How to Convince Your Boss to Continue Letting you Work from Home: The 2021 Reboot
For those whose employment does not centre on face-to-face interactions, working from home has become ‘COVID normal’ in 2020. As with the pre-COVID era, however, employers tend to favour the centralised office over remote modes of working, meaning that requests to work from home still need to be accompanied by high-level diplomatic skills. Even with the slew of research concluding that employees are equally, if not more, productive working from home, and 72 per cent of recently surveyed knowledge workers indicating they would prefer to work from home some of the time, there is an intractable perception that working from home amounts to slacking off. It seems timely, then, to revisit the sound advice provided in Rebecca Knight’s 2017 article ‘How to Convince Your Boss to Let You Work From Home’ in light of what working under pandemic conditions has taught us.
Be honest – and diplomatic
Knight presents honesty and diplomacy as the features most important to successfully negotiating working from home and these features will be crucial to post-2020 negotiations too. The case for remote working needs to make sense for both you and your organisation: pointing to numerous organisational benefits without putting yourself in the picture will only lead to questions about your motivations. If working from home means you can spend more time with family then be upfront about it but also make an effort to be reassuring. You might wish to point out, for example, that increased family time doesn’t come at the expense of work but, rather, peripherals such as commuting.
Provide solutions to perceived negatives
Knight recommends devising ways of alleviating the negatives as managers see them. Edith Cowan University’s Stephen Teo observes that trust is the biggest issue, with managers tending to think that seeing their teams equates to more effective supervision and that remote working team members are less responsive or available for consultation. Ensuring you are responsive across several communication platforms including videoconferencing, email and telephone will help address this anxiety, as will being available via chat services such as Slack or Cliq, and readily agreeing to being on-site when the occasion demands.
Present ideas that help address the proven drawbacks of working from home
Along with many other experts in the field, Indranil Roy, an Executive Director at Deloitte Consulting believes ‘face-to-face interactions are required to facilitate collaboration, build relationships, solve complex problems and generate ideas.’ A growing body of evidence has also indicated that adverse mental health effects result from the erosion of boundaries between work and home life. It might be useful to present employers with a suite of ideas aimed at mitigating these drawbacks, ranging from fostering more opportunities for working collaboratively through videoconferencing; to establishing informal, workplace related, but non-essential, messaging groups that allow for ‘water cooler’ conversations.
Ease employers into the idea of managing remote workers
Knight suggests we give employers time to process requests for more flexible working arrangements. Despite ‘COVID normality’, we should also avoid implying that remote working is an entitlement. Instead, suggest a trial period, starting with working from home one day per week or fortnight; and schedule a review after three months. You might be able to draw on your organisation’s positive experience of remote working under COVID to support your case. If your organisation found having a remote workforce unsatisfactory, you may still be able to advance your claim by demonstrating that the problems could be attributed more to pandemic conditions than to working from home.
Present remote working as a chance to demonstrate GREATER accountability
From a monitoring, evaluating and troubleshooting perspective, the requirement that remote workers interact digitally may have distinct advantages. The more digital tools we use, the more traces of our interactions we leave and that record may prove invaluable for identifying strengths and weaknesses within teams and across the organisation. While this raises issues around which traces remain and how they are used, it may also help persuade managers that working from home provides them with opportunities to perform their duties more effectively. That said…
…don’t over-egg it!
Whichever way you present your arguments, steer clear of presumption and making extravagant claims about the rewards working from home reaps for your manager or organisation. Emphasising the savings made on office space rental and utilities might backfire, for example, if your organisation is contractually obliged to foot those bills regardless of whether or not employees use the spaces. Claiming that remote work is healthier because it reduces the risk of contracting seasonal colds and the flu is similarly problematic. Not only are you telling your manager how to do the job, you are also leaving little room for further negotiation if you fall ill while working off-site.
Publications consulted for this Insight
Philippa Fogarty, Simon Frantz, Javier Hirschfeld, Sarah Keating, Emmanuel Lafont, Bryan Lufkin, Rachel Mishael, Visvak Ponnavolu, Maddy Savage and Meredith Turits, (eds.) Coronavirus: How the World of Work May Change Forever, BBC Worklife, 23/10/2020.
Rebecca Knight, ‘How to Convince your Boss to Let you Work from Home’, Harvard Business Review, 05/05/2017.
Emma Wynne, ‘Is Continuing to Work from Home Post-Pandemic Right for You?’ ABC Everyday, 9/11/2020.
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