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I was hired for a remote job, but my boss now wants me in the office

Now that coronavirus infections are dropping, my boss wants me to relocate and work on-site. My family doesn’t want to move.

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Reader: I started a new job a few months ago at a medium-size company in another state. The job was advertised as remote, and before I applied, several employees and the HR recruiter assured me it was for remote work. However, my boss made clear from the start that he did not approve of remote work and had been outvoted by the rest of the management team. Now that coronavirus infections seem to be dropping, he expects me to move when the office reopens later this spring so I can work on-site. My family doesn’t want to move, but encouraged me to take the position because it’s a fantastic opportunity (great pay, benefits, culture, growth). I’m hoping we can renegotiate, but am not sure how to prepare for the conversation.

Karla: Most of us realize it’s a bad idea to accept lowball job offers with vague promises of raises or promotions. Unless you get those promises in writing, they’re unlikely to materialize. Even the best intentions get bogged down by inertia and red tape. What you start with is frequently what you end up with.

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This cuts both ways. Having initially (if grudgingly) hired you into a remote work arrangement, your boss is going to find it difficult to wind back that benefit. Yes, he might be able to fire you or make your job extremely unpleasant if you don’t do as he wants — but if you didn’t agree to anything in writing, his only leverage is that you’ll want to keep the job and keep him happy badly enough to uproot your family.

But what if you call his bluff and remove his leverage? What if he says “relocate, or else,” but you already have your “or else” lined up? Does he want to keep you in reach more than he wants to keep you on the team?

You prepare for negotiations by making sure that losing this job is not the worst possible outcome for you. That means putting out discreet feelers within and outside your company for other opportunities, starting now. Keep your networking contacts warm. Update your résumé with your new title and accomplishments. Prospective employers asking why you’re looking to leave your new job so soon should understand if you say the company wants you to relocate out of state, but you don’t want to move.

And, of course, you should be performing above and beyond from your remote office so that your boss realizes he has more to lose than you do if you leave the company.

Ideally you’ll never need to play that trump card. In several months, your boss’s views on remote work may evolve as he sees how effective you are in your role. You may decide the job is worth some flexibility on your part, too, such as traveling once a month to put in face time. But you’ll be in a better position to offer compromises if you are ready to walk away from the table should negotiations break down.

Finally, be aware that if you do end up having to play hardball, how you win matters. If you previously indicated to your boss that you were willing to move, or even if he’s simply used to getting his way, it’s going to be a difficult conversation and it could affect your relationship going forward. To avoid poisoning the water cooler, stick with a humble, it’s-out-of-my-hands approach: “I love this job and would hate to leave this company, but I can’t ask my family to disrupt their lives.”

Reader query: I’m looking for stories from employers and employees about returning to work after taking extended leave to recover from covid-19. Contact me at work.advice.wapo@gmail.com to share your experiences for possible use in a future column.

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