I am a salaried employee of a consulting firm, currently working as a contractor for one of their clients. After a week or two of being nomadic and sharing a desk with my manager (from our firm, not the client), I spent about 7 months on the job at my own, relatively comfortable desk, with my laptop connected to the dual monitors installed there.

The client recently had an influx of new staff (summer interns, and cream-of-the-crop recent grads who are in a management fast-track program), and these people obviously need a place to sit. A couple of weeks ago, they displaced my coworker (also from my firm, and same level as me), and a week ago, finally booted me.

The two of us now share a small round table, sit on waiting room-type chairs, face each other eye-to-eye, hunch over our laptops, and end up accidentally playing footsie (due to limited legroom). I feel numbness in my body after sitting on the newly provided chair much faster than before.

I have formally appealed to my manager for better conditions, and he sympathizes with me (and my coworker). However, he is constrained by the client's management, who are doubling up their own people because there's no more room.

I have tried taking matters into my own hands by working from home one day, to great benefit, albeit without written permission (just an informal acknowledgement from my manager). His manager did not react kindly to my note about working from home, and chances are they will not let me get away with this again.

From the client's perspective, I am just a contractor, the seat was "borrowed" from a manager other than the one running our project, and we will be done (hopefully - given the delays until now) in about 1.5 months anyway. Is it worth begging, fighting, or otherwise making it worth their while to give us better conditions? Or is my only normal choice to just ride it out until the project is done?

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    Do you work for this firm on a project by project basis or on a more routine cycle? Is this issue worth quitting? Is your manager/coworker(s) working on real desks? Are juniors working in better conditions? It might be better to just wait it out until the end and just try to do your best. If you absolutely need the equipment/space for your work, then you should "demand" it in the most diplomatic way possible (i.e. stress that the project could be delayed further due to the working conditions)...be warned though this may strain your relationship with your firm/client which is not good. – G.T.D. Jul 11 '16 at 2:37
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    Can you suggest a better setup? Is there another desk somewhere that you could ask to be moved to? Have you talked with your manager about working from home? If there is literally no better place to put you and your boss's boss has good reasons to not allow working from home, that's very different than if there are free desks laying around that happen to be assigned to other groups at the moment. – Justin Cave Jul 11 '16 at 3:51
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    "Is it worth ..." We can't tell. You're the only person here who has the information needed to judge whether there's merit in raising this further. If you want strategies on making your argument for liveable working conditions (which is entirely reasonable) to your client's management (who could be entirely unreasonable) then that's something we can answer. But we can't tell you what to do. – Lilienthal Jul 11 '16 at 8:00
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    You're a contractor, so they're paying lots-of-money for you already. You could try using that, although there's a risk it might back-fire: tell them your work is suffering and they'd get better value for money if they give you a proper desk, or agree that your firm will knock X-hundred-dollars off one bill if they guarantee you a proper desk for the rest of your assignment there, or something like that. The risk is that they'll decide they no longer need contractors after they've expanded their own team and you're on the way out, and raising money might speed that up. – Rup Jul 11 '16 at 9:54
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    If your new seating arrangements are causing physical pain, your manager needs to lean a bit harder on the client. This goes well beyond "distractions" - eventually, you're not going to be productive for anyone because you'll be out on disability dealing with medical issues. Perhaps your firm has office space you can use which has proper ergonomics? – alroc Jul 11 '16 at 13:05

Is it worth begging, fighting, or otherwise making it worth their while to give us better conditions? Or is my only normal choice to just ride it out until the project is done?

As a salaried worker for a consulting firm, you need to get used to working in less-than-desirable spaces at client locations. That's the way it goes for short-term consultants.

In companies where I have worked, consultants got whatever happened to be available. Employees obviously got the best locations and workspaces. Unless there happened to be empty spaces (as you had for your first 7 months), they were often clustered in a conference room and shared space.

Certainly it wouldn't make sense to give you a good desk and put an employee at a shared table.

You should learn to make the best of it. Try to become comfortable in whatever space you are given.

And don't decide on your own to work from home. You'll typically need permission from two sources - your client manager, and your consulting company manager. And don't expect that to be granted often. At least in my experience, consultants don't have a chance to gain the trust of the client company such that they could work from home.

You may get lucky in your next client engagement. Or you may not. In my experience, what you saw in working conditions was typical.


Personally, I would tell them that unless they provide you with a reasonable space, like a real desk and real chair you are working for home. If they have a problem with working remote, tell them to get you a 'real' work space either in their offices, or rent some somewhere.

This may bring up trouble with your firm, but be firm yourself. You will file an OSHA (or equivalent complaint in the country) if you are 'forced' to work in those conditions.

Hopefully, your firm has cool enough heads to realize that the client is being unreasonable. The client is likely paying you 2 to 3 times what they pay their full time staff. I would expect that anything that hurts productivity there would be an issue.

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    As a contractor delivering ultimatums to a client without your manager's backup is seriously stupid. – Myles Jul 11 '16 at 19:56
  • @Myles: That may well be the case but the manager that won't back this up is stupid. Believe me I'd be quitting over something like this so ... – Joshua Sep 6 '17 at 2:22

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