Q: I just accepted a role with a growing tech company. I am enthusiastic about the role. A few days into my first week, I saw a name on an email distribution list. The name belongs to my former husband. It is an unusual name, so this is not a case of there are “more than ten James Smiths in the world.” Fortunately, we have different last names. We have been divorced over 10 years and because we have no kids together, we have very little interaction. In fact, almost none. I had heard he had relocated to the west coast, and I had no idea he works here too. I am fortunate that he works remotely so I have yet to run into him. I have never seen a question like this in your column. How do I respond if I am asked to work with him? Should I tell my manager?
A: Wow. That must have been a surprise. Assuming you can be polite and professional, I would suggest first reaching out to your former husband. Explain that you have been hired by the company and are very excited about your new role. Ask him about his role and set the tone that you look forward to a positive and professional working relationship. It sounds like he may work in another functional area. Since you have not been introduced to him officially yet, my guess is that your interactions with him (at least in both of your current roles) will be limited. I agree with your statement about his remote work arrangement. Since he works remotely, you may even run into him less frequently.
After the call with your former husband, I would then let your manager know of the past relationship. Your manager may be surprised too and even concerned about a potentially difficult working relationship. Inform your manager that you have already contacted your ex-husband and you both believe you will be able to work together effectively. This will minimize any concerns that your manager may have, even though your manager may not openly share them. Notifying your manager early in your tenure will hopefully contribute to building an honest and respectful relationship.
Since you have different last names, few co-workers will probably suspect that you were ever married to each other at one point in your past lives. I don’t believe you have any obligation to tell others.
Good luck in your new role. Treat your ex-husband as you would any other colleague – in a collegial and professional way.