The Very Remote Worker

After visiting New Zealand in 2014, I decided to move there. I did so in 2015. This was, and I will continue saying this unless it becomes untrue, one of the best decisions of my life.

I am not what I would describe as a risk-taker. I’m not entirely risk-averse, but I don’t enjoy the uncertainty of risk. So while I was willing to move to New Zealand, I didn’t want to be looking for a job in addition to all the other stresses of moving. There were some very good reasons to keep my job in the US, including some I wasn’t aware of at the time, but whether through caution or good sense, I was going to keep my job.

I was a remote worker at that time anyway, so it was a pretty easy conversation with my boss. I said, “hey, instead of working remotely from North Carolina, how about I work remotely from New Zealand?” and he said “I don’t see why not.” So that was sorted.

I wound up needing something from HR at one point. I don’t remember exactly what it was…probably a question about insurance overseas or direct deposit into foreign bank accounts or something like that. Anyway, I went to talk to HR, which is never a good idea.

(Sidebar on HR: one of the primary purposes of a Human Resources department is to protect a company from its employees. Most of the things a company gives you are because it has to, either to follow the law or in order to attract good employees. Although good HR people will help employees use the benefits they are provided to the maximum, the real reason why they exist is to both keep the company from accidentally doing something illegal to their employees or to keep the employees from doing something that puts the company in an illegal position. These are both very reasonable goals, but they also mean that HR’s default answer to anything will be “no” and it can take quite a bit of work to turn that into a “yes.” Alternately, you can just do what I usually do and figure that what HR don’t know won’t hurt them.)

True to form, after I finished my conversation with HR, the person I talked to went to chat with her boss, who apparently called in an HR powwow, and the end result was that I couldn’t work remotely from New Zealand.

This was, to use the technical term, a major bummer. It also put my manager in an unfortunate position, because he didn’t want me to quit, but he was being told by HR that under no circumstances can I still work for the company if I move. I also had some pretty powerful friends at the company by that point, and the battle lines were quickly being drawn: engineering heavies on one side as an unstoppable force and HR entrenched on the other as an immovable object. All over little ol’ me.

A couple of days later I got a phone call from my boss’ boss. I don’t remember what her title was at that time (now it’s vice president), but I enjoyed working for her. She was (and presumably still is) incredibly smart, but she also cared about the people under her as people. I still have hope for the tech industry so long as people like her are around.

Anyway, she told me “I think I have a solution.” In short, I would “resign” my job and be hired by a contracting company in New Zealand. This company would then hire me back to my erstwhile employer as a contractor.

I don’t know how this worked out for the company financially. On one hand, I’m sure they had to pay a fee to the contracting company in New Zealand to use their services. On the other, they no longer had to pay me any benefits. I’m guessing in the long run it ended up working out for the company.

On the other hand, it worked out for me too. The exchange rate between the US and New Zealand is very favorable toward the US. New Zealand also has a non-insane health care system, so benefits were less of an issue. And while I would miss out on some other perks, such as yearly bonuses and employee stock purchases, I would be living my best life in New Zealand. I called it a fair trade.

An amusing side effect was that I had to go through the company’s official off-boarding process. My manager told me it was the best exit interview he’d ever done. But at the end of the day, I was a contractor in New Zealand working basically my old job back in the US. Life was good.

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