- COVID-19 has forced many employees to work from home, but companies are now planning for office returns as coronavirus restrictions lift.
- Some employees wish to work from home longer-term. But before you ask your boss, think carefully about how you’ll empower yourself — and your team — to succeed.
- You can also tell your boss that you’ll try working remotely for a few weeks, then reassess and make sure it’s convenient for everyone involved.
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The coronavirus pandemic has shut offices around the world. As restrictions ease, companies are making plans to reopen them — but employees who previously showed up at their desks in business-casual attire are now getting used to WFC (working from couch), pantsless. Some want to work at home longer-term.
A PwC survey of 1,200 US employees found that most of them want remote working flexibility: 72% said they would work from home at least two days a week, and 32% said they would rather work from home full time.
In the UK, more than 61% of employees want to work from home for some of the week, and 63% are stressed at the idea of going back to the office, according to behavioural science consultancy Mind Gym.
Some high-profile companies have announced long-term plans for remote work. Google told employees to expect to work from home for the rest of the year. Twitter has said that employees can work from home indefinitely.
If you find yourself in the group of people who’d like to continue working from home, it’s worth thinking about how you tell your boss. After all, some evidence suggests that remote workers can be just as effective as their colleagues in the office — if not more so.
Sarah Greenberg, lead coach and program design lead at the mobile-coaching platform BetterUp, often works with clients on creating a flexible work schedule — and convincing their boss to get on board. She reminds those clients: “Ultimately managers are in management roles because they want to be supportive and they want to support people’s success.”
That is to say: Your boss wants you to be a high performer. It will make them look good. The challenge, Greenberg tells clients who want to work remotely, is: “How can you make it easier for your manager to say yes?”
We asked Greenberg and other career experts about the best ways to convince your boss to let you work remotely. Here are their tips.
Make a strong business case
Convincing your boss to let you work remotely is like convincing them of anything else. You need to use hard data to make the business case for why they should let you do it. How will working remotely help you help the company?
Brie Weiler Reynolds, the career development manager at FlexJobs, a job site for remote work, said working remotely can be a win-win for employees and employers.
Employees may be less stressed when they have the flexibility to, say, pick up their kids from school or join a yoga class in the middle of the day. “Oftentimes you’re more productive and effective when you’re working remotely because you’re better able to focus,” Reynolds said.
Employers benefit because employees tend to perform better when they’re doing something they enjoy. Giving employees some agency over their work schedule pays off, too, since experts say employees find autonomy motivating. It doesn’t hurt that companies save on operational costs (anything from desk chairs to snacks) when there are fewer employees in the office.
Win your manager’s trust while working remotely
Managers like control. Octavius Black, CEO of Mind Gym, suggested workers start off assuming their boss is sceptical about long-term remote working, and prove them wrong by being helpful, solving problems, and asking smart questions.
Black said you should actively try to build trust with your boss, and realise that they’re not the enemy, even when it might feel like it. You need to make the effort, and “meet the person where they are”, he said.
“The more you can show that you’re bringing value, the less likely they are going to be to worry about whether you’re in the office.”
Bring evidence of your continued performance
Adrienne Gormley, Head of EMEA and VP of Global Customer Experience at Dropbox, said you should show evidence that you have better performed since you started working remotely. Gormley, who has led a team remotely for years, suggested you should also come armed with a plan for maintaining that performance and ensuring close working with colleagues. The more preparation you can do for the meeting with your boss, the better.
If you live with vulnerable people, ask your HR rep what your rights are
Asha Tarry, founder of Behavioral Health Consulting Services LMSW, PLLC, suggested employees living with vulnerable people contact their HR rep before they talk to their boss — living with a vulnerable person could strengthen your case for home working. Be prepared to explain your living situation clearly, and provide evidence if asked. Have this conversation now, rather than waiting until companies ask employees to return to the office.
Explain how the decision reflects organizational values
You’ll be even more persuasive, Greenberg said, if you can “tap into” some of the language your company uses in its mission statement, values, or policy overviews.
For example, maybe your organization takes after Netflix and emphasizes the importance of “freedom and responsibility” in its culture. You might explain to your boss: You’re responsible enough to get your work done even if management isn’t keeping tabs on your whereabouts — that’s why you were hired in the first place.
“Don’t use your feelings to build up your case” — be professional
Each of us has been personally affected in one way or another by COVID-19, but in conversations about working from home “you have to be more logical and less emotional,” Tarry said.
“We should remember that we have to use our words … we need to be intentional about what we’re asking for. If we’re anxious, we’re usually thinking from our gut. If we’re logical, we’re thinking from a higher level of intelligence, and that’s partly what employers are often looking for in their employees to be resolution oriented, not emotionally charged.”
Just because you’ve been “working from home in your PJs” doesn’t mean you should forget the professionalism required for conversations about remote working. Treat it like you would an in-office meeting.
Pitch remote work as an experiment
Let your boss know you’re willing to reevaluate and adjust your work circumstances as necessary.
Stew Friedman, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School of Business and the author of “Parents Who Lead,” recommends explaining that this is “an experiment that you’re going to try for a limited time period.” Then you’ll reassess to make sure it’s convenient for everyone involved — namely, you, your manager, and your colleagues.
Keep an open mind, Friedman said, and ask your manager outright: “How will we make this work?”
The benefits of approaching remote work as an experiment are twofold. First, your boss may be more inclined to let you work outside the office for a few weeks as opposed to indefinitely. Second, Friedman said thinking in terms of an experiment encourages everyone to feel invested in reaching a positive outcome.
Remember: Your boss is human too
Tarry said most employees forget that “their boss is a human being too.” They’re not immune to the virus, and could also be worrying about returning to the office. Approach them with this in mind.
“People should make less assumptions and think back to who their leaders are, and what style of leadership they have to know which approach to take, but I think both parties can be open-minded more than ever now,” Tarry added.