I am a senior-level developer for a mid-sized agency where I work on lots of different clients' projects. I do development, strategy, and also design and I enjoy it immensely and have strived in the "chaos" of agency life. There are a few clients that I have great relationships with including one who we helped build some pages in their CMS (layout and graphics- nothing overly complex) years ago. I have (and always will) bend over backwards and do what needs to be done to complete a project, but with that CMS there is no programming involved and it is very locked-down so that it really boils down to junior-mid level content entry.

Fast forward several years and the client has requested that I help them with their CMS again, but this time they would like me to be onsite for 20 hours per week. Is this an unorthodox request? I'm caught in the middle of all this and I feel like I won't really have a say in the matter. My biggest fear is that I've worked myself up to the level I am at where I can take on complex development and high-level strategy and will no longer be doing that for half of my work week (regardless of I was onsite or offsite). For the other half of my work-week I'd imagine I would not be able to get as much done or even take on more demanding projects. On top of that, the commute is more than twice as long.

I've never said no to a request, and I'm hoping we can come to some kind of reasonable agreement on this, but what I can't figure out is if this kind of thing is precedented in the industry.

  • They requested you direct? Not your manager? – Kilisi Mar 21 '19 at 23:35
  • They requested me specifically in an email to the account manager. – user100989 Mar 21 '19 at 23:36
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    You need to speak with the account manager then. It's not unheard of for an employee to be sent to a clients site, but usually there are compensations and costs of some sort, as well as the employees thoughts on the matter being taken into account. – Kilisi Mar 21 '19 at 23:38
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    You have not told us in which country this is. I think in some your agency would have to reimburse you for the longer commute / the commute directly to the client would count as work time. – Daniel Mar 21 '19 at 23:57
  • Sorry I forgot to include that info- this is in the US. – user100989 Mar 22 '19 at 0:04

I don't think "order" is the correct terminology here. I'd say, they will "require" you to go and work at a client site, for which they can place a formal requirement. However, you can still open up a conversation and express your concerns / disagreement about the proposal, there's nothing stopping you from that.

Given that you are a full-time employee and the client requested "you" to be the onsite engineer, I believe the case is pretty straight-forward. They want you to travel to their office and get the work done. Nothing unusual about it.

Now, coming to your points:

  • You are an expert in this work (field) and more experienced than it needs to get this job done
  • You need to have a tiring and time consuming commute to reach the client location.
  • You have a good working relationship with the client.

The alternative to declining a request is to politely decline and offer a backup plan that would work just well.

For example, you can mention something like (to your boss and the client SPOC, and given that you can find someone who is willing to travel in your stead)

"Hey JD, thanks for extending the opportunity to work with you again, it's a pleasure working with you. However, seeing that you requested my presence in XYZ office, I'd like to inform you that, it will be very time consuming and under-productive for me to travel back and forth. Instead, I propose that Bob from my team would be present in your office premise, and I'll be supporting him as and when needed. Bob will be my hands and eyes while he will be there, and as always, I'm just a call away. Hope this will meet our requirement. Please let me know if otherwise"

Of course, if you don't find an alternative plan, you are stuck with the choices of either accepting the offer and making the commute, or, refusing without a plan and end up losing the opportunity (and future ones also, maybe).

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    +1 for "come up with an alternative plan" – Hilmar Mar 22 '19 at 12:17

This time they would like me to be onsite for 20 hours per week. Is this an unorthodox request?

It isn't. Clients often request or require that contractors work on site at the location of their choosing. I recently worked on site for a client for 13 months. This is pretty standard stuff.

Nevertheless, I understand your concerns. Have you expressed these to your agency? Are you an employee of the agency? If so, they can require that you honor the clients wishes regarding your work location. The alternative is that you quit your job at the agency. If you are not an employee of the agency and are an independent contractor then the agency can't require you to work at any specific location, but they can choose to no longer use you as a contractor as a result of your refusal to honor the clients wishes.

  • We have not yet had an "official" meeting about this, but I plan to discuss this in-depth when given a chance (I just don't want to seem like an insubordinate). We've had contractors work onsite often, but in this case I am not a freelancer, but a full-time employee of my agency– I'm guessing that doesn't change the definition of contractor, though... – user100989 Mar 21 '19 at 23:41
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    Expressing your concerns about this isn't being insubordinate. You have every right to speak your mind and make your concerns known. If they require you to do this and you refuse, then you'd be insubordinate. – joeqwerty Mar 21 '19 at 23:44

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