Now that working remotely has become the norm rather than the exception for many people previously based in an office, new questions about the arrangement have been popping up. Are your hours more flexible? How and when does your boss expect you to respond to their emails? If you’re working remotely, does it matter where your temporary office is located? And should you let your boss know if you’re going to be working from somewhere other than home? We spoke with HR professionals to find out.
What are you obligated to tell your boss about your remote location?
When COVID first hit and working remotely became the norm for many people, the initial instructions from employers were often simply, “go home and work from there,” says Julie Jensen, an HR professional with 20 years of experience, and the owner of Moxie HR Strategies. “Few stopped to consider the living arrangements their employees had or didn’t have,” she tells Lifehacker. “When it became apparent that this would be a longer-term requirement, or in some cases permanent, l coached several organizations to go back and do the due diligence that was necessary [to make this kind of organizational change].”
At this point, if an employee can meet the requirements of their job, Jensen says that it doesn’t—and shouldn’t—matter where that work is performed. Laura Handrick, an experienced HR professional and a contributing writer for Choosing Therapy, agrees. “It’s none of an employer’s business what your work-from-home set-up is like, except for your employer to know that it’s safe—you’re not going to trip on cords or start a fire with too many outlets—it’s got an internet connection, and it’s quiet,” she tells Lifehacker.
After several months of working remotely, Jensen says that managers should have learned by now to trust a remote workforce, and employees have had plenty of time to demonstrate their capabilities. But that doesn’t mean situations won’t come up that could complicate the arrangement that has been working all this time. Here’s what to know about those.
How to talk to your boss about working from a new remote location
First of all, as Handrick points out, it may not necessarily be a case of volunteering your remote location to your manager—they might come out and ask. For example, your boss may ask about whether you have a quiet place to take calls. “The answer could be ‘yes,’ even if that’s your car,” she explains. “Your employer has a right to know that you’re able to do your job in your remote work location, but they don’t have a right to tell you exactly how to set it up unless they themselves are going to pay for that room addition they want you to have for a private office.”
But what if you need to relocate for longer than it takes to be on a phone call? Here’s some specific advice based on different scenarios.
A very short-term relocation (like into the car)
About a decade ago, Handrick was reprimanded for being on a conference call while in her car. “I doubt that would happen today, but my boss was irritated to learn, after the fact, that I was going to be heading out of town that day and would take the team call from the passenger seat (my spouse was driving) rather than my home office,” she explains.
So, out of courtesy, Handrick recommends letting your boss know when your work situation will be different than expected. For example, if your home office is equipped with a printer, and one day you happen to be working from a coffee shop and your boss asks you to print out documents to review, it would be helpful to let them know about your arrangements that day.
In addition to that, if data security is an issue, Handrick says that your employer needs to know where you’re working from and that you’ll use a virtual private network (VPN), for instance, instead of exposing data on a public network.
An extended but temporary relocation
If, for instance, you need to travel and live somewhere else for a while in order to take care of a sick relative for a few months, Jensen says that employees should be allowed to, assuming they can continue to meet the requirements of their job. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be as serious of a situation as that: if someone chooses to work from their family’s cabin or another location, Jensen says this should be fine (again, as long as they have access to everything they need).
And unless it’s an emergency situation—like having to leave town immediately to care for someone who is ill—Jensen advises telling your manager about your new location in advance. “[This way] there are no surprises, and the company can account for the whereabouts of all employees, in the event of an emergency, like the recent fires the west coast has experienced,” she explains.
A more permanent relocation
If an employee would like to make a more permanent location change, Jensen says that they definitely need to discuss it well in advance with their manager and HR department. She uses this example to illustrate why:
“I had a client recently whose California-based employee decided that while she’s been mandated to work from home for the next year, she may as well go live in Arizona where her boyfriend is. She can certainly do her job from Arizona, but what she or her manager didn’t realize when they agreed to this arrangement is that companies pay taxes based on the location of employees.”
Not only that, but companies have to be registered to conduct business in the city and/or state in which employees reside. “So just up and moving to another state to work has serious financial, benefits, and labor law implications for the company,” Jensen says. “Therefore, no organization should be unknowingly placed in a compromised position that has serious consequences to the company and employee alike.”
The bottom line is that as long as you’re able to get your work done and have the basic supplies and equipment you need, working from a different remote location shouldn’t be an issue. Any time when you may not have access to your full usual set-up, it’s a good idea to let your manager know in the event something comes up where that would make a difference. And if you’re looking to make more of a permanent move, make sure you loop your boss and HR into that conversation.