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I am working with a remote company as a software engineer. Recently my employer asked me this - "What can we do to make your professional life better?"

How should I answer this question? Can I ask for financial needs or the macbook that I want to buy?

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    Yes and how appropriate it is to ask for such things while I am getting paid for my Job. – Amit Kumar Feb 4 at 13:35
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    The machine I am using right now is my own that I was using before joining the company. I am currently thinking of changing my device to get a MacBook. But as my employer asked me about my requirements, I would like to know how much appropriate it is to ask for a MacBook/high-performance system or compensation for it considering the fact that I am getting a good salary. – Amit Kumar Feb 4 at 14:23
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    @JohnWu: A better computer only helps if you are actually limited by the current one. My employer provided a 3k€ Macbook but since I’m only using it to connect to a server via VNC it’s actually a waste of money. – Michael Feb 5 at 8:42
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    @JohnWu what? No. That's not what the article says. It's not saying get everyone an alienware PC. It's saying you increase productivity when you run a midsize business with SAP intead of Excel spreadsheets. It's talking about infotech investments, not desktop PC investments. Good grief. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Feb 5 at 12:31
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    Is this as a contractor or a full-time employee. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Feb 5 at 12:56
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You can use this as an opening to start a conversation about pay - it's not really what they are asking though IMHO. Really they are wanting to know what would help you in doing your job. Whether that's new/updated tools (e.g. the Macbook) or whether it's a change to business processes or workflow, think about what gets in the way of doing your job and propose what they could change to fix that.

Taking your Macbook example, you'll still want to provide a business reason for it. e.g.:

A new Macbook would really help - my curent machine is older and is sluggish when I'm working on larger and more complex projects and it's really bottlenecking my productivity

Or something like that - this may be stating the obvious but the reason has to be true, I'm not saying it has to be the only reason (sometimes shiny new toys are a thing to be enjoyed) but just making something up isn't really a good plan.

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    If the current machine is a private laptop, the argument could also be that it's about time to properly separate private and business laptop, which is easily in the interest of the company: less likely business laptop gets stolen/hacked because used for non-business things, less hardware tear, less likelihood some private installation breaks the OS etc. pp. – Frank Hopkins Feb 4 at 16:57
  • @FrankHopkins It's even somewhat likely that the employer realized this and decided it's about time to get the ball rolling but for some reason requires the employee to bring it up. That may sound odd, but happens every so often. – Mast Feb 5 at 12:01
  • @FrankHopkinsYou should put that as an answer. It is a good reason to provide. I get work from home Tuesdays and Thursdays as an option, but I still mostly go to the office, since I like to separate work and personal life. WRT a new machine, that makes sense for both company and OP. Smaller chance of loss of work due to malware obtained browsing no work related sites or personal email attachment. – Alan Feb 5 at 14:06
  • Can I rephrase this a "you should ask for what you really want… along with a true reason for how/why it would make your professional life easier"? – ebosi Feb 5 at 15:04
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    I would not say "it's really bottlenecking my productivity", simply because if it was that big a problem then I should have dealt with it before. Just noting that it's getting older (how old?) and that you're starting to think about replacing it should be enough. – Law29 Feb 6 at 0:58
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You should ask for whatever you feel you need from a professional perspective to be more effective in working with the remote company, just be ready to justify each request in an appropriate manner.

You mention, for example, a MacBook. If you need one for concrete, professional reasons you should ask for it, explaining your reasons, such as video editing, development platform requirements, uniformity with the team, or whatever applies.

I would not recommend asking for a raise at this stage. This question is about equipment and working practices (including working hours).

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  • Thank you. I am not thinking of raise but I just wanted to know if I can ask my employer to provide a technological stipend or device. – Amit Kumar Feb 4 at 13:32
  • If you need a device, ask for the device, explaining why. If you need a fixed budget for tech expenses, ask for it, explaining why. :) – STT LCU Feb 4 at 13:33
  • * I just wanted to know if I can ask my employer to provide a technological stipend or device* you can certainly always ask. Of course, none of us can predict what your employer will say. – dwizum Feb 4 at 14:09
  • +1 is for "including working hours" I would include non-monetary benefits in general with that such as scheduling flexibility and paid time off policy. – Aaron Feb 5 at 16:30
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How should I answer this question? Can I ask for financial needs or the macbook that I want to buy?

Of course. I'd say there's a few categories you can mention here:

Pay - This is probably not what they're directly getting at - I would take this as "how can we make your life better at work", not "how can we fairly compensate you for the work you're doing". But if that's a factor, then sure, mention it.

Working conditions - Are you happy with the time that you're working? Would you like it to be more flexible? Would you like a block of time you're not disturbed in the day / week?

Physical items - Macbook comes under this - but don't forget other hardware too. New monitor, new mouse / keyboard, KVM switch if you want to use the kit for two machines, better headset for videoconferencing, etc. But don't forget the non-tech items either - new desk, new desk chair, heck even a nice fan if it gets hot where you work - all important stuff.

Software / licenses / tools - Don't forget this! This is often the cheapest category, and often the one that could make your life easiest. Are you stuck using Eclipse and want to use IntelliJ? What the full Atlassian suite for tracking bugs / source control etc.? Want Stackoverflow for teams? Mention it.

Events - Training, conferences, networking events etc. - if you want tickets to these sorts of things, or training organised for interesting stuff you feel would be useful to your role, then ask for it.

There will of course be more, and I'm certainly not saying you should mention all of the above, it's just for ideas - but don't be afraid to ask for what's going to make you more productive. The costs of most of the above is likely completely insignificant compared to your salary, and for a company, that means it's a great investment (you'll likely perform better and be more loyal as a result if they give you what you're after.)

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To add to the other answers, you could always throw a course or 2 about similar/newer technologies in the mix, maybe a seminar or 2 or something to further your personal development, but at the same time have an advantage or 2 for your employer. That would definitely make your professional life better in the long run and it might very well be at no charge to you.

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You say:

The machine I am using right now is my own that I was using before joining the company. I am currently thinking of changing my device to get a MacBook. But as my employer asked me about my requirements, I would like to know how much appropriate it is to ask for a MacBook/high-performance system or compensation for it considering the fact that I am getting a good salary.

Don't feel guilty about asking for good tools even if you have a good salary. The opposite in fact! If your time is expensive, then tools that let you do more in that time are a good investment for the company.

Something to be careful about though is having in writing whether the new Macbook is going to be your own property, or a company device that you'd have to hand in if you ever left the company.

That it's going to belong to the company is probably the default option, but you can try to negotiate this. Smaller companies without a dedicated IT department wouldn't necessarily know what to do with the device if you gave it back; supporting a lot of different devices is a hassle. And larger firms often prefer to just keep a fleet of standardized office laptops that get written off, for their administrative staff. But developer machines can be rather niche because every developer really wants their own special model. It's also a possible way for them to give you a sort of one-time bonus, rather than a permanent raise.

Whatever is decided upon, make sure to get it in writing.

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    Many companies also prefer remote workers (especially IT-savvy ones) to own their machines. "Hand in" and "give back" take on a different meaning when you have to call UPS or DHL. – Law29 Feb 6 at 1:08
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Tl;Dr: don't ask for fish when you can ask for fishing training ;)

It's a great opportunity for you to ask yourself where you want to go professionally in case it's not already clear to you, and ask for help conducive to those goals.

During the yearly evaluation session I had talks on a similar topic with my manager letting him know where the workflow could be improved so I could perform better, what kind of involvement I'd like to have in the next few years, what my near-future career goals are and what the changes that the company can make to help me reach those goals are. Talking about better tools for your work is also a good topic here, but only if it increases your productivity or helps you perform good overall. Getting rid of an annoyance like a broken mouse or an old keyboard or a fatigue-inducing display would fit in here. A new machine could fit in here but only if you are facing decreased productivity because of it.

The temptation of asking for tangible goods like a MacBook for your personal use or even better pay is there, but in the long run you would better benefit from having the company working with you in reaching your longer-term goals. You can earn money to buy a MacBook in multiple ways by doing any sorts of manual labors. But getting the support a company's resources gets you in professional growth is not something you can easily get otherwise. I'm not saying working for a company is necessarily the best choice you can make, but it definitely makes sense to maximize the opportunities it provides.

In your case, this means expressing your choice of future projects you'd like to get involved in, direction of professional training (let's say you are a programmer and want to progress towards being a consultant, or a software tester wanting to work your way towards being an analyst), tools and processes that would make your work more enjoyable (and if it applies: less tedious), you could get some flexibility regarding working hours or home-office. It's a good adult discussion that can lead to much better outcome than having a new MacBook.

In the long run, you becoming better trained and more knowledgeable should theoretically also mean you would get better pay as your position in the company rises.

One more point very specific to your question: notice how the employer asks how they can make your professional life better? Not your life in general, but your professional life. This in my book does not include benefits to take home.

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Ask a question back, requesting for the context of their question. I would assume a company would ask about "what can we do for you", to get to know your perspective and difficulties you face, which you may have been shy to bring forward earlier or you didn't mention, out of professional courtesy. Especially when you are a remote worker, the lack of physical interaction makes it mandatory for them to keep tab on the "pulse of the organization" and nip any trouble in the bud before it happens. So it could just as well be a question that's being asked out of formality, rather than genuine concern.

Remember that your priorities are to get work done at the price agreed. So keep the questions about pay and Macbook for a bit later. Start off by thanking them for asking and for their concern. Then tell them that you'd like to know more about the context of the question. Is it about the frequency of contact with the company or about the interaction with colleagues or about hardware or about the pay or whether it is a casual inquiry. Once they give you a reply, you'll be in a better position to judge what to tell them. If you plan to ask about the Macbook, don't ask directly initially. Ask if the company could considering upgrading hardware if it is impacting your productivity. However if you were planning to buy a Macbook for yourself, and you were planning to ask for more pay so that you could buy it, don't mention any of that. The company isn't concerned about your personal plans.

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