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Summary: I am a hard-to-replace employee who has been highly productive working remotely and would like to ask to be allowed to relocate to another state permanently (with ~6 visits a year to the office). I have maximum leverage to make this request right now. I believe I can make the case that I am valuable to them long term, and that my value may even get stronger when I work remote. How can I make this request in such a way that I don't burn bridges, but motivate them to make a quick decision which is in their (and ideally also my) best interest?


Where I work: I work for a large global private company with a Fortune-500 vibe, located somewhere on the East Coast. I work for a division of the company that is highly compensated, and whose employees often come from much leaner companies, with smaller cultures. This is all just to say that while I am part of a big company, there is some awareness that employees have an option to be in a different environment. There are several sites across the world, so much of the company is remote/virtual to the other part, even when we are at the office.

My position: I am an employee whose job is "quantitative" and technical in nature. Domain knowledge is expected, in addition to strong statistical and programming skills. I have been at the company for two years and have been remote for the last 12 months due to the usual Reason. The company took half a year to hire me and the search was long and expensive for them. I am not easily replaced.

I am critical to the success of a very high-profile project that depends on my code, knowledge and ability to develop further. This dependence is at an apex now and over the next 4 months, but will last a couple of years at least in some way. I am also a dotted-line manager for a technology project involving several developers on a mission-critical project. This involves coordination with people across the world and interfacing with technical and business people. I have proven to the company that I can successfully drive big international projects while working remotely. In many ways, I have been more productive working remotely.

My situation: I want to live in the Midwest, for family reasons, and I would like to make this move this summer. I want to build my life with my young new family near my extended family. My brother's wife is having a baby - we are very close and I want our kids to grow up together.

Although 90% of my division works remotely currently, there is an expectation that we will return to the office sometime in the next half-year or so. I want to ask my company to allow me to work remotely - full time - and get permission to start ASAP. I am already allowed to work remotely, but I am not allowed to relocate permanently.

While I do not have a concrete job offer, if the answer is "no" I will strongly consider leaving the company and I have recently had several realistic opportunities to do so.

However, I want to stress that I enjoy working at the company. I enjoy my work. I believe I am really good at it, and I strongly and genuinely believe that I can add a lot of value to them working remotely. I am willing to visit the office 6 or so times a year to fly in for important meetings, check-ins. I believe that this arrangement would be optimal for the company, much better than having me in the office.

My question

Assuming that I am accurately conveying the situation, what is the best strategy for how to bring this up to my boss? The reality of my company is that he will not have the authority to say yes, but will have to go to his boss's boss, and possibly a level or two above that.

I do not want to give an ultimatum, because if they say "no" I want the option to stay a couple of additional years without poisoning the relationship. But I do want them to be at least mindful of the reality that if they say "no", there is a decent chance that I could leave very soon.

I am more comfortable discussing the case for the company as to why this move will be good for them, and otherwise making the case. But where I struggle is in conveying the urgency, on their part, of making this decision. How can I do this?

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    One point, Are you expecting them to pay the 6 airfares a year? That's 10k down the drain for them - the Departments that Pay Money absolutely hate things like that.
    – Fattie
    Mar 17 at 11:40
  • 15
    Does your company already have a presence in this state? There are tax implications for having an employee in a different state. Mar 17 at 15:11
65

I would have the discussion with the boss with no mention of potentially leaving. That is a given. Any time there is a negotiation or discussion involving such matters there is an implication that leaving the company if your needs are not met is a possibility.

Apart from that I would stress the personal angle of wanting to relocate to be near family and your proven ability to do your tasks remotely. This is a reasonable reason to relocate.

At the end of the day I do not think your boss will be hard to convince, getting your boss to make the effort of convincing the hierarchy may be more difficult. So you need the boss wholly on your side. Until you have had the conversation though it's all open ended and you can decide what to do with more information. It's only further down the line that you would need to commit to action or inaction, and it may never come to that.

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Case study

I went through a very similar scenario with an employee of mine: Company in Boston; "Joe" was a highly valued candidate for a tech lead/manager position but wanted to live in the mid west because of convincing family reasons. Pre-covid. Main difference here was that this all happened during the hiring process.

  1. First we gauged that everyone wanted to make this work and that remote was the ONLY obstacle. Is there honest interest and good intention on both sides?
  2. We made a list of pros and cons and potential issues and worked through them in detail one by one. Specifics are REALLY important. For example: how often will you do 1:1 meetings with direct reports, how will they be done? How will you track performance and do performance reviews? What core meetings & events are important to attend in person? What level of travel is expected, how much will it costs, what will typical travel look like? etc.
  3. Don't be afraid to go deep and personal if needed. Example: Will you still be okay with travelling once a month once you have a new-born in the house? Would your wife be ok with that?
  4. Look realistically at a the career trajectory. How will this play out in 3 years, 5 years, 10 years? Typically, remote work limits how far up you can go in many orgs.
  5. Compensation: Cost of living in the mid west is much lower than in downtown Boston. What's a fair and adequate compensation?

Some things were easy: the company already had multiple locations and zoom and remote meetings were part of the daily culture already. Sometimes we needed to get creative: in season hotel rooms in Boston can exceed $500/night so we looked a AirBnB and combination of more peripheral hotels with train/rental car.

In the end we worked through all of those successfully and decided to pull the trigger.

Overall it worked great. "Joe" did awesome work and he and his team were very productive and successful. It lasted for about 3-4 years and then Joe left. It was primarily about a combination of item #4 above and some internal strategic/political shifts.

Overall I would rate this a full success. It didn't last forever (nothing does), but it was perfectly workable and both Joe and the company got a lot of good stuff out of it.

Conclusion

This can and has been done successfully. The key to success is to approach it with an open mind, anticipate as many potential issues as possible, and work through them collaboratively up front. This greatly reduces the risk of trouble and negative surprises later.

Covid has established a proof of viability of remote work for most companies, which should really help your case. On the down-side: You need be aware that being a remote worker in a company with a significant "in-office" culture will limit your long term career outlook.

Tactics

  1. Start with thinking it through yourself. Make absolutely sure that this is what you really want and that you feel this is long term viable.
  2. Start creating a list of potential issues. For each issue propose a bunch of possible solutions/actions. You can make a recommendation but make sure you present multiple options and leave room for input and adjustment
  3. Create a pitch deck. That helps organizing your thoughts and can come in handy if your proposal needs to move up the food chain to people that you have no easy direct access to. You may not ever use the deck but it can come in handy.
  4. Then start with your manager. Open with something like "For family reasons, it's really important for me to live in the mid west. I really appreciated and enjoy my current job and I would like to explore doing my work remotely". Don't threaten to leave, any halfway decent manager can read between the lines.
  5. Then make your case using your item list. Make sure you listen a lot, ask for feedback and concerns, be open minded in assessing them, and incorporate them into your pitch as much as possible. Step 1 is to get your manager on board.
  6. Once your manager is onboard and you are aligned, you can strategize together how to run it up the food chain.
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    I disagree with the "pay for geographic location" idea. If the OP takes a pay cut, they are more likely to become disenfranchised with the work and more likely to leave. Then when they go looking, they'll only see local jobs that pay even less, so they'll feel stuck in their current role. This is just a downward spiral of morale, work habits, and even mental health, which can affect family life. If the company is good with the current salary, why does it matter where the employee lives doing remote work? The pay is relevant to the location of the job, not the employee. Mar 17 at 16:14
  • "Will you still be okay with travelling once a month once you have a new-born in the house? Would your wife be ok with that?" Those seem like inappropriate and dangerous questions to ask a candidate because they could suggest discrimination based on family situation. It should simply be, "Will you be okay with travelling once a month?" How Joe will care for his (potential) child is his personal business, for a man as it would be for a woman.
    – nanoman
    Mar 18 at 12:28
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    @nanoman I understand this was meant for the candidate/OP to ask themselves before starting this whole thing, not for anyone from the company to ask verbatim. Mar 18 at 14:42
  • @AngewisnolongerproudofSO You may well be right, but it's pretty confusing because it's mixed in with the narrative of how Hilmar's company negotiated with Joe. It's in a list of items that "we worked through".
    – nanoman
    Mar 18 at 15:54
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If the culture of the company is as good as you say it is, and if everything you have described is accurate, then it should be a fairly simple request.

But first, I want to stress something. You do not want to make it sound like you are holding them hostage. That closes the door on you being rehireable, it will encourage them to look for your replacement immediately, and is just unprofessional in general.

It would go something like...

"For the past 6 months or so, my wife and I have been very seriously talking about relocating to the midwest where we have family. As you know, I have a young family, and if COVID has taught us anything, it's important to be geographically close to a good support system.

I would also like to say I have very much enjoyed working here. I find my work gratifying and it has been very beneficial to my family. As such, I wanted to discuss how I could stay in my current role and permanently relocate. This is something my wife and I are intending to do in the next 2 months."

You wait for an answer and you go from there. You respond with info about your performance during WFH, that you're willing to travel as necessary, that you will keep the same working hours for the timezone your people are based at, etc etc. You follow up every couple weeks to see where they are in the process in making this a reality. And, if after a month, nothing happens, you give your notice, make them sound like they are the best company you've ever worked for and hope that in the future you all can work together again.

But, the whole time you are cordial and non-combative. You also give them the best work you have ever given them. You give no reason for them to have animosity towards you, don't be cocky, don't be lazy, show them that they enjoy working with you.

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    I'd suggest "would like to do" instead of "are intending to do". The latter sounds like a polite ultimatum. Mar 17 at 18:19
  • Agreed. but OP is planning to relocate either way. As crappy as it is, I think it makes the leaders know that he is leaving and they will try harder to make it happen than if he just said "I'm thinking of moving. Can I keep my job"
    – Austin759
    Mar 18 at 2:33
  • Just a gentle note that this isn't the only answer that implies OP is married to a woman ("my wife and I have been very seriously talking about "). Their post doesn't indicate their gender, their partner's gender, or if they are married. For a number of reasons these default assumptions might be worth avoiding.
    – Clumsy cat
    Mar 18 at 10:15
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    @FreeMan it probably isn't going to make a difference for the advice here, but in general the assumption can be damaging.
    – Clumsy cat
    Mar 18 at 16:04
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    Don't say "I have very much enjoyed working here". That puts it in the past tense and implies departure. If you're wanting to say something like that, then say it as "I very much enjoy working here."
    – Makyen
    Mar 19 at 0:19
3

Welcome new user, what about language like this,

Steve, let me ask you something. I'd like to work remotely permanently, in fact we'd rather live in Des Moines near Becky's parents. Can you give me your thoughts on this?

The key negotiation/language points are

  1. As always, make everything a question. This is the basic language-tip of all discussions/negotiations

  2. Make it a minimalist fait accompli. Deliver this offhand - basically the next time you see Steve. Don't make a big song and dance and don't "introduce" the issue (such as "planning a meeting" "about an issue" etc) - just state it as above next time you see each other.

  3. I would advise DON'T send a specific email about it, next time you are in a meet just say it.

Critically...

  1. Don't give "your personal reasons" in such a negotiation. (The "no whining, no pity-points in negotiations" rule.) Nobody cares - at all - that ... it's where you grew up, they have dogs, you happen to want kids, Auntie Jess is on her deathbed, etc etc!! You happen to want to live in Des Moines; this is a huge inconvenience to the company; but it's something you happen to want; that's the end of it. Any whining about the dogs, Auntie Jess, is just fodder for plain annoyance. It's completely self-evident you'll be saving a fortune in school, housing etc - no need to state that. For example, when one asks for a higher salary, you never prattle on about why you need a raise ("my Porsche is so expensive to maintain, I have a Sick Kid" etc etc) - it's completely self-evident that humans "need more salary" - any whining about "your particular" reasons is unfortunately just fodder for plain annoyance.

Some thought points,

  1. I believe your "argument", so to speak, for why they should do it is: "You are important". That's a good argument but - just forget it. It's completely pointless stating that. What other possible reason would they have to let you do this? Justification is weakness - you're in a position of strength (as are they) so you're simply equal parties having a little negotiation. Beware of putting yourself in a position of "weakness via argument" - just state it.

  2. Similarly "But I do want them to be at least mindful of the reality that if they say "no", there is a decent chance that I could leave very soon." This is self-evident, it's pointless "having this thought". They know it very well.

  3. Hard to replace personnel. Unfortunately - no need dealing with this at length - everyone is replaceable. Flat. That's life :/

  4. That travel issue. If it was me doing this, I'd certainly tell them that I myself would pay for these meeting-trips to home office. The departments-that-actually-handle-money in your company will loathe the idea that there is a new policy breaking out where employees who happen to want to live across the country cost them 10-30k a year in travel. (And yes, they very much notice that travel days are not programming days, you've slashed 100 hours of actual work, versus someone who lives normally next door to the office. The people who actually have to make businesses work as a machine are very aware of this sort of thing - unfortunately.)

Do remember that success here will be achieved via a minimalist fait accompli...

"Everyone's" working remotely these days, you're happy to travel in for meetings, look at that the house you wanted is available now ... no argument, no chance of counter-argument. Good luck!

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  • I like all of this but the travel part, many large orgs are happy to spend travel money like water, others are cheap. Figure out which before you offer to pay for business travel, which is highly unusual.
    – mxyzplk
    Mar 17 at 12:38
  • Quite right, @mxyzplk - in this case though they are "changing from" someone who lives next door, to, someone who wants $20k a year in travel costs - for some/many corps they hate that sort of "change". Cheers
    – Fattie
    Mar 17 at 13:12
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    I think presenting it as "I must make the move, but would like to continue working here" has merit // #4 "nobody cares about your personal situation" depends on the person you're dealing with, IMO. Especially if you are asking for something the other person deep-down knows you deserve, but they have orders to discourage you (maybe not the case for this post). Also backs up the "I must make the move" part of it
    – Pete W
    Mar 17 at 13:21
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It takes two to tango/employ.

How can I ask/negotiate to work permanently out of state in a way that both conveys urgency and preserves my option to stay if they say no?

Even if this situation wasn't happening, you don't have the option to singlehandedly choose to stay. Employment is a two-way street, and your employer can dismiss you (while honoring the relevant notice) when they want to - just like how you are able to quit when you want to

While I do not have a concrete job offer, if the answer is "no" I will strongly consider leaving the company and I have recently had several realistic opportunities to do so.

This is pretty much the default assumption made by most (if not all) companies when faced with an employee who out of the blue ask for a significant change in their employment that mostly benefits the employee.

It is reasonable for an employer to assume this. If you're asking for something more, that means that you either (a) need it or (b) feel that it is fair compensation for you. In either case, not getting what you ask for means that you're likely going to look for other opportunities where you get it. You might even already have opportunities lined up and could simply be checking if your employer is willing to match it.

In-COVID vs post-COVID

I have proven to the company that I can successfully drive big international projects while working remotely. In many ways, I have been more productive working remotely.

As much as I sympathize with this position and like to think I have established a similar reputation, that's not the right way to compare today to the "back to the office" period.

Even if you get your way, everyone else will be going back to the office. And instead of being a more productive remote worker compared to your colleagues, you're going to be compared to what your colleagues can do when working together in the office.

Your remoteness is going to add an overhead cost. Hybrid meetings (i.e. some in person, some remote) tend to flow more awkwardly than fully online or fully in person meetings. Intentional or not, the re-emergence of hallway conversations is going to lower the amount of communication via public or official channels, which means that you might start being out of the loop on smaller issues, which in turn can lead to repeatedly being caught unaware of things everyone else knows, which can affect your reputation.

Your question consists of justifications of how remote working has positively impacted your work, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it wouldn't negatively impact others. Your company is likely to be interested in the total sum more than your specific performance, and will take those side effects into account.

I'm not omniscient and I don't know if you will face these issues. But neither will your company, and they will still be forced to make a judgment call before being able to accept/reject your request of going full remote.

Even if they agree, it's possible that the company will now actively seek to replace you with someone who is available for working in the office. Ceteris paribus, they might even opt for someone who works remotely but still lives geographically closeby so they can come to the office on short notice.

You cannot argue this away. No matter how much you prove that you're more efficient working remotely, the company is free to look for an in-office employee if they prefer having in-office employees. Both you and your employer are free at any time to look for a replacement employer/employee, and the other party cannot block this from happening.

Your expectations

Assuming that I am accurately conveying the situation, what is the best strategy for how to bring this up to my boss? The reality of my company is that he will not have the authority to say yes, but will have to go to his boss's boss, and possibly a level or two above that.

This may work to your benefit, if you can frame it correctly. If you ask your boss on a personal/friendly/casual level if he's aware of any plans the company has for remote working when the pandemic passes, he may be able to relay information without needing to broadcast that you are seeking fulltime remote work.

Even if he doesn't know, he might ask around without particularly putting your name in the spotlight. But it does require you to have a good personal relationship with your boss.

However, this is a very loose request, which is quite different from how you want to specifically and urgently convey what you need.

I do not want to give an ultimatum, because if they say "no" I want the option to stay a couple of additional years without poisoning the relationship. But I do want them to be at least mindful of the reality that if they say "no", there is a decent chance that I could leave very soon.

Imagine telling your boy/girlfriend that they're not allowed to date anyone else, but you're going to still be dating other people and might dump them if a better boy/girlfriend comes along. That is effectively what you're doing here.

On top of that, you've first asked your current boy/girlfriend to do something extra for you, something you insisted that you must have, and they've refused. And you're expecting them to somehow forget that you impressed how much you need this thing that you're not getting, just so they can stay committed to their relationship with you.

That is simply not how it works. When one part of the relationship loses interest, generally speaking so does the other. The more you convey how much you need something, the more that it is understood that not giving it to you is going to damage the relationship.

Your company is not desperately devoted to you, and if they are, I and anyone else invested in the company's well-being would suggest to the company that they'd need to fix that regardless of your particular situation. Having a bus factor of 1 is a massive liability to the future viability of any company.

The sales pitch

I am more comfortable discussing the case for the company as to why this move will be good for them

A vacuum salesman will tell the customer how good their life would be if they purchased this vacuum. And the customer is naturally deincentivized to believe this, because they know the vacuum salesman is just trying to push sales. That doesn't mean he's invariably lying, but it heavily taints the authenticity of his message.

It might be better for you to not spend time arguing the company's case, so as not to make it feel like you're manipulating the situation. Especially if you don't want to taint your reputation.

If that vacuum salesman were not trying to tell me about my own life, I'd be more inclined to believe that they're simply trying to sell a good product, rather than that they're trying to convince me to buy it.
The corollary here is that if you leave the choice up to them, it may be better as your request comes across as an open question rather than a done deal that you're asking them to sign.

But where I struggle is in conveying the urgency, on their part, of making this decision. How can I do this?

Urgency entails a high necessity. As established before, a high necessity entails a likelihood of you quitting your job when you don't get the thing you "urgently need". Phrase it however you want, any company that can reason about its own decisions will understand the nature of your request and the likelihood of you not staying with them when that request is denied.


Conclusion

At the end of the day, no one can say how your company will react. Maybe they'll be happy to accept. Maybe they'll abjectly refuse any long-term remote work in a post-pandemic world. Maybe they're willing to seek a compromise with you. Maybe not.

But what I can say is that you're going to have to change your expectations on specific you can be about this request while at the same time staying completely free from any consequences if it fails. You cannot have this cake and eat it.

The company might possibly let you have the cake and eat it (if they genuinely don't want to replace you), but you cannot guarantee this in advance.

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First and foremost, does your company already have a physical location in the state that you want to move to, or do they already have employees that live in that state? If the answer to both of these is no, then the whole thing is likely a non-starter. There's a lot of state-specific overhead involved in hiring/paying employees, involving everything from licensing, registering as a taxable entity, and paying state taxes to possibly needing to hire legal and HR people who know that state's details. Insurance-related benefits are often state-specific, and your employer's plan might not cover someone who lives in your destination state (very different than merely visiting that state). If your company isn't already set up in your destination state, then they may not legally be allowed to employ you while your permanent residence is there. The cost and overhead of setting all this is up is more than a company is going to want to mess with for one employee. You may be able to resign and be re-hired as a contractor, but that really just shifts all that burden onto you and has a whole different set of pros and cons.

If your company does already have a location in your destination state, I would approach this as a transfer to that office. I know several people who have done something similar, working the same job only from a different physical location. In one recent-ish case, my friend approached his manager and asked to transfer to an office in a city several hundred miles away. Living there would mean he wouldn't have to travel and take time off to take care of his in-laws, plus that area had a school that specialized in students with a particular medical condition that his child had. He explained that living in the other city was an all-around better situation for his family, but at the same time he absolutely loved his job (which he was very good at) and didn't want to leave it. Working out of the other office would allow his family to benefit while minimizing the disruption to the company. The other office had everything he needed to do his job so the company didn't have to worry about typical work-from-home problems like family distraction, unreliable home Internet or VPNs, or controlling access to confidential information. He made it clear that he had no problem traveling back to the main office from time to time if necessary. Management approved it (he's a valuable employee and would get snatched up in an instant by a competitor in the destination city), and my friend has been working at the remote office for almost two years now. He's not as close to his family as he'd like to be, but he's close enough that he can now pop over and back in the same day and it's made all the difference for his family. His particular arrangement required him to cover his own moving and travel expenses, but the company knows not to take advantage of that lest they lose him completely. The key was that he made it clear that this wasn't some random, half-baked idea, it was a significant benefit for his family (the type many people are willing to change jobs for). He also made it clear that he was completely committed to making this arrangement work long-term and that he had no intention or desire to find another job in the destination city. His management trusted him based on his track record, and it's been working out well.

0

Just keep it "straight up and down."

"Boss, you know that I am a valuable employee. Now, I need to relocate to the Midwest for family reasons. I therefore need for you and the company to find a way to accommodate me, so that I can continue my valuable service to the company."

"All right," if I were your manager, "I could accommodate that." Of course I'll need to talk to my bosses, and to HR, but your request is really not that unusual ... especially after "COVID and the last year" has demonstrated that "work from home" actually works.

You don't need to be "afraid" to ask. Every single one of us has families, and many of us are fortunate to still have parents and/or grandparents, or other relatives who need care. Your family situation is what it has now become, and at one time or another every one of us has faced this ... or, very soon will. Therefore, carefully prepare your request – be sure that your boss completely understands what is now required so that (s)he can pass "a complete request" upstairs – and then, present it with your head held high.

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