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There's a country office of an international organisation who I do work with as a freelance contractor. I've worked with a few different teams of theirs and have an active ongoing contract.

In the last couple of weeks, suddenly all emails from my domain (but not other domains) to any of my contacts at this organisation (and only this organisation) have stopped arriving, not even as spam. At first I thought there might be something wrong with my email configuration, but I think I've thoroughly exhausted the possibility that it's a technical problem on my side.

The only explanation I can think of is that I might have somehow ended up on a private blacklist specific to this organisation: for example, if one of my contacts hit a "spam" button by mistake when responding to my emails. The consensus among the good people at SuperUser.com seems to be that only their IT staff can identify and resolve this problem.

My problem is, as a third-party contractor, I'm not in any position to navigate their IT procedures:

  • My contacts are co-operative, but their IT proficiency is low to average, and such IT matters are handled by their head office, not this country office. They don't know much more than I do about how to get something like this looked into on their side.
  • There's no generic IT-related contact information for the organisation I can find online
  • There are under-staffing problems on their side and none of my contacts have enough time to work out how to navigate the appropriate bureaucracy to issue an IT ticket on my behalf (this is assuming they even have an IT ticket system).
  • We're currently communicating using my personal email, so from their point of view, everything is fine: it's just a problem for me as it's messing up all my email workflows (and it's a concern that I don't know how this happened)
  • The only IT-related staff in this country office do basic level computer maintenance tasks and have no access to anything central like email servers.

So there's something of a conflict of interests. As far as they're concerned, we're able to communicate, so it's not a priority. They understand that I want to use my normal work email and to find out how this happened so I can be sure it won't happen again with other clients, but from their point of view, that'd be more like a friendly favour to me than an essential part of our contracted work, so while they're understaffed it's not going to reach the top of their to do list. As non-techies, being the go-between between their corporate IT beaurocracy and me on a technical issue is the stuff of nightmares, especially when overworked. For me, having a messed-up email workflow is a fairly high priority problem, and not knowing why this happened therefore not being certain important emails will reach other clients is a very high priority problem.

Are there any generic, non-organisation-specific steps a third-party contractor can take to get answers to such an IT problem from inside another organisation, without trying to force the contract manager to be a too-busy, unqualified, reluctant go-between?

Or anything I can do to help and encourage a busy, stressed, low-IT-literacy client get help from a remote internal overseas IT department via bureaucracy they don't know, to solve a problem that is causing problems for me but which to them is a very low priority? My best idea so far has been to try to find and contact head office IT staff via social media (e.g. LinkedIn) and ask as a "quick favour", but that feels very unprofessional.

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    If it's an email server issue on their side, it's going to be a very organization-specific problem to resolve it. Have you verified that they get your messages if you use a completely different email account? If all messages from your domain are being lost and your Exchange administrator confirms that they are being delivered, have you brought the issue to the attention of your manager? – Justin Cave Feb 25 '16 at 14:53
  • @JustinCave Yes obviously I'm not expecting anyone here to know anything about an arbitrary organisation's email policies - see the last two paragraphs for the kind of help I'm hoping. As for asking my manager, I'm my manager :-) freelance contractor. It's any email from any address on my domain only, to any address on their domain only. There are heaps of technical details on the linked SU question, I think the technical angle is exhausted, it's now a contractor's communications problem. – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 25 '16 at 14:56
  • @JustinCave thinking about it the fact it's an email issue isn't an especially relevant detail, so I've changed the title to better reflect the actual workplace problem – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 25 '16 at 15:02
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    It is a good question but it does not belong here. SuperUser is probably the right place – IDrinkandIKnowThings Feb 25 '16 at 16:52
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    @chad This is a question about how to influence others in the workplace to achieve a goal. It's entirely on topic. – Myles Feb 25 '16 at 22:21
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I think you're looking at this from the wrong angle. If your contact can't communicate with a key external partner, then it's a business problem.

Having worked for IT Support for a couple of multinational organisations, I've seen this (or similar) come up a few times.

If it is a multinational company, I would be very surprised if there wasn't some official way of raising an IT support request, even if it's an email address which gets picked up into their ticket system.

You need to phrase it as their (as in IT dept.) problem, which it is.

In the first instance, I would ask your contacts to send a very simple request (in their own name) to IT:

I am not receiving emails from the domain @example.com. This is a contractor of ours who is only having a problem sending to me, all emails sent to other than our organisation are being received. Not receiving these emails is negatively affecting our business. Please look into it urgently.

If I (as a 1st line support tech) received such a request, it would have been passed straight over to our Exchange team to check out.

You shouldn't need to navigate any kind of bureaucracy, or contact IT yourself, it should be a fairly routine request.

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Talk to your sponsor. Presumably your outgoing emails have relevance to your job, so your sponsor would interested that this functionality stopped working. Don't expect them to solve it for you, but you should expect at best to find out who to phone or at worst the queue line for their IT help desk.

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This is easy to fix, get yourself a gmail account or similar and use that. They're aware there is a problem, make a simple solution that does not include them having to get involved.

  • "We're currently communicating using my personal email, so from their point of view, everything is fine: it's just a problem for me as it's messing up all my email workflows (and it's a concern that I don't know how this happened)" – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 25 '16 at 21:08
  • So long as it doesn't impact on the client, I would put up with the inconvenience without involving them if it was me. – Kilisi Feb 25 '16 at 21:31
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I've found what appears to be a workable compromise.

The problem is convincing overworked people to commit to being part of an unknown series of tasks of unknown length and complexity, outside of their expertise, and only barely in their remit. The solution will therefore be breaking up the tasks in such a way that their role is one simple relatively discrete one-off 5-minute task.

So, I'm writing up a full, standard generic IT issue report, explaining the problem with full technical details, with details of who I am (in the 3rd person), our contract, my contact details and a clear instruction to contact me directly with all questions. All I then need to do, is persuade my contact to "pass this on" to IT. She's not committing to a multi-step project, just a simple passing on of a message and there's an easy, obvious way for her to remove herself from any follow-on responsibility. But it still has the validity of coming from internal staff.

I've also asked around other contacts "how do people contact IT in your organisation" in a casual, conversational way. With the implication that they might then be getting involved in something complex removed, they were much more willing to share what little they know. Apparently, there's a helpdesk email address (but no-one can remember what it is off-hand).

This is all I need to turn a daunting big ask into a 5 minute quick win that would be easier to just do than to decline.

"Please forward this message to your IT helpdesk address, asking them to contact me directly with any questions" is a trivial ask even for someone who is busy, whereas "Please approach your IT department and find out why my emails are being blocked" or even "Please report this problem to IT [subtext: and then chase then until it's sorted out]" sounds like an undertaking.


Update: this worked. Despite her being seriously overworked, after making the action easy, discrete and less effort than working out a way to say "no", she forwarded it immediately without hesitation. Since the request came from a staff email account, their IT staff fixed the problem quickly.

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    IMO, you should include the time spent on this as part of your billable hours, if you're contracting with them in that way. – GreenMatt Feb 25 '16 at 22:05

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