How to Campaign for Flexible Working Conditions (Or, How to Change the Company Policy That Requires You Lug a Heavy Laptop Around)

How to Campaign for A More Flexible Workplace (Or: How to Ditch Your Company Laptop)How do you campaign for accessibility and flexibility in your workplace when the policies are less than ideal?  Yesterday’s post on how to lighten your tote bag got me thinking — I was so intrigued by the commenters who noted that they have to carry a huge, bulky laptop to and from the office because that is the the only approved way to get access to the office system.  When I was working in BigLaw, my firm used Citrix to give everyone access to the Docs Open system and other office programs — there were even times you could access document review programs from home.  (Ah, glory days.)  The only thing we needed to access the system was a small, flat device (a 2″ by 1″ fob) that displayed a long number that changed every thirty seconds. When you needed to log into the system, you entered the current security number.  That was five years ago, so it honestly didn’t occur to me that companies with information security issues would not be using something similar to Citrix in 2013.  (Even the Department of Defense has a better remote access option, according to a 2011 Lifehacker article.)  Maybe there are good reasons Reader R’s company isn’t using a secure remote system — but maybe it’s just an old policy that hasn’t been reevaluated in a while or from the right perspective. 

So readers, let’s talk about this — how do you change an office policy to make the conditions better for you (and those who come after you)?  Sheryl Sandberg talked a bit about this in Lean In — regarding how she insisted that the Google parking lot have spaces reserved for expectant mothers — and this was kind of mentioned in a recent NYT article about workplace flexibility  — but I can’t seem to find much else about this topic on the Internet.  For my $.02, here are some ideas…

1) Send an email to the first person who, you suspect, might know why office policy is what it is.  In this case, for example, I might write an email like this.  “Hi — I’m curious about our office policy of only accessing the system through our 10 lb laptops.  I understand other remote access systems exist that provide much more flexibility, and I’d like to help the company explore those options.  Are you the right person to talk to about this? Could we have a 15 minute chat sometime this week?”  You may get bounced around through a few people before you find the right person who knows why the policy exists.

2) Avoid Entitled Princess Syndrome by approaching this like management. My personal fear in bringing up an issue like this has always been that it would make me seem like an entitled princess, so my advice is to do do a bit of research from the perspective of management before you go in — i.e., how is it good for the company?  A 10 lb laptop is an ergonomics issue (plus a pricey investment that requires maintenance if every employee must have one), an efficiency and happiness issue, and a friendly remote accessibility policy can be a great PR point — for new recruits, for “top companies for women” analysis, even from a green perspective. (On the flip side — for this particular issue — there may be two questions you can ask during the initial 15-minute chat that would improve YOUR life and avoid making this a big research project.  1) May I have a second company laptop to keep at home, for a little while?  2) May I buy a 3 lb netbook and give it to the IT department to make it more secure? If the answer is no, proceed with attempting to change the policy.)

3) Offer to help research the options. Maybe this issue sits squarely on the IT Department’s shoulders.  But maybe the IT department has a million other issues to consider, and would appreciate an offer of help.  One reason a lot of these policies don’t change is because it isn’t important enough to the people in charge to research the issue and implement the changes, so you have to do offer to be an integral part of the process.  This may sound overwhelming to you if you’re a new mom — you need more unbillable work like you need another hole in your head, right? — but this is important.  In addition to making your own life better, you’re showing your company that you take initiative and can lead.  Enlist a few office friends in similar situations (or even pregnant coworkers who will soon be in this situation) to help if you need to, but it’s a good thing to take ownership of this project.  Make sure you know what research was done on this issue the last time the company researched it — check files and even committee reports.

4) Once this becomes a project, consider getting a second committee involved.  By increasing interest in the project you’re giving it more momentum and increasing the likelihood that all your work will actually succeed in changing the policy.  (You’re also raising your own profile even further, but of course you’re not just doing this to benefit your own career.)  Likely candidates that may exist in your company:  The Women’s Committee, the Young Associates committee (Gen Y workers have a much greater expectation of work flexibility), the Recruiting Committee, and even the HR department.  If you aren’t directly working with the Tech Committee, obviously get them involved as well.

5) If there are major stumbling blocks to the project (price, compatibility, implementation, a recent investment in another system), draft a quick email that summarizes those stumbling blocks and send it to everyone now interested in the project, with a specific suggested reassessment date in bold letters somewhere near the top of the email (if not the subject line). You should add it to your own tickler system, as well.

Readers, have you tried to change a company policy?  How did you avoid “entitled princess” syndrome?  For those of you happy with your workplace accessibility options, let’s name names — what products, services and companies do you use?

Pictured: Lapshoulder, originally uploaded to Flickr by Rakeman.

Comments

  1. Don’t lobby. Go out and get another job offer from an employer that offers flex time. When you put in your notice, let them know when you are leaving. Either your employer will match it, or they won’t. That’s what I did, and I managed to get the first flexible arrangement in my department. And my boss can’t resent me because he was free to let me leave, if he didn’t want to give it to me. It was a great move. Be aggressive ladies!!!!!!!!!

  2. Anon for this :

    TJ! I’m not sure if there is no coffee break today, but if so….

    has anyone lateraled to Austin in AmLaw 100 firms? Can you recommend a recruiter?

  3. Anonymous :

    We still use citrix, and people who have laptops still have to use those little flat things with the changeable code to access the VPN. Works for us because then I can work on my home computer when I’m working from home, but I have a desktop at work.

  4. Please, please, please know your office culture on this one. It’s one thing to request closer parking for expectant mothers. It’s another thing to request (in my case), a law firm with over 1000+ attorneys and international offices change its information security procedures based on ergonomics. At my firm, we have this set up because the clients demand that we secure our information in this manner. I also happen to know that my firm is about as “cutting-edge” as a law firm can be with regard to network access/electronics/etc.

    I can guarantee you that my request not to haul around a laptop because it’s heavy will not win out over client security concerns.

    • Maybe you can get issued 2 laptops! One for home and one for use at work.

      • We do NOT have any IT security on our machine’s at work, other than the window’s password (which everyone’s is the same), and we all use Gmail, which is FREE!

        Fortuneately, I have a MACBOOK Air at home and I was abel to get the IT guy to load the office stuff on it so I can access it from my co-op useing the WIRELESS ROOTER. So in a nutshell, I am useing my machine from home and never have to worry about their old machine at work.

        Sometimes I bring my Macbook Air into work b/c I need to keep workeing on something and do NOT want to have to send it to myself at work. FOOEY on that! Every one wants to have a Macbook Air like me, even Frank, who does NOT even use his computer!

        I also have Gmail on my laptop, so I can do email from there, too. YAY!!!!!

      • Snarkster :

        LOL, good one. This wouldn’t fly at my office either. I’d save my energies for advocating for my next promotion so that I don’t get laughed out of the office.

    • This. At the big banks and/or accounting firms this would get you laughed out of the IT/Corp. security offices. Honestly for some highly regulated industries its just not possible.

      • It seems like carrying a laptop to and from work would be just a dangerous for corporate security purposes because someone could just take it. No?

        • Cornellian :

          I am paranoid about leaving papers on the subway when I’m working on un-announced deals.

          • And I actually know of a real case where someone left an office laptop, containing confidential information, on a train. It did not end well.

          • I work with HIPAA (health privacy) law – there are a lot of cases like that, where organizations have gotten enormous (as in, hundreds of thousands of dollars) fines for it.

            (If the device is secured with a strong password, I think it’s OK.)

        • It depends on how good the encryption is. DH worked for an international electronics/engineering company for a while. They could only access the network from their company laptops (which required key card boot-access). So just getting the computer wasn’t enough. There was no remoting in from other computers either. And, the software he used was all proprietary stuff that he couldn’t put onto another machine so emailing files and such to himself wasn’t really possible.

        • WorkingMom :

          Yes – we take laptops home and there are very strict rules and regulations about how to do so securely. If you go grocery shopping after work- laptop comes with you, etc. When I’m en route my lap top is like my second child.

          • SO interesting, you guys. You keep citing regulations — government ones? Can anyone point me (publicly through a comment, or privately through kat at corporette dot com) to a website or article that talks about these things in non-anecdotal terms?

          • Anecdotally, I know we do a lot of work with DoD contractors and the like and therefore have to make sure our information security is at least as high as what the federal government requires from its contractors. I don’t know where those regulations are, specifically, though.

          • healthcare regs :

            There is a lot of plain language guidance for healthcare IT security. Start in the FAQs that explain the needed protection for health data. http://www.healthit.gov/providers-professionals/frequently-asked-questions-0

      • I would have to say this depends on the firm.

        I work for a full service financial planning firm that is under the umbrella of a larger financial holding company with over 1,100 employees across the board; We’re incredibly regulated and anyone who needs to be able to work from home – regardless of department – has remote access to our system from their home computer. The 2 big reasons for this are 1) Our employees would go balistic if they were asked to carry around laptops all the time and 2) Having remote access from another location is way more secure than carrying around an extra device because of the chance of leaving it somewhere.

      • Totally agree. I work for a F500 large manufacturing company. Even the idea of raising this request- for a company that does classified work- is a nonstarter. It just is. If you don’t like it, work somewhere else. And no, you can’t have 2 laptops. We’re in a downcycle as it is; I’m a manager and get pinged all the time to reduce our IT footprint. Sorry Kat, a bit off on the advice on this one in terms of not caveating that in many industries the answer is get over yourself and carry the laptop. What I do: make sure I get the lightweight version available. I have pushed back on that when they gave me a biggie, and worked it by befriending an IT lady, who traded mine with a guy who wanted a big one for more horsepower. Working that formally would not have worked. Anyway, -agree- know your workplace and don’t ruin your reputation. There is no non-company computer access to our systems, and one whiner is NOT going to change it. Hate to sound harsh but this is not a battle to choose at my company.

    • That. This is a battle you can’t win.. corporate security is under much bigger threats than it was 5 years ago. I work in technology and you can’t be paranoid enough when it comes to security.

      One possible solution is buying a small laptop computer and bring it up to the corporate security guidelines (with IT’s blessings) and essentially use it exclusively for work at home. That would be my course of action if I wanted to stop lugging my laptop around.

    • This. In my firm (very large government contractor) there is absolutely no flexibility on this due to very real security concerns. That’s why everyone gets laptop, docking station, and desktop. I am allowed to take my work laptop with me, and access the server through a VPN, but using a VPN connection from any other computer, copying any files to thumb drives or similar devices, emailing any work files to any personal address, etc. is totally forbidden- I have to do security training on this regularly. I consequently carry my laptop to and fro every day. My SO’s firm (fortune 50 health) has the same policy. When I was in IB, I could log into my work server through a VPN conx on my home computer, and that was great, but I completely understand why I can’t in this firm.

      I think the OP is a little naive on this one. It’s not the policy bcs the huge corp IT department doesn’t understand alternatives like Citrix…

    • Yes, this. I take my laptop to and from home every day and work via VPN on my work laptop at home, though Citrix on the work laptop is also an option. International hackers are now targeting law firms to get client information because law firms are full of important confidential information about their clients, but tend not to have the super high security protections that their clients have. We need to do everything we can to maintain the confidentiality of our clients’ information. And the idea that my firm would assign me a second laptop is hilarious – no way the firm would spend the money on that.

  5. Diana Barry :

    We use citrix also. All of the firms I have worked at (biglaw, midlaw, and now a big-small firm) have used citrix and/or VPN. Do more IT-minded people know why some firms don’t use it?

    • Because once there are files moved from corporate network to personal computer, there’s no control over them. This is not about the security of the VPN but what happens with data afterwords.

      • Anonymous :

        How are you prevented from removing files from a corporate network to a personal network while you are in the office? It seems easy enough to email yourself a document or put it on an external hard drive. How do companies prevent data/files from being moved? This does not seem like its exclusive to Citrix (or even related).

        • We are prohibited from emailing documents to personal email addresses, copying docs to thumb drives, etc. In our case they make it perfectly clear that they are monitoring all network activity, reading emails, etc. People have been fired for violations. I am not even supposed to access my personal email account from my work computer.

          • Anonymous :

            Do you work in a law firm? How do you send documents to clients and other counsel for review. This is so confusing to me. It seems so constricting. I’m not sure how I could get anything done without having the ability to send documents to a client.

          • This. In a prior life, I was the auditor who regularly reviewed emails for unauthorized distribution of materials. (And no, just deleting your sent mail in Outlook does not remove the trail.) There were definitely severe consequences, including firing, for violations.

          • I wrote the comment at 3:42. No, I don’t work for a law firm, but I do often need to send docs to clients, partners, etc. I am forbidden completely from sending to my personal email, but I can distribute things as needed to others for authorized, legitimate purposes. In some cases, depending on the nature of what’s being provided, such communications have to be encrypted first. And I have no doubt it’s all monitored.

        • Midwest Transplant :

          At many banks there are alerts for inserting any external storage device into thier computers. Somehow IT gets notified and there can be serious consequences for the person involved.

          For sending attachments they generally are all scanned by a security system. Certain attatchments are flagged if they contain specific words and the attachment will not be allowed to leave the company’s email accounts. We are not allowed to email certain addresses, i.e. @gmail or @yahoo.

          • Diana Barry :

            Crazy!! Most of our clients have gmail addresses!

          • Anonymous :

            It still doesn’t answer the question of whether or not files can get onto a non-secure system. They clearly can. Once they are emailed (whether or not its a gmail or yahoo account) you don’t know what is going to happen to them and you have lost control over them. It doesn’t matter if its via Citrix or via emailing them to someone else.

          • I was thinking the same thing Diana Barry!

          • Midwest Transplant :

            @Anonymous – yes, once the client has thier documents they could not secure the materials if they don’t have strong controls in place. I’m guessing that my company is trying to reduce the chance that we are sued for incorrectly handling client data. Once it is in thier system, they are the responsible party.

      • Blonde Lawyer :

        When I remote in to my work computer from my home computer it is as if I have two separate computers running. I cannot move files from one computer to the other. Even copy and paste won’t work between the two.

  6. to LAW SCHOOL BAG SEEKER :

    To whoever was looking at a law school bag:

    eBags (where I bought mine and had great luck) is having a 5 hour sale: http://bit.ly/12LNFi3

    I highly recommend the Swiss Gear bag (I think I linked to it previously), and this makes it an even better deal!

    Best of luck!

  7. My firm does have the Citrix option, but I prefer not to use it — it’s slower and prone to crashing (and when it *does* crash, there’s no auto-recover for work that was lost — which occurs even during typical little hiccups in my home wireless network, which is just a delight), it means I don’t have my nice, locally saved stash of precedent language that I keep on my work laptop for easy reference without having to search the system each time, it means I can’t send finished markups to the office printer from home, requiring me to waste time reopening and printing everything once back at the office…

    Maybe if I had farther to carry my laptop, I’d be more worried about it.

    • Westcoastjd :

      This! As an associate in midlaw, I JUST got a laptop — and only because I happened to be in the group that got our upgrades first (later associates were not given the option, so i was very licky) and lugging it to and from work on the bus is infinitely superior than trying to use Citrix or other systems on my home computer because those systems are so unreliable and slow. Now I can actually work at home effectively instead of staying late. So that’s a different perspective….

  8. Typically, it is key to start with the business case–why is the change you are advocating good for business (or maybe even necessary). Business cases that have worked for me (in order of their likelihood of success)–it will decrease our malpractice potential (and cost of insurance), it is best for our clients, it will make us more efficient, it will save money, it will increase employee morale.
    Who are the key players who will be easy to convince (or who already feel as you do or see a problem, but maybe not the solution you have)? I disagree that you necessarily want to start with the person in charge of the department or section or whatever. You want to get people on your side, get their ideas to help with #1 (build the business case), get their ideas on what the resistance will be and how to combat it, then go up the food chain with the best presentation.
    Offer to lead the project–if it’s important enough to you to get it done, don’t expect someone else to do it. I’m a lawyer–I’ve lead marketing projects, tech projects, you name it. They were important enough to warrant my time. If you think someone else should do it for you, you don’t want the change badly enough.
    Put together your best team, refine the idea, create a schedule to get it done, get an approved budget, and do the hard work.

    • I work in Finance, but I’ve led tech, ergo, and risk projects as well. I agree that the single most important factor is getting a team of advocates in place – do your homework and know all the roadblocks all the way up the chain, and have a plan to address them. And then be prepared to completely own the project – no one else wants it as much as you do, or they would be volunteering to own it.

  9. How about lobbying to make consulting suck less? Like not traveling 90% of the time or driving 3hrs roundtrip to a client from my home location. They’d also laugh at me and tell me to look into a different career.

  10. From the question yesterday, I understood the questioner’s situation to be that the laptop was her one and only work computer (why else would she have to bring it into the office?). I worked at a place where that was the case. When you were in the office, you just plugged the laptop into a docking station. I think it actually promotes flexible work conditions, because then you can have your work computer anywhere! It is just an ergonomic issue, not really a flexible work situation.

    I’m at biglaw now and we have citrix. It works well, but not as well as having my actual work computer in front of me. Plus I think it requires an additional document sharing system to be in place (docsopen) in order for you to share documents with others at the company.

    I have no idea why I’m writing so much about this. I guess I mean to say that I think Kat’s question is a good one, but I don’t think this is the right example because I think there are very good reasons not to use citrix and there are actual benefits to the laptop scenario, as I’ve experienced it.

    In terms of avoiding looking like a princess, I think it is key to establish that it is a genuine issue that affects others, and not just you. And then advocate for change in the least whiny way possible. And let it go if you can’t make anything happen (the line between goal oriented and crazy/obsessed).

  11. That’s tough in this day. There are 24 hours in a day and you should always have your laptop so you can work all the hours, all the time. I’m still trying to figure out the whole balance thing, obviously…..

  12. Mountain Girl :

    Our company IT policies (healthcare) do not allow the use of any removable storage device into any machine on the premises. It is my understanding that the drives have either been physically removed when possible and issue some sort of an alarm to IT if a device is activated in the network. Email that leaves the facility is generally encrypted and the email server searches for certain keywords and encrypts any that contain those words. All portable devices are encrypted and email can not be “pushed” to a smartphone because we don’t provide them to staff and can’t control the security on those devices.

    In fact, one of our hospitals just had a security audit and was actually deficient in a few areas.

  13. Everything discussed right here is exactly what I accidentally get roped into. Things are changing because of technology and how we communicate, which has major implications for workflow.

  14. I am at a big accounting firm and we use Citrix. In fact, in order for nationwide offices to be connected and share information, some software is only available through Citrix, even in the office. When logging into the network via Citrix from a home computer we have even just phased out the use of fobs. instead our cell phone number is connected to our login and used to provide credentials/ access.

  15. At my previous job, we had both Citrix and key fobs, but Citrix was only for running certain programs and the key fob was only for email/benefits.

    We were told that we were not allowed access to our server aside from the company laptops. We weren’t a super secretive defense company or anything. Just liked to keep things close, I guess.

  16. Little Red :

    I work for a government contractor and now every damn thing on our computers is encrypted. You can’t even burn files to a CD or copy them to a thumb drive. I had to apply for a special exception to not automatically encrypt files burnt to a CD so that it would be possible to distribute files to our government customer without requiring them to have decryption software on their end.

    Thankfully, now I have a laptop, that’s not heavy, so I can carry it home with me even when I walk. I can connect to the office network via a card with an embedded chip in it.

    Yeah, getting a second laptop to keep at home isn’t going to fly here either. Being a software developer, I need some rather spendy pieces of software to do my job so purchasing extra copies is out of the question.

  17. Hi! I’m 22 years old and am doing an internship at the corporate office of a major US retailer this summer. I’d just like to say that you nailed it with the comment about “Gen Y workers having a much greater expectation of work flexibility”. I definitely fall into this category. The other interns and myself want to do our work when we want to, where we want to and how we want to — we’re not being stuck up or picky, we’re actually really hard workers. We can just do our best work when it’s on our own terms! I wish that I was able to easily work from home or outside locations — there are so many people at the office, everyone talking and interacting and unintentionally interrupting, it can be hard to get any work done. I know that my boss feels the same way. I thought this post was great because companies in the future are going to have to deal with Gen Y workers and their atypical work habits. Companies that don’t offer flexibility to these workers could potentially lose them to other companies that do.

    • Jess, you need to earn your reputation first before people will trust you. Maybe the market will serve the Gen Y workers eventually right out of the gate, but that is pretty entitled to think you get that without people seeing your work ethic and skills first. You also seem to be unaware or underestimating the reality that your internship is not all about ‘doing the work’- it’s about learning the business and getting to know people, which you can’t do from home or a coffee shop. For your own careeer, I seriously suggest you show up as much as possible this summer, hope they hire you, and transition into a more flexible arrangement over time. I have staff who rarely come to the office. They are near retirement age. I have an intern. She does great work. She comes in every day, and when she doesn’t, she clears it with me first and sends me her work plan and deliverables afterwards. Smart kid, told her today we’ll do what we can to get her a job at our great company. You are 22… in the world of those of us who have earned stripes, you don’t have that much value or leverage. Maybe someday soon, but please open your mind to learn what the business world is about before trying to dictate what you think you want and deserve. Sorry this is harsh, but it is better for you to get a dose of real world now as you may be annoying people already if you are displaying these views at work. Yes, the workplace chatter is distracting. Figure out ways to get things done and get to know their culture, operations, and people.

      • Hi Ruby,
        You’re right. That comment came across sounding very entitled. I didn’t mean for it to be.

        I am at the office all day, every day, Monday through Friday and I love it. I by no means meant that I didn’t want to be there ever. I just feel that it would be nice maybe once in a while when I have something specific to get done that I would be able to work from a different location for a few hours. Sometimes it’s easier for me to focus at night and I don’t mind spending extra time on projects because I know that I’m still a student and am just beginning working towards earning a deserved place. You even said yourself that you allow your intern to occasionally work from a different location. All I’m saying is that this would be nice and I would appreciate having that option every now and then.

        I didn’t necessarily mean that companies should serve the Gen Y workers right out of the gate, but as this generation ages, makes up a larger portion of the workplace, and hold positions higher than entry level, do you think that companies will have to offer their workers more flexibility to reduce employee turnover? Or do you feel that this is something that won’t happen?

        Thanks for writing me back and pointing out a few things to me. Being only 22, I’m eager to learn from those of you with earned stripes in any way that I can :)

        • Jess, thanks for your reply. Sounds like you are willing to listen/learn and that’s the most critical skill you can have at this point- humility and dedication. Yes, I think that things will shift over time- and I hope so for my sake as well- but the people parts are always going to be important. Gen Yers have a different way of building relationships and we’ll see how effective that is over time. I think nothing can replace face to face interaction- there are good supplements, but that connection matters. So we’ll see different ways of coming together perhaps, but the idea of total flexibility is a bit confused. I myself can come/go as I want, but I go in, because I LIKE engaging with my superiors, team and direct reports. When I work remotely too long I get stir crazy (did it when pregnant etc.). As a boss, you just can’t be that impactful from afar, either. I’ve consdiered moving to a nearby island, and only going in a few days a week, and the tradeoff would be career satisfaction and effectiveness. So this equation cuts both ways.

          As for the younger set, I met with a mentee this week and was pretty frustrated with her sense of entitlement. I felt deflated afterwards after giving her an hour of pouring out my lessons learned over the years and hearing that she just wanted to be handed a high level strategy position- yet has no competencies to offer (MBA). She works in my company already, but can’t appreciate the value that gives her already. She dismissed the advice of those I sent her to to meet as ‘too roundabout’ to get where she wants- they suggested working in different functions to get various exposures/skill sets- absolutely necessary to be able to do the environmental stuff my group does. She wasn’t listening, or listening in a way that she absorbed the advice. I suggested she leave the company and go to a smaller place, with the risks of leaving somewhere where she is paid well with great benefits and opportunities- since she isn’t willing to earn her stripes internally. She may regret this later, but we all have ideas about our own specialness when we are young and often learn the hard way. Anyway, hope any of this helps.

          For you, sure, do the extra work at night. Or ask nicely your manager with a clear game plan on select days (“I’d like to knock out this xyz spreadsheet for 3hours at x location so I can focus and get you the best product. Can’t wait to share the results with you afterwards. Is this plan okay? Thank you.”). My intern who is awesome does this and otherwise is on site when I need her- and that serves her well. Have called her into a few impromptu meetings with executives and that’s gotten her a good rep and visibility- and we’ll be offering her a job if a spot opens up. Her first weekend she did go on a vacation to the islands without telling me on a Friday and I was annoyed, but she regrouped quickly with some gentle feedback. I vaguely recall what it’s like to be young and get to have fun and not be familiar with responsibility:)

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