hands-on jobs in the same industry which could not be done remotely. The whole company shares this three-in, two-out schedule, with staggered days in.

Recently, the head of our HR department, Lucinda, sent an email to the entire company “reminding us” that our work from home days have to occur at our home and not at any other location. It also detailed some very reasonable requirements for our remote days — we should be reachable during normal office hours, online on Teams, attending meetings in professional attire, etc.

I have no issue with the second half of this email, but the “reminder” that we have to be physically located inside our homes on work from home days was news to me. I often spend Saturday-Tuesday visiting friends or family, and the freedom to do so is one of the reasons I changed jobs at all. I have also been transparent about these visits with my team, since I didn’t know that it wasn’t allowed (greetings like “Hello from Texas!” or sending photos of my brother’s dog in the pet pictures channel), and have gotten no comments about it. On days when I have no meetings, I sometimes work from cafés or libraries.

To be clear, my location in no way affects my work performance. I log on at 9 (in the office’s time zone), take my normal lunch break, and have never missed a call. I always respond to Teams messages within 15 minutes (which is faster than the norm in my workplace). I take video calls in a quiet room, sitting at a desk. I’m not slacking off during the day to hang out with my friends — but it’s nice to have two more evenings with whoever I’m seeing and not have super rushed weekend visits.

Is only working from my actual home a normal thing for an employer to mandate? In my view, it shouldn’t matter whether I’m in my room or at my cousin’s house a state over or my friend’s apartment on the other side of the country, so long as I am able to complete my work in a professional manner. But I’ve never been in a hybrid workplace before, so I don’t know whether this is actually a norm that I’ve been unintentionally violating!

And regardless, what’s the best way for me to proceed? I really don’t want to give up my travel — like I said, it’s one of the reasons I wanted this job in the first place. Should I apologize to someone (my supervisor, Lucinda, someone else?) for having been out of town on previous work from home days and explain that I didn’t know the policy? I have spoken to some coworkers on a different team who feel similarly — should we together tell Lucinda we don’t think the policy makes sense? Should I just continue my visits, but keep quiet about it?

A lot of employers do mandate that work from home take place in your actual home.

Some of that is for security reasons; your home work space can meet certain security standards that they can’t enforce if you’re working in a coffee shop or from a friend’s house.

Some of it is for tax compliance reasons. In many states, if you work over X days a year in the state, you and your employer both owe that state taxes, and you could even end up creating business nexus in that state for your employer (which would mean they owe them sales tax for sales made in that state, among other complications). That number of days can be a lot lower than you’d think — in some states, it’s as little as one day.

Those are both really legitimate reasons for your employer to have their policy.

As for what to do … I don’t think you need to apologize (and if your manager cared that much, it was on her to say something anyway), but now that you’re aware of the policy, you do need to follow it. Or, at a minimum, you should definitely stop saying things that indicate that you’re not following it(like “hello from Texas”). That’s still taking a risk though, since if your employer ever wanted to check where you’re logging in from, they could. And if something ever happens while you were traveling that you couldn’t hide (you get stuck in state X because of weather or hospitalized during a medical emergency in state Y or whatever it might be), it could come out that way. And now that you’ve been clearly notified about the policy, you wouldn’t be able to plead ignorance. Some people might decide to take that risk anyway, figuring that the chances of being found out were low and that if they were caught, they’d just get a slap on the wrist and be told to stop doing it … but it’s a definite risk, and it might be a bigger one than you’re accounting for.

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