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My local government has requested that non-essential businesses either close or move to remote working if possible for the next two weeks. My company of around 100 people could do this, as everyone's work is 100% computer-based, but we're not able to. Managers up to the CEO are under the impression that we have no way to connect to our network drives/internal apps from outside the network. The IT guy has told them that since we don't have a VPN it's not possible.

The thing is, every work laptop does have a VPN already installed and configured. I used it successfully when I've had to do something after hours a few times. I checked with coworkers and they all have this VPN already installed too. At my last job I was a sysadmin, and part of my job was installing and configuring this exact VPN application. Right now, when you open it and click to connect, it gives a message that it was manually disabled.

I went to ask the IT guy about this message, and he told me that he disabled it because he doesn't want everyone to be working from home since he thinks it'll lead to worse productivity. He told me not to tell anyone since he's telling our CEO/management that we don't/can't have a VPN at all.

How should I approach this situation?

11 Answers 11

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Your IT guy is way out of bounds and is putting people at risk by clearly overstepping his role, so you don't need to be extra careful.

Given them a chance to make it right.

  1. Submit a formal ticket (or e-mail) asking for VPN to be re-enabled ( you want a paper trail)
  2. Tell the person that you appreciate their concerns but that this not acceptable and you need VPN back on
  3. Give them a clear deadline: If not's working within xxx hours you will elevate to their bosses and the CEO

They are not going to like it but chances are they will comply without too much blood being spilled.

If not, elevate directly to the CEO (copying your chain of command). State that working from home is entirely possible, that all laptops are equipped with VPN, that you have used it successfully before, that it recently has been disabled and that your request to have it turned on again was refused by IT.

If the CEO didn't know about it, it should be fixed quickly. If nothing happens, the CEO initiated the block and you either need to keep working in the office or find a new job. What happens to the IT person is not your concern either way.

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    Given that the IT Guy has already said he won't enable the VPN, I would doubt that he is going to react differently even with a ticket. Thus it seems to me that your response boils down to point #3, effectively saying "Enable the VPN or I tell the CEO". I personally think that given the IT guy's attitude that informally discussing the situation with the OPs boss would be a less aggressive move, and better all around. – Peter M Mar 16 at 15:37
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    "If not's working within xxx hours" I hope by using three x's you're not implying that you think a three digit number is appropriate. – Acccumulation Mar 16 at 22:51
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    Good answer, but I'd tweak it. A major issue with the IT guy is he made a significant management decision that was not his to make (also lied about it). So #2 above "not acceptable" has the OP taking a similar position (making a decision that is not his to make). – donjuedo Mar 17 at 0:50
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    I disagree with the suggestion to "give them a chance". This is no time for being polite and the IT guy could even be criminally liable. Go straight to the CEO and senior management and tell them they were lied to, with all the details. The company itself could be criminally liable for not following govt directives during a state of emergency. – Sam Mar 17 at 1:28
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    @Peter M: Informally discussing would be less aggressive, but this is a situation that calls for aggression. Assuming that this was the IT guy's personal decision, he is being criminally reckless. If he was told to do it by upper management, they are being criminally reckless. – jamesqf Mar 17 at 5:47
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Your first step should be to inform your direct manager about the situation and the details that you outlined in your question. I would also gauge his/her reaction carefully to see how they respond to the information you provide.

It's quite possible that the CEO and upper management don't want to consider work from home at all and are simply using the supposed lack of VPN as an excuse. Your direct manager's reactions/responses may give you some insight.

If you don't feel as if your concerns are being treated seriously then you could escalate to the next level or directly to HR. Worse case you may need to approach the CEO directly, but depending upon the structure, culture, and your position that may be difficult or have serious consequences for you.

I should also point out that you are not 'throwing someone under the bus', you are responding professionally to an issue and action that could have disastrous consequences and impact for the business.

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    No. I logged back in to SO just to leave this comment. Pussy-footing around politics is not an appropriate reaction when a global pandemic is on. You don't need to gauge anyone's reaction - they need to gauge yours. I don't know about OP, but mine would be pretty pissed off that a manager lied, taking the life of his colleagues in his hands, because of "productivity". Fuck this guy. The phrase "gross negligence" comes to mind, but I assume it's pretty hard to recruit IT managers while everyone stays home. – rath Mar 16 at 15:37
  • @rath - there's no immediate urgency here. A delay of an hour to follow official channels won't make a difference, and your boss is more likely to be believed over the IT guy. Steve explains what to do if your boss doesn't listen, but there's no harm in trying to do the right thing. – Robin Bennett Mar 16 at 16:51
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    @RobinBennett I have to disagree. Every interaction is a risk, and everyone should be doing their part to minimize that risk. Delaying everyone working from home for even one day could have serious consequences, especially if every person takes that attitude. Getting the right people involved immediately is warranted in this situation. – Kat Mar 16 at 22:24
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    +1 to this. OPs boss is going to be a far more effective advocate, if for no other reason than that the CEOs first reaction is going to be to phone his boss and ask them why the heck his underling is breaching the chain of command – Richard Mar 16 at 22:37
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    A general rule is that HR exists only for the company and not for the employees. Escalating to HR might sometimes be okay in case of illegal harassment, discrimination etc, but not in this case. OP does not know if the leadership actually requested to disable VPN. – MasterJoe Mar 16 at 23:57
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How should I approach this situation?

I would report the IT guy to whomever you think is the most appropriate (possibly his manager or your manager) immediately. Deliberately lying as such in a professional environment is grounds for immediate dismissal regardless of coronavirus or not. I would be very wary about having someone like this employed by the company in the future as they have been shown to be extremely dishonest.

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    I feel like this is the 'correct' answer, because it addresses the immediate problem (needing to work from home due to coronageddon and whether you have tools in place to do that) and also the issue of the IT guy gone rogue. In what way is it the place of a sysadmin (an important role, but not generally having strategic input about things like "productivity of people in the company as a whole") to unilaterally make the call to lie to management and give false impressions because of their personal feelings!? Upvoted. – seventyeightist Mar 16 at 20:10
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    ... and an additional comment because I was too late to edit -- the readiness to lie about this should be taken by any reasonable management as maybe symptomatic of a... let's say a "flexible relationship with the truth" in other situations. They may well want to unravel what else this guy might have misled them about because of his own feelings / convenience / whatever. – seventyeightist Mar 16 at 20:21
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    And actually on reflection: "He told me not to tell anyone since he's telling our CEO/management that we don't/can't have a VPN at all." so he's not only lying but asking the OP to be complicit in the lie (I missed this when I read it before). So he's not only lying for reasons of 'personal beliefs' or whatever about productivity but also trying to get the OP to conceal the lie as well... this guy needs to be fired and replaced. Either he set up a stealth VPN and didn't communicate it (why?) or the VPN was known with out of hours work etc but now it's denied (why?) this guy is up to no good. – seventyeightist Mar 16 at 20:36
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I disagree with the suggestion to "give them a chance".

This is no time for being polite. Go straight to the CEO and senior management and tell them they were lied to, with all the details.

The IT guy could be criminally liable for it and the company itself could be criminally liable for not following govt directives during a state of emergency.

Remember that time is precious and waiting days and even hours could expose people to risk. Management needs to plan an all-work-from-home setup, and the earlier they know, the better.

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I would be inclined to send out an all hands email

I cannot tell whether it is the IT guy or the management (as we have similarly strange management), but everyone involved has had all the time in the world to be competent. At this point they are clearly a flock of idiots.

I would just send out an all hands email (you can claim it was accidental) about how every computer has a VPN. That will force a response.

Is that professional? Probably not. But at least in Canada, most government managers have responded to this slower than sloths respond to bullets. They deserve some embarrassment. I am considering doing something similar at my organization as there are currently no WFH plans.

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    Yeah, my government agency just doubled down on not having work from home (and we are software developers). They are extreme laggards when it comes to preparedness and need a poke with a sharp stick. – Matthew Gaiser Mar 16 at 15:41
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    It's the IT guy: he stated outright that "he disabled it because he doesn't want everyone to be working from home since he thinks it'll lead to worse productivity". It was a pretty much unilateral act (from my reading of the OPs wording). – seventyeightist Mar 16 at 20:12
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    Productivity is not the responsibility of the IT. Let the Project Managers worry about it. Meanwhile, kick this straight up to the CEO, and if he won't let you work from home, get the public health authorities involved. If anyone dies because of this, lawsuits are a distinct possibility. – Mawg says reinstate Monica Mar 17 at 7:11
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    As a remote developer who used to work in corporate IT I can say that in 90% of cases 'productivity' in the corporate world is a fiction in the first place, while that productivity is on the whole unaffected by place of work. The real reason people in corporate office politics don't want remote workers is because their meaningless existence of purposeless face to face meetings and coffee room gossip would come to an end, and many deadwood jobholders calling the shots would lose their position. – Frank Mar 17 at 7:17
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Managers up to the CEO are under the impression that we have no way to connect to our network drives/internal apps from outside the network.

Start by resolving this. Talk to your manager. Ask for access to be made possible, or it can't, to know why. You may of course be refused for other valid reasons. But if the reasons are purely technical or logistical, mention your previous productive use of the VPN and ask them to reconsider.

Either way, you'll clear up any confusion the management may have about whether VPN access is/isn't possible, and take the decision about remote work out of the hands of the IT guy.

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Don't assume this was the IT manager's directive

The part that doesn't add up is why an IT manager (not a director level like a CIO) would just up and tell you

Hey, I unilaterally decided for the whole company that we shouldn't use VPN and have the leadership believing we just don't have it. Don't tell anyone, OK?

That manager would be sticking their neck WAY out on a limb. It's not impossible that's what has happened, but I've seldom met an IT person who felt empowered enough in making mundane decisions, let alone major decisions like this one.

What makes more sense is this

I was told to disable the VPN because it would harm productivity if people worked from home. Don't tell anyone.

In this case, the IT Manager knows they've been caught in the lie, but they can't own up to the truth because someone above them told them to concoct a plausible lie as to why the VPN didn't work.

Don't dictate terms to this person

In either case, you won't win by confronting them with ultimatums. Go over the IT manager's head and present the same case you presented the manager. Pretend you don't know what the IT manager told you. There's three possible outcomes

  1. Feigned innocence - You might be talking to the person who ordered this. Listen carefully for quiet defenses of it and/or stalling about escalation.
  2. Blatant anger - You've ruined their plans by bringing it up. Expect lots of threats and/or shouting. At least you've found the culprit.
  3. True innocence - They can't believe it. They want to escalate this up the chain.

You might have a hard decision ahead

It doesn't sound like there's a government mandate to do this, just a request. As such, management might simply come clean about this and tell you

We don't think remote work is good for productivity. If people get sick, they can use sick time or go home, but we are not going to allow remote working in this company. The VPN will remain disabled.

If they do that, you're done in this endeavor. The truth is now out in the open, instead of behind a lie. Either find another job or accept it. They might even fire you over it (unlikely but stranger things have happened). Either way, you might be disappointed in your current employer when the day is done.

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  • > he told me that he disabled it because he doesn't want everyone to be working from home since he thinks it'll lead to worse productivity If it was due to a directive from senior management or such like he would have said so. – seventyeightist Mar 17 at 21:54
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    I have come across 'IT managers' who seem to think that since they have the keys to the kingdom (e,g, sysadmin level access) that this translates into dictating business processes and deciding who "should" or "shouldn't" be able to do X thing (in one case, the IT person said "I don't know why S. needs access to this? - she's a woman!" It was about 15 years ago. But regardless of that... sysadmin types sometimes seem to equate "god-level access to specific systems" with "being able to specify who in the business is 'allowed' to carry out X process"(X could be specific access all the way to vpn) – seventyeightist Mar 17 at 22:02
  • @seventyeightist Why? "My boss doesn't doesn't want you to work from home" might possibly get him fired – Machavity Mar 17 at 22:04
  • I understood your answer e.g. "my boss frowns on wfh due to lack of productivity" etc but that doesn't fit with what the OP says: the IT guy "told me that he disabled it bc he doesn't want everyone to be wfh since he thinks it'll lead to worse productivity. He told me not to tell anyone since he's telling our CEO/management that we don't/can't have a VPN at all" The IT guy's boss would have to be pretty short sighted and unaware of people's nature because surely people other than the OP have already had VPN access before, so they would start to question it. And the "don't tell".. – seventyeightist Mar 17 at 22:15
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    .. is kind of a smell here, because if the upper management were really mandating "no wfh" under cover of lack of IT resources and so on... why would the IT guy then say "don't let on to upper management"? It would be a brilliant double bluff but I'm afraid in my experience the corollary to the well known "don't attribute to malice what you can attribute to incompetence" is: "don't attribute to strategy what you can attribute to personal self-interest". Now there's a sentence that's never been said before! (I even googled it.) – seventyeightist Mar 17 at 22:18
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Just go right to the big boss. If this virus is as bad as they're saying then this guy could actually end up killing people.

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My God! This is utterly outrageous!

As someone who works at home productively and has done for a long time, I can say that as a father home office is an important part of my lifestyle that I could no longer do without, and I wish many more people had the opportunity to experience this lifestyle for themselves. You can live in the nature for example, instead of suffering a daily polluted commute.

Now with covid19 this is especially important. This arrogant demogogue is literally directly threatening the health of children and your elderly loved ones! I live in the epicenter now of this and the lockdown coming to the USA is no fun I can tell you!

Barge straight into the CEOs office and tell them what is going on IMMEDIATELY. At best, this contemptible fool will lose his job. At worst, some colleagues might visit him in a dark alley...

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My input here will be unpopular, but I am not here to win friends and influence people.

Snitch? And about what exactly? There isnt much data here to explain why this IT sysadmin was hiding this VPN disable.

And then several posters here suggest this person is a danger to the public in general in what seems contextually, (or sounds like rather) That they are mentally unsound, or carrying some type of disease? Right. Maybe they had good reason to do what they did? You cant know everything. Maybe he is running an elaborate pen-test. Who can say. Maybe he's ISIS? Maybe. Could be, this whole thing is above your pay grade.

But we all know, that wont matter when they want to throw him under the bus anyway. I wouldnt tattle, and I would have questions.

Something tells me you wont get answers from anyone there, and I wouldnt just blindly believe what you are told / advised on here either.

Cover your ass, deny, when accused. If you tell the truth, have plenty of evidence to bury your accusers and opposition in deeper mire than you. And be cold about it.

There isnt anything worse than an enemy who undermines you, while gaslighting to cause fear about something that isnt real, combined with threats of murder, and physicall harm of brutal scope.

Its time to end this.

DROP IT. Fun at someone elses costs, obfuscation, mass fiction at meta levs is fun until the Victim strikes back. And then NO ONE IS LAUGHING.

DROP IT. and move on!

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  1. Your government has asked everyone to stop going to work. Not to stop going to work once they've gone through bureaucratic steps to get permission to not go to work.

  2. You should stop going into work immediately. Any harm this causes is due completely to the company deliberately sabotaging themselves. This amounts to blackmail: "I'm going shoot myself in the foot to force you to stick around to stop the bleeding".

  3. The information you have is information that everyone in the office has right to know immediately, not as the company deigns to give it to them.

Any downvoters should explain why they disagree with the above, or why the following is not a reasonable email in light of the above:

cc: [Everyone]

I have recently learned that [IT guy] has disabled VPN access on our laptops, and then told the CEO that there is no VPN, to try to get us to continue coming into the office. As there is in fact VPN capability, and any lack of its functionality is due to deliberate acts by agent(s) of this company, I will no longer be coming into the office. I will be making use of whatever remote work capability is available to me. It is up to this company as to what that will be. I recommend that others follow suit.

This will get the issue resolved much faster than "raising a ticket". It is a basic principle of economic efficiency that losses should be sustained by those most capable of preventing them. As long as you're the one bearing the burden for their fuck-up (and yes, even if it was a unilateral decision on the part of IT guy, the company is still responsible), they don't have much motivation to hurry.

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