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The company I work for, like many others, had a fairly strict policy regarding remote working (especially from abroad) before COVID-19, but since then they have been more permissive. More in details they now allow people to work from abroad for up to one month per year.

This was especially appreciated by people, maybe 30% of the company workforce, who come from a different country and can use this time to spend some time in their home country with their families.

I'm part of this minority and since the change in rules I've asked my manager to be able to use this flexibility. He's always been quite supportive but very careful to make sure the policy is followed to the letter. Every time I work from abroad I need to ask to the two tech leads I work with the "permission" and I have to report every day I work from abroad to HR. Funnily enough both tech leads are not even in the same office as myself, so they don't care at all where I work from.

On the other side a member of my team (different manager, higher grade) has spent almost one year working from a different country during COVID and now spends every other week (sometimes more) abroad. I'm in a good relationship with him and I know he doesn't have any special reason or exemption to do that, no dying parent or anything similar, he just likes to be there.

Now technically speaking I'm not prevented from doing anything that I should be allowed to do, but at the same time I feel it's a bit ridiculous that the rules are applied in this inconsistent way. I would like to get more flexibility, but I'm afraid that by making a serious complaint about this the only thing I can obtain is to create problems to my team member, something I don't want.

My end-goal here would be exclusively to obtain some more concessions regarding my situation. Do you think is there anything I could do?

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    I don't see how you could achieve that without some serious potential backlash. There appear to be only three approaches: try to get the policy changed (low chance of success on your own), try to get an official exemption (you don't seem to have a valid reason, low chance of success), try to convince you manager to be less of a stickler to the rules (low chance of success, might strain your relationship).
    – user29390
    May 19, 2022 at 9:27
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    Working abroad for an extended period can have tax consequences for you and your employer, and it probably matters which countries you’re talking about. You might find this is part of the reason for different levels of flexibility from your employer…
    – mclayton
    May 19, 2022 at 10:32
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    and then there's legalities and security considerations, depending on the job and the countries involved. For example in my current job as well as previous several the work I was doing would be illegal to do from abroad as it would be illegal to transport or access the data to or from other countries. The same might not have applied to colleagues on other projects.
    – jwenting
    May 19, 2022 at 11:10
  • Do you live somewhere where "abroad" means 100km (2 hr drive) in three different directions finds you in three different countries (e.g. Croatia) or are you somewhere where "abroad" is 1500-2000km (3-4 hr flight, 30-40 hr drive) away (e.g. middle of Kansas, USA)?
    – shoover
    May 19, 2022 at 20:29
  • The tech leads that are not in the same office as you, are they in the same office as each other? Is/are their office(s) in the same country as your office?
    – shoover
    May 19, 2022 at 20:30

5 Answers 5

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No, don't make a "fuss". It is not your concern what "perks" or differences in policies other coworkers in the company have, especially if they are not on the same level with you and working under different managers. All of what you describe is perfectly normal and reasonable.

It would be slightly different if you and a peer of you (same team, same manager) requested time abroad, and only one of you would get it approved, without explanation. But even then this is most probably something within the decision power of your manager.

Perks as you describe are often negotiable, or different between teams. Maybe your manager values face to face meetings and office collaboration more than the lead of your friend. In my company there was a strict "no home office" rule prior to COVID-19. But there were around 3 people in the company (of around 250 employees) who were allowed to do home office. They negotiated it with their managers and got an exception.

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    Your co-workers might have good reasons for their own exemption. You just don't know about them. May 20, 2022 at 10:23
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Now technically speaking I'm not prevented from doing anything that I should be allowed to do, but at the same time I feel it's a bit ridiculous that the rules are applied in this inconsistent way.

Here's the thing - apparent inconsistencies like this really aren't uncommon. You can think of it as being "there's an exception to every rule" writ large or, it's perhaps better to think of it as the company being consistent in doing what it thinks is best towards it's overall goals. Because policies (and their rigid adherence) aren't generally the goal - having the business succeed is - making money, growing in size etc. All that good stuff. Policies are just a tool, and if they're the wrong tool to use in a given situation smart companies will use a different one without hesitation.

I would like to get more flexibility, but I'm afraid that by making a serious complaint about this the only thing I can obtain is to create problems to my team member, something I don't want.

You're instincts are spot on here - making a complaint about your colleague's working arrangements compared with your own is a one-way ticket to unpleasantness. No good can come of that route - at best you would be told to mind your own business and at worst it would get in front of someone higher up the chain who decides that the best way to resolve the disparity is to make everyone equally unhappy and make your colleague follow policy the same as you. And I don't think he'd like that very much - or you for being the catalyst for it.

My end-goal here would be exclusively to obtain some more concessions regarding my situation. Do you think is there anything I could do?

What you colleague probably did was make himself valuable enough that they didn't want to risk losing him over the working arrangements, they either then directly or indirectly made it clear that not being able to work in this fashion would cost them their services or the company just proactively got out of their way.

So if you want to negotiate more concessions for yourself you probably need to do something similar. Assuming you're valuable and similarly difficult/costly to replace you've got a starting point for negotiation, you'll also want to prepare (with evidence if you can) a case for how working remotely doesn't hurt your job performance. That the tech leads you mention aren't located with you already helps you but be prepared to answer any questions about others that you work closely with who are. If there's any time difference between the office and your preferred country then be prepared to accommodate that too. Finally it makes sense to cover off any potential tax implications of you spending more time abroad - if there aren't any then all good, but if you know that going in you can use that knowledge to allay any fears your manager may have on that front.

Above all keep your arguments all about you, your colleague and their arrangements should not feature at all.

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Keep in mind that working from a remote location is more than a nice perk. Working from a remote location can have serious legal/tax implications if you'll be working in a different tax jurisdiction (other state, country, etc) than normal. In most places, working more than X days per year in that country means you're considered a resident and have to pay taxes there, which can be a considerable burden on your company in terms of bookkeeping and compliance processes. It could also force your company to comply with all sorts of additional laws that they don't currently have to deal with (formal registration, unemployment insurance schemes, local office requirements, etc). It gets very complicated because laws are different everywhere, the citizenship and visa status of the employee can impact what rules must be followed, etc.

All that is to say, it's a lot more complex than most people realize. Don't break your company's policy unless you get explicit permission from HR/legal to do so. If you go over their limit without permission and get the company in legal trouble, it will not end well for you. I know people who were nearly fired because they moved out of state during Covid. They stayed in their new location almost long enough to legally be considered residents, but their companies weren't registered as businesses in those states. The company had no way to legally pay them without violating tax laws, so they had to either move back before they met the residency requirement or they'd be terminated the day before they became legal residents. Other employees in the same company relocated to a different state but were allowed to stay. The company had a small branch office in that state and thus was already set up to comply with all the legal and tax requirements.

To answer your question, don't try to compare yourself to your coworker. The specifics of his situation might enable him to do things that aren't possible for you and your employer doesn't have any flexibility when it comes to legal compliance. If you want to spend more time working in a different location, then that's what you should ask for. Focus on your situation. Your coworker's situation is completely unrelated. I wouldn't even bring it up. Be prepared for them to say no because unbeknownst to you, you working abroad for extended periods of time might cost the company a significant amount of money.

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I sort of look at things a little differently to what others do when it comes to remuneration. I do consider the ability for remote work to be a perk.

It's very very difficult for us to evaluate our own personal worth to the company.

What we do is we take in a range of factors, we try to build up a picture of what we deserve. We look at market rates, we look at job advertisements, we try to evaluation what a fair increment on salary is year-by-year, and we do look at our peers who do the same work, to do the same standard, and check their salaries against our own.

So I do think there is a little something that is gained from looking at the remuneration of our peers, and that can help, in some way, inform not only of our worth, but the companies willingness to accommodate different types of perks.

What can often be lost in these situations is potential mitigating factors. It's possible that your peer is valued more highly than you.

I think you should approach your boss and ask under what situations you can get that perk. You could explain why it's important to you. You could also explain that you believe others get that perk.

I wouldn't mention that others don't deserve it, or have no reason to get it. What matters is they get it, so there may be some set of conditions that may make that true for you too.

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I agree with most of the other answers. In particular about not making a fuss about it or trying to change your company policies.

However you could try to obtain the same "perks" using a "friendly tactic". Essentially you go to your manager (let's call him Bob) and say something like this (assuming Fred is your coworker with the "perks"):

Hi Bob! I met Fred last month and during our conversation it came up that he has been allowed to work like this blah blah (describe Fred's perks that you are interested in). I was wondering if there could be any chance that I could also be allowed to do something like that because blah blah (explain your motivations in a casual way, not implying any wrongdoing from the company).

This would be reasonably risk-free on some conditions:

  • Ask Fred in advance if it bothers him if you ask your manager about getting similar perks. You said you are in good relationship with him, so this should not be a problem (for some meaning of "good relationship"). If Fred is not absolutely easy about that, stop there and forget about further action.

  • Your relationship with your manager Bob is good and somewhat friendly, so that you can drop that lines in a casual conversation without seeming manipulative.

  • Your work record is good, especially in your previous "work from abroad" experiences, so that Bob doesn't get the impression you want to shirk your tasks.

  • You can point out some advantages for the company too, so that they perceive the request as a win-win situation.

  • You can deflect any objection with reasonable points, e.g.:

       Bob: Mmmh, but you'll miss all the meetings on the new frobnicator.

       You: Oh, I don't think that would be a problem. I already know all the specs, I talked to Jill and Jane about the upcoming meetings and I routinely met up with the whole team online last month when we were finalizing the old frobnicator model design.

       Bob: And what about the analysis of the new control system for ACME, inc.? Wouldn't they expect you to be present at their site regularly?

       You: Well, I already performed all the requirements collection on site with Jill. They said they would be OK with an update meeting once a month. That could be arranged with just Jill being present on site, she said she'll be OK with that. Anyway I could be teleconferencing with Jill and the ACME team during the meetings, for good measure. Anyway, if you don't feel confident enough, we could try for a month and see if it works out

    I think you get the gist of it :-)

Anyway, if Bob is still not convinced, absolutely drop the subject and show that you don't have hurt feeling about it and that Bob's decision is perfectly fine with you.

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