Many of us have been working from home since March 2020. We are now seeing a return to ‘normal’ and many expecting to hear that we will need to return to work from the office at least some of the time later this year.
If you have adapted well to working remotely and are not looking forward to this prospect, this guide is for you.
We are aware that many are expressing disappointment at the idea of sharing office space and air with colleagues again, resuming nightmare commutes and juggling child care and the care of our elders with the demands of working in an office.
There is good news. Many companies have become more accommodating of flexible work schedules and permanent remote working. The difficult bit is that it is all a little vague and the arrangements are frequently to the employees and employers to negotiate.
We spoke with several experts on negotiating work-from-home agreements with employers. Here are some tips:
1/ Do your research
Before you ask your manager if you can work from home permanently, find out if any other employees have been granted this benefit.
You should also read the terms and conditions contained with your contract of employment and look for any reference to mention of the physical place of work, be it in the office or remote. If there is no stipulation to attend the office in person - you are in good standing. Also check any company policies relating to remote work, especially any communications issued after the pandemic began.
2/ Make your voice heard - policies are being drafted right now
We are in a transition period, so be clear about your desire to work remotely. Not all companies are willing or able to accommodate such requests long term, but if you don’t speak up, your manager won’t know.
Many companies generally decide their workplaces policies at a strategic level, rather than on a case-by-case basis. Employers usually don’t want to give an exception to one person that they wouldn’t give to another worker in a similar role.
This is exactly why you should speak up about your wishes to work remotely now, as official policies are being crafted right now. If many requests are heard, it will help shape those very policies.
This also applies if you are applying for a new job and are at the interview stage. You may benefit from being transparent about your desire to work from home. Don’t wait until you get an offer, if the job requires you to work from the office, it may well be too late.
3/ Have a plan
Go to management with a plan for how you will approach your work, accommodate any issues, and still achieve your objectives. This includes information such as proposed work hours and how you’ll handle meetings with colleagues who are working in the office. If management has seen you have a well thought out plan that covers all angles, it will build trust and show you as the professional that you are.
Pre-empting any potential concerns from your employer about a permanent remote work arrangement is essential. For example, agree upfront you will be available to travel to the office every few weeks for larger team meetings or one to one reviews for example.
4/ Make a business case — as well as an emotional case
Ensure you emphasize working remotely makes sense for your team and the business as a whole. Many of us work for global teams with colleagues across Europe, North America and Asia and have already been working remotely with no requirement to meet face to face.
In terms of hours, flexible working from home may present the opportunity to align with colleagues in the US or Asia more effectively by working their hours. This can be a compelling argument.
Your case may also be strengthened by aligning with your employer’s cultural values. Many companies now realise that wellness and family considerations fuel high performance, loyalty and attract the best talent. Frame it as the best option for you and your family, as well as the business.
5/ Demonstrate your success over the last year — and continue doing a great job
Position remote working as a win-win for both you and your employer. If you have been working remotely for the last year, illustrate which projects have been a success on this basis. It is generally recognised that being remote has led to increases in efficiency and productivity for many roles. Build a case that highlights the benefits of the situation. Be sure to base it on what you have achieved over the last year.
If you are applying for a new job, it is especially important to show you are capable of working autonomously on a remote basis. Sure, show you are proficient with typical tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, but add another layer by offering your tips for ways to work from home effectively. Bring it to life by illustrating how you may have been working with global teams remotely anyway - for this, it is business as usual. Highlight any projects that have been a success as further evidence.
6/ Offer a trial period
If there is any pushback, another technique is to offer a trial period. During the trial period, you can demonstrate how well you’d do executing your role remotely. This provides the opportunity to showcase your ability to get your work done while at home.
This time needs to be used to the full to show your boss that your productivity and performance will not suffer while working remotely. Ideally, if you can work directly with your boss on a project together, it will give him or her direct confidence and help reinforce how effective and reliable you are working from home.
7/ Confirm any agreement in writing
If your manager has agreed for you to work remotely, ensure that you get this agreement in writing. You need to make sure it is also in line with any HR working policies. There may be an unlikely event that your manager agrees from his perspective, but it is not in line with HR policy and your employment terms and conditions.
Always follow up with an email to say, ‘as per our meeting on XX/YY/ZZZZ, to confirm this is what we have agreed to’.
8/ Try again later
If your manager is resistant to allow you to work from home on a permanent basis right now, it could be worth revisiting the issue in a few months.
Many companies are evaluating how workers will return to the office, on what basis and if at all. As remote, in-office or hybrid approaches are evolving and these new models mature, it might be worthwhile to see how things pan out and revisit in three or six months time.
9/ Be prepared for a ‘no’
Despite your best efforts, your employer may still require a return to your physical workplace. In most cases, special arrangements cannot be made around one person as it will set a precedent. If the policy for your company ends up not supporting working remotely, it will be unlikely that you will be allowed to do so.
10/ Look for a new remote position
If all else fails and you are determined to find a remote role, it might be time to look for another job. Check for phrases such as “work from home” or “remote working’ when reviewing job ads on sites such as LinkedIn and Monster as many employers advertise this flexibility to attract candidates.
You could also take less importance of any stated location for a role and apply anyway, especially if you get a feeling that you, the role and the company might be a good fit.
If you secure a conversation with the company lead with your strengths and skills that you can bring to the table to open up the dialogue. With the current groundswell, many employers will be open to you working remotely, they may not be concerned you are physically not in the office at all!
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