After a year of working remotely, many of us have settled into a routine. But as vaccination rates rise and businesses reopen across the U.S., many employers are starting to consider bringing workers back to the office, at least part time.
Employees may feel slightly differently. In a survey conducted by PwC at the beginning of 2021, 75% of executives predicted that “at least half of office employees will be working in the office” by July 2021, while just 61% of employees agreed with this prediction. Moreover, when leaders were asked how many in-person days were necessary to “maintain a distinctive culture” for their companies, about 30% of executives responded that employees should be in the office three days a week, while only 15% of executives responded with two days a week.
This isn’t to say every manager needs to be convinced of the value of remote work. For instance, the CEO of GM, Mary Barra, has shared that “the future of work is not a one-size-fits-all approach.” But if you’re anticipating a need to convince your boss, it helps to go in with the right timing and statistics at your fingertips. For instance: Employees have actually experienced increased productivity during the year-plus of working remotely, despite the global pandemic.
If you work for a company that is embracing a more flexible or hybrid work format—or if you’ve seen your personal productivity skyrocket while working remotely—here are some tips for tackling this important conversation.
1. Get your plan together
If your aim is to continue working from home, you have to be prepared to make your case. Your manager may be reviewing the work you’ve done over the last year, but what they need is concrete evidence of why you are at your most productive while working from home.
It may be wise to think of your approach as a pitch meeting, where you come prepared with a presentation and with some responses to potential questions your manager may raise. Your presentation can take the form of whatever format your boss is most receptive to: a PowerPoint, a short handout, or a direct conversation. Whichever medium they prefer, make sure to be clear that you’ve thought about your request and are confident that it will be beneficial to your productivity.
“Twenty-four hours prior to the meeting, send your manager an outline,” advises Ashley Stahl, a career expert at finance management company SoFi. Within this outline, go into as much detail as possible and don’t shy away from providing specific evidence.
From there, include your road map for bigger projects in the months and full year ahead. You should provide the exact days and hours you will be working from home. If you plan to adopt a hybrid schedule, share what days you plan to be in the office. Finally, Stahl recommends emphasizing how you’ll be reachable when you’re working from home, in order to demonstrate that you won’t be letting yourself slack off.
2. State your case
In order to get the most amenable answer from your boss, show them how you’ve improved over the last year of remote work. This includes going back and reviewing your progress so you can lay out some metrics. Stahl says this could include stating things like the fact that you had a “90% client retention rate,” or used “15% fewer sick days than last year” because you worked from home.
In addition, it’s likely you are not alone in wanting to work from home. Likely many workers (including those at your company) are wondering whether they will have the option to work remotely. It may be the case that the early bird catches the worm, so it’s best to ask as soon as possible.
You can also try to bring focus back to the concerns raised at the onset of the global pandemic: prioritizing a company-wide sense of safety and security. If you’re still recovering from trauma from the early days of COVID-19 or hoping to preserve improved mental health as a result of working from home, make that clear to your boss. However your boss responds, they’ll at least be aware of what type of setting you need to get your best work done.
It’s important to be direct about your intentions and needs when you are presenting your case for long-term remote work. “If you’re considering relocation, be honest,” recommends Stahl. “An employer will not want to lose you as an employee if that’s the reality.”
In the worst-case scenario, in which your boss requires you to return to the office and you cannot reconcile this, then it may be time to set your job sights elsewhere. “If you know, without a doubt, that remote life is the only work life for you, consider whether a new job is something to pursue. With 55% of companies around the world currently offering some form of remote-working capacity, your chances of finding a remote job are on the rise,” Stahl says.
3. Prepare for a contradictory response
You may receive a no from your boss. In this case, you should be mentally prepared to adjust your current reality to a setup that is less than your preferred environment. “If the answer is a finite no, and you’ve found yourself full-time back in the office, do what you can to take the pieces of working from home that you loved back to the office with you,” Stahl suggests.
Workers who’ve grown accustomed to taking brief breaks every few hours or who preferred to have more desk space may try reaching out to HR to create a more welcoming arrangement. The pandemic has shown us one thing: Not all workers are the same, and managers need to adjust to changing dynamics. Says Stahl, “If you enjoyed taking five-minute walks at the top of every hour, do so [in your office] as well. If open space and a sense of cleanliness helped you work, talk with your manager and HR to create this same environment on-site.”
If you’re faced with pushback or a no from your boss, hear their point of view and then try to compromise. “Your manager wants to keep you happy, but they also need to potentially consult with HR or upper management,” Stahl says. “Make sure you come off as a team player, and you’re prepared to perhaps meet in the middle in some way.”
Also, it’s likely if you are fortunate to receive permission to work from home, you may be one of a small number of participants, with potential to be excluded from collaboration opportunities. Taking time for gratitude, Stahl says, can help you embrace the most positives of the office. These perks include, “a spike in networking opportunities . . . face-to-face connection, and a more hands-on approach to contributing to company culture.”