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My new company is headquartered in Japan, but I'm in an overseas office. Occasionally I must attend Microsoft Teams meetings in wee small hours. My selfish superiors know I'm in a different time zone, but they are intolerant. They still expect me to wake up early, get washed, and look prim. Everybody else uses both video and audio even in different time zones.

Previously superiors never asked why I turned off video, but yesterday my manager did. I froze, and I didn't know what to say! Please don't advise me to say the real reason!

I'm a woman. I don't want to use video when I've just gotten out of bed and have bed head and hair, and/or I plan to return to bed after the meeting — I'm too embarrassed to admit, and I don't want to look lazy. Undeniably it's unprofessional to attend meetings without washing your hair.

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    Can you please indicate if your superiors have actually asked you to get washed and look prim and have your camera on, or are you just extrapolating off the fact one of them asked you why your camera is off? Sep 30 at 3:55
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    The truth is fine, i'd tell them "It's still very early here, and I haven't had time to properly get ready for video, so I'd prefer to keep video off on this call. My other calls later in the day I can turn the video on." That doesn't sound lazy to me, I would tell people that. If I had to be on a call before 8:00 AM
    – Issel
    Sep 30 at 5:17
  • 10
    I don't have an answer but I can understand your dilemma. Japanese culture is way more heavy handed in imposing what they believe is correct. This is why most answers given from US/Europeans here will be absolutely useless. Sep 30 at 13:23
  • 4
    OP, add where you are sitting - the comment got moved to chat but it is still applicable: if you have to work on the wee hours and don't receive flexibility to log out earlier (either on the day before or the day after) or additional compensation, that might be a violation of your local labor laws Oct 1 at 8:11
  • 2
    I am voting to close this question as many answers are out of date, and the OP has accepted an answer which has been down-voted significantly. Oct 1 at 18:58

14 Answers 14

-21

This answer was written before an edit mentioned that the company was headquartered in Japan. Since I lack knowledge in Japanese professional environments it's probably not suitable anymore.

I'd suggest having a few different excuses and using each one whenever someone asks you to turn the webcam on.

Remember that whoever asks is crossing personal boundaries, so you need not to turn it on unless it's required as part of your job. Having a different reason to never turn the webcam on makes it clear that you don't want to and should dissuade people to keep asking you to turn it on.

You could say "My notebook stays with the lid closed under my 2nd monitor and that's the only webcam I have". The next time someone asks you could say "bandwidth/connection cannot handle video properly"(as pointed in this answer). Another time something like "It's night in here and I can't turn the lights on because that will disturb someone/my cat/whatever is sleeping close to me".

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    "I have a visitor or roommate currently who objects to being on camera". Can backfire, though, if you are told to keep that visitor well away from your screen for data protection reasons. Sep 29 at 21:10
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    @asts I think what they meant is that you have connected your notebook to external monitors and due to limited desk space the only spot to keep it is under the monitor where to fit it has to keep lid closed. That is how I run things when working from home, laptop ends up behind my secondary monitor as that is a suitable free space where i have all the wires without taking away from my ability to keep folders and notes on the desk where i need them.
    – r_ahlskog
    Sep 30 at 4:50
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    In a traditional Japanese company, there are no “personal boundaries”. Your job is your life.
    – bubba
    Sep 30 at 5:21
  • 48
    Obvious lies about petty things are a great way to establish that you are a bad liar and don't have the courage to discuss things directly. Whether these make a good employee might be a cultural question.
    – ojs
    Sep 30 at 9:17
  • 9
    Is that a common approach in Japan / Asia? Because as a Westerner this feels incredibly unprofessional to me, but then again I have seen some patterns that feel a little like this when collaborating with Asian companies. Would explain a lot.
    – xLeitix
    Sep 30 at 10:32
158

If this is a peer asking me, or if I'm not under instruction to have my video on, then I would probably have said "because I don't want to", or "because I don't [think we] need it".

If pressed, then "Come on, it's two in the morning. Let's get back to the subject." would stop anyone sane from pressing for more conversation about it.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – motosubatsu
    Oct 1 at 14:08
50

Is your company a traditional Japanese one? Since they have little sympathy for your need to sleep, it sounds like they might be.

If they are, then they might well expect you to be well-groomed and alert regardless of the time of day (or night), especially in meetings that include customers. They’d say that the efficient running of the company is far more important than your health and happiness. Any resistance on your part will be interpreted as laziness and disloyalty, and your career with them will be over.

If you were Japanese, you’d probably just apologize profusely, turn on your camera, and humbly accept the humiliation that comes with being temporarily scruffy. Then, you’d be better prepared next time.

If you’re not Japanese, you can try pushing back, quite firmly, as others have suggested. Even if you’re talking to your “superiors”, there’s a certain amount of “gaijin power” that deters Japanese from getting into confrontations. It can be very useful, at times. It’s harder if you’re a woman, but worth a try.

If you can’t tolerate being treated like an unworthy cog in the great Japanese business machine, then maybe it’s time to look for a job in a less traditional company.

Tangential story, for context: I worked in a Japanese company for a couple of years. I always found it remarkable (and sad) that when someone suggested having a meeting at 10 o’clock, we had to ask whether they meant 10 AM or 10 PM.

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    Sadly it’s a matter of power or perceived power. I’m in London. 2am here is 10am Tokyo. If someone wants me in a meeting at 10am Tokyo time, the answer is “do you know what the time is here”, because that meeting can easily done at 4pm. I’m a bit of a night person, so 10pm / 6am would be acceptable for me, but not for others.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 30 at 6:30
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    Even if the company is a traditional japenese one, there must be a business reason behind the employment of overseas people in place of local people. If the company is willing to succeed in its international development they need to conform to overseas employees local culture as much as those employees need to conform to the company culture. If she were an expat worker in Japan it would be different but the fact that she's overseas should give her some leeway, especially if she's part of a subsidiary with japanese headquarter and not just one employee remotely working for a japanese employer.
    – zakinster
    Sep 30 at 12:24
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    Something like that, but more formal: "It's my policy not to use video on meetings before 7AM <insert timezone>." Perhaps continue with "That's normal for women in <insert country>."
    – JDługosz
    Sep 30 at 17:31
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    @JDługosz "That's a nice policy you have, but as your manager, I'm instructing you to turn on your video when you join meetings." Oct 1 at 13:06
28

This answer is for the first iteration of the question. It's not suitable due to subsequent edits.

I'd probably just say: I'd rather not.

If they keep pressing you, you could then say: I don't think we need to get into it

If you were feeling charitable, you could say: I've just gotten out of bed which may be slightly less embarrassing for you. Maybe they could join the dots.

And don't worry, I've done those types of meetings before, wearing my pyjamas. It's not just females with bed-head that don't want to be seen in the early hours.

If it is just the hair however, you could consider some sort of head covering. Or even a beanie. But that's up to you.

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    Or if feeling trolling - full face ski mask and a crow bar is an appropriate outfit for 2am meeting :). More seriously any variation of "I'm ok but can't have video right now" should be enough for an answer if "I'd rather not" is not your thing. Sep 29 at 6:39
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    Yea - I like that. "It's 2am, I'm in my pyjamas, and I've just got out of bed" - turns the embarrassment tables around a bit! Sep 29 at 14:28
  • 1
    @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket What is professional is subjective. We can argue about it, but ultimately if the client thinks it's unprofessional, then the manager will consider it unprofessional, and need to be rectified. Sep 30 at 3:57
  • @GregoryCurrie The OP didn't specify the client thought it was unprofessional. That said, I thought I was agree with you, but I posted my comment on the wrong answer. I was trying to post it on the answer I upvoted, so I moved my comment there. But telling a "selfish" and "intolerant" manager "I'd rather not" will likely anger them. Consequently, I think that's bad advice. Sep 30 at 4:26
  • @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket Yeah, spot on. If I told my manager "just don't worry about it"... well... it wouldn't be good. Sep 30 at 6:40
28

My selfish superiors know I'm in a different time zone, but they are intolerant. They still expect me to wake up early, get washed, and look prim.

Normally superiors don't ask why I turned off video, but yesterday my manager did. I froze!!! I didn't know what to say!!! Please don't advise me to say the real reason!

I initially answered your question when it seemed it was about your peer asking, and it was an offhand question, and you don't want to answer due to embarrassment. You've since materially changed the question where your manager has mandated that video be turned on and you "get washed, and look prim." and you are not following their instructions.

If that is your manager's expectation, there isn't really going to be any good answer that is going to satisfy them. If you need to have a shower, get dressed, and look presentable, then that is something you need to either do, or have a discussion around with your manager.

You could explain that your process of "getting ready" can take a significant amount of time, and that once you've done all that it's difficult to get back to sleep once the meeting is over, which will have an impact on your ability to work your regular hours.

I can't afford to lose this job.

My recommendation would be to follow your manager's direction, while finding a way to tactfully negotiate with your manager. In addition, if they are very unwilling to change this, seemingly arbitrary, requirement then you should consider looking for another job.

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    Obviously you have to discuss payment. My salary pays for me working at reasonable times. It doesn’t pay for me working at 2am.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 29 at 20:04
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    @gnasher729 the flip side is that once enough time zones are involved it becomes impossible to schedule a meeting at a time that isn't unpleasant for someone; and there are situations where the delays in asynchronous communication can become significant problems. While I would be inclined to avoid taking a role where even occasional calls at weird hours were required; if the hiring manager is up front about it during the interview process it's not a never acceptable sort of thing. The expectations of OPs boss OTOH aren't reasonable. Sep 29 at 21:16
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    @DanIsFiddlingByFirelight There's definitely cases where you might need to be working or available for a call out of hours, but you should always be compensated for it in some way. A few weeks ago I had to hop on a call with an overseas supplier at 11pm my time, my boss and I agreed informally that I could finish two hours early the next day. If it was a regular requirement to be having late meetings, I'd want an in-writing agreement on some form of compensation (money or TOIL), and it should cover the whole disruption (getting up, getting ready, back to sleep), not just the meeting time.
    – Kayndarr
    Sep 30 at 4:43
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    @gerrit OP hasn't informed where she is, so she might have a very good negotiating position called "labor law" Oct 1 at 8:08
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    @JulianaKarasawaSouza Let's hope so!
    – gerrit
    Oct 1 at 8:14
8

First, it’s not unprofessional to attend a meeting without washing your hair - not if your manager is completely unprofessional and sets the meeting time at 2am your time.

When your video isn’t turned on, “because it’s 2am in the morning here” is a perfectly good reasons. But also, I’ve had plenty of meetings between London and Sydney, and before Covid we (in London) would just leave early, take all our laptops home and take the meeting 9pm home with the Australians at 7am. Insisting to have the meeting 4pm vs. 2am would be incredibly rude.

PS. There was a comment “What if it was a client call”. I think it was clear from the question that it was not a client call. And if it was a client call, it would be professional by the manager to tell the client that someone will be getting out of bed for them at 2am. Many clients would immediately delay the call by 5 or 6 hours. Others would at least accept that people look different at 2am. And if your clients don’t, that should be reflected in the person’s pay.

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    This isn't wrong per se, but it ignores the significantly higher social expectations women have in the workplace. Unfortunately, and whether they're even truly expected or not, women feel significant pressure to only appear in public when at a certain level of appearance; it's a common problem for men to forget about that, and can be quite harmful to women.
    – Joe
    Sep 30 at 3:10
  • Also this opens up follow-up questions like, "others in the 2am timezone are doing fine with camera on"
    – justhalf
    Sep 30 at 3:45
  • 1
    What is and isn't professional isn't really for us to say. If it's a client call (which may be a reason why it's not happening at a better time) and the client will think it's unprofessional, it's understandable that manager may insist on good appearance. Sep 30 at 4:00
7

During daytime, take an excellent webcam photo of yourself in a professional setting. Configure your video call software to use this photo as a static image.

That way people see who you are, and what you want to be seen as, even in calls at night.

That the picture lacks motion like a video is, naturally, a concern. But it should still be better than having no picture at all, and it should be enough to resolve a large part of the issue.

If that is not sufficient, I'd refer to the other answers in addition.

7

I work for a company that has employees working all over the planet. It's not uncommon to have employees from the US, western Europe, SE Asia, and the middle east all in the same meeting at the same time, meaning it's a terrible time slot for at least one person.

One of my colleagues had his camera enabled in a recent meeting. It was clearly the middle of the night there. He was sitting in a dark room, lit only by the dim glow of his screen. A window was behind him, and the streetlight outside his building was coming through a gap in the blinds and putting a glare on the camera lens. We could see a general outline of the person, but the lighting was so bad I couldn't tell you what he looked like. Someone joked that he looked like one of those news interviews where they try to keep the person's identity a secret. He laughed and said it was around midnight there and that going anywhere else in the house or turning on the lights would wake up his family.

This incident wasn't a big deal for us because we don't typically use video in conferences (my colleague enabled his camera by mistake). However, it demonstrates that enabling your camera and showing off your unkempt hair and pajamas are two completely different things. Low-cost webcams don't generally perform well at night, especially those built into laptops. Keep the room mostly dark, with any significant sources of light behind you (basically the opposite of what those "how to look good on Zoom" blogs say to do). The right setup will enable you to turn on your camera when people insist that you do so, but will produce such a poor image that people won't be able to make out fine details. You end up with the same person-shaped outline that you would if you spent an hour getting ready. My sister occasionally gets conferences at odd hours and she'll do something similar. She pulls her hair back using her headset like a headband (everybody expects it to mess up your hair somewhat), throws a vaguely professional-looking sweater over her pajamas, and sits so that the lamp is just over her shoulder where it washes out the picture and you can't tell if she has makeup on or not. She projects a believably-professional image with only 20 seconds of prep. If someone asks why you don't have your video on, turn it on for a bit and show them. Your lighting is so bad at that time of night that the video feed is worthless, so you leave it disabled. Further reinforce your claim by having a clear, professional-looking video feed for meetings held at reasonable hours.

This assumes that the purpose of using video in conferences is social. If you need video to read people's lips, hold up objects to show others, etc, then a high-quality, clear image is required and this answer won't apply.

7

Edit : the original question now includes country information, which it did not when this answer was written.

Since this question is not tagged with a country, I will assume Norway.

I would talk to my manager privately about their expectations regarding these morning meetings. Let them know that you are uncomfortable showing yourself uncombed, and tell them how long it takes for you to get to an acceptable (to you) state in the morning. Do they really expect you to get up at X in the morning just so they can see your picture?

Notes: It is completely fine to say "I have just woken up, and still have bed hair". It is also, in general, not seen as unprofessional to have bed hair. But since you asked with these assumptions, my advice is to talk to your manager.

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    Why assume Norway? Nothing else in your answer requires that (or any other) assumption.
    – chepner
    Sep 29 at 15:33
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    @chepner why not? If you want a specific country, then state it clearly.
    – o0'.
    Sep 29 at 16:39
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    @chepner my answer depends on cultural context. I know what's seen as reasonable in Norway, so thats what my answer is for. I don't know much about e.g. Japanese, Brazilian, etc work cultures. Maybe there you are actually expected to get up 1 hour earlier and pretty yourself up? Maybe you are not supposed to talk to your manager. I don't know.
    – epa095
    Sep 29 at 17:56
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    There is a difference between assuming, and simply answering for a specific culture. When you said "I will assume Norway", I went back through the question trying to find why you made that assumption. Sep 30 at 3:58
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    I agree, there is nothing unprofessional about bed hair. That's like claiming that needing to take a break to urinate is unprofessional. People will benefit from remembering that we are all people. Sep 30 at 4:22
5

My boyfriend and myself are into naturism.

I usually put on a tee-shirt. But if my boyfriend is in the flat and is doing stuff (as he is off work) I will not put the video on for the obvious reason.

It is my home.

I do not have to explain what happens in my flat. Nor should you. Especially at that time of night as your better half may be up and about.

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    This should be the correct answer. All kind of NSFW things can happen in a private home at two a.m. Most typically family or guests in underwear passing through the camera's field of vision on their way from bedroom to bathroom and/or kitchen. They do not want to be part of any meetings and you do not want them to be part of your meeting.
    – Jan
    Sep 30 at 11:58
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    If your SO is happy to walk past the camera naked 'by mistake', I'm sure they won't ask for the camera to be on a 2nd time :-)
    – Neil
    Sep 30 at 13:49
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    @Neil - Depends on what the SO looks like
    – Ed Heal
    Sep 30 at 14:07
  • Also works if you have young children -- simply flatly refuse because your children are permitted to run around naked in the privacy of their home, and if one wakes up in the wee hours because they have a nightmare or need a drink or whatever and barges in (as children are wont to do), you WILL NOT have your camera on with the risk that they inadvertently expose themselves to your coworkers. Pretty sure the company doesn't want that liability either...
    – Doktor J
    Sep 30 at 20:01
  • "If you are unable to perform your duties at home, we can organisae a workspace for you" Backfired (or just fired). Oct 1 at 6:46
3

First of all, you have to understand the work expectations. Is the meeting within your regular working hours or outside?

From my understanding, it's not your typical working hours, and you are just attending these meetings out of niceness.

If it is a client-facing meeting where you need to leave a good impression, it's best to discuss it with the manager and find a solution. Otherwise, I don't think you are obliged to have video calls in the middle of the night.

Just tell them, it's late at night, and you can't have video calls at this moment outside of regular hours.


Unrelated, but if your job is so terrible, maybe start looking for a new job too. Personally, I won't work at a company that requires me to wake up at 2 in the morning for a random meeting.

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    I edited my post to explain.
    – user129711
    Sep 30 at 3:17
  • A horrible manager means you need to fix the managers horrible behaviour, not look for a new job.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 30 at 6:04
  • @gnasher729 In most cases, it's easier to find a new job than change someone. Also maybe waking up at 2 AM is a job requirement, and has nothing to do with the manager. So only thing you can do it is, change your job. (Update: Just saw the latest revision of question. My comment was based on previous version of the question)
    – CodePanda
    Sep 30 at 15:30
3

After the edits to the question:

This is not an issue you should raise publicly. Since I presume the meeting has ended by now (given that this question was asked 17 hours ago) and you made it through that meeting, the next thing you should do should be to speak with your manager, in private, and discuss this issue with your manager, in private. Points to raise include:

  • You are a remote worker, and the only remote worker on the team, which is why you need special accomodations
  • You live in a different time zone such that regular team meetings occur in the middle of the night for you
  • You are not comfortable attending meetings in the middle of the night and would rather not attend such meetings if your presence is not required
  • If your presence is required, then you will not be able to "look your best" for these meetings, and those attending should be aware of that
  • If your presence is required and you are expected to look your best, then you would greatly prefer to not have to turn on your camera.

Depending on the company, your manager will probably be amenable to one or more of these conditions.

Of course, this also depends on your own personality: If your manager said, "we're all friends here, nobody cares if you have bedhead, just turn on your cam", would that be ok with you? In my opinion, that sounds like a reasonable compromise: it's OK to not look your best, we won't hold that against you, but just turn on your camera so we can see you're actually there and paying attention (and not having the meeting on in the background while you go back to sleep, for example). If this would not be OK for you, and you feel like you should either have your camera off or clean yourself up, that's a "you" problem, and it's therefore up to you to fix it. That might mean something like waking up 30 mins before your meeting to get showered and dressed before the meeting, if that makes you feel better.

Of course, depending on the company, your manager may also not be OK with any of these things and say that you have to turn on your camera and "look professional", just like everyone else (irrespective of the fact that your time zone change puts you in special circumstances). In which case, it's up to you to make a decision if you want to work for a company who has these sorts of standards; it may be worth changing companies to work for someone more local with less of a time difference.

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0

One thing that may help you - if the problem is trying to get up and be fully cleaned up and ready at something like 2 o'clock in the morning - is if you know about the appointment the day before, you can simply remain ready as you sleep. Keep any sort of office attire on. Keep your hair how it needs to be (the best you comfortably can). Etc. Then when you wake up, you can take maybe a few minutes to grab coffee, spend no more than five or 10 minutes adjusting anything that needs to be adjusted, and be in good enough shape for a video call.

They can only see you through a computer camera. They're not there in the room with you. It doesn't have to be 100% completely perfect over Teams, just "good enough".

And when time gets short, even in Japan, sometimes the answer is to just look "good enough". For example, think of all the people who miss the last train and end up having to rent a capsule or a karaoke box for the night. All of them aren't switching into a brand new suit the next day and coming in perfectly cleaned up. All of them aren't keeping two or three changes of clothing every time they commute to work, in case this happens. (Although some may, if they have a strict enough employer.) In many cases, they just take a shower (if a shower) and make sure they look presentable.

But don't switch to your pajamas or anything on these nights. Go to bed still in full or almost full work attire, and thus wake up already almost completely ready. ...Just leave enough time for the walking around and the coffee to kick in, so that you actually sound and act awake by the time the meeting starts! :)

-2

Ignoring all the red flags raised:

My bandwith/connection cannot handle video propperly. I'd rather have some clear audio.

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    This only works if they accept it, but if they are like "(How bad can it be,) Lets try!" or "Thats Ok, just try" or any variants of that, you just digged yourself further down.
    – epa095
    Sep 29 at 13:43
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    If someone really decides to push it that far: "Ok!" Then disconect your internet and reconnect after 2-5 minutes. "Sorry, but I Lost connection there."
    – why.n0t
    Sep 29 at 13:45
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    Another excuse that I know is also used: "My device currently shows high (near 100%) CPU usage/RAM in Task Manager. If I start my video, the meeting application will crash." Some of my friends' devices (low-end/not most recent) actually have this problem so they're not making up. Sep 29 at 13:45
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    This answer will work great if the manager is an absolute idiot. Sep 29 at 14:33
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    And after three times of this and the manager turns around to "well you need a better internet/device to do the work, let's get you one". What do you do?
    – Patrice
    Sep 29 at 16:28