When workplaces switched to remote operations during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers expected the situation to be temporary. Now that offices have had some time to adjust, your employer may signal it’s time to return to the office.
If you find yourself less than eager to return, you’re not alone. Many of us discovered the work-at-home setup to be ideal, and some are even making career decisions based on whether employers offer this option. A spring 2022 survey from McKinsey reported that 87% of employees embrace the opportunity to work remotely when it’s offered.
If you’re committed to your job but want to work from home on a long-term basis, or you’re making remote flexibility a priority during your job hunt, you may need to prove this decision will be just as good for the organization as it is for you. Here's how to ask to work from home.
Does your employer already have a work-from-home policy?
Your organization may already have a remote work policy—ask the human resources department if you’re not sure. If a policy is in place, see how flexible it is and what requirements you have to meet. Also, consider whether any of your colleagues were working remotely to some degree, even before the pandemic.
The current office culture should give you an idea of what you can request. If your organization discouraged remote work pre-pandemic, it might be less open to your request to work from home full time; you may consider asking for one to two days a week at home instead.
Think about organizational priorities
The smartest way to ask to work from home is to present the option as a solution to organizational needs. The arrangement should have benefits for your supervisor and co-workers—for instance, maybe remote work will allow you to:
- Focus more while on a tight deadline;
- Give you time and space to deliver quicker project results and improve workflow;
- Allow you to be “on call” during hours that are more convenient for the team;
- Open up your availability to meet with donors and clients in another time zone when other team members can’t.
Whatever the goal is, it should go beyond your personal needs and preferences and tie in to what the organization wants to accomplish.
It’s also important to consider how your co-workers may be affected. If your absence from the office will inconvenience everyone else, or make it tougher to collaborate and stay on schedule with the rest of the team, a remote situation is not likely to work out. If this is the case and you’d still like to pursue a remote or hybrid situation, it’s important that you map out and explain how you’ll lessen the potentially negative impact on colleagues.
Plan how you’ll stay accountable
Before you officially ask to work from home, put the details in writing as if you’re making a formal business proposal (which you are). This shows you’re serious about your request and have taken time to consider how the arrangement will work.
Mention how often and when you’d like to work remotely—part of the day, a few days a week, one week per month, full time, etc. The amount of out-of-the-office time makes a big difference.
One thing you’ll want your proposal to demonstrate is a plan for maintaining strong relationships with your team. Include details like:
- How you can be contacted (email, phone, instant message, video chat, etc.) and what times you’ll be available;
- How you’ll supervise anyone who reports directly to you;
- How you’ll participate in team meetings and collaborative projects;
- What will be your regular working hours;
- What times and dates (if any) you do plan to work on site.
For your supervisor, and for your own planning purposes, write out the daily schedule you plan to follow from home. Include the hours you’ll keep as well as the short-term and long-term goals you want to accomplish. Set a time for check ins at regular intervals—weekly, monthly, or whatever seems appropriate—with a supervisor and/or the team. This helps assure others you’ll keep them posted on your progress.
And if you’ve been working at home for a while, you probably have evidence to prove you can be just as, or even more, productive remotely. Cite this evidence in your request, including any concrete, quantifiable data that shows increased success in your remote office.
Pro Tip: Set yourself up for success by figuring out what resources and office products you’ll need to keep your home office organized.
Meet with your supervisor
After you’ve written down a proposal, it’s time to ask for a one-on-one with your manager. Frame your request to work from home as a suggestion and a starting point for negotiation, not a done deal. Ask what concerns your supervisor has, and answer questions honestly.
Above all, be flexible and prepared to compromise. Your supervisor may need some time to check in with others and think about the arrangement before signing off on it, or they may not be able to accommodate your proposed schedule. Remember, the goal is for your working situation to benefit the whole organization.
There are a few ways you can make the discussion more open to compromise:
- Propose remote work as a temporary experiment that could become permanent, rather than a permanent arrangement from the get-go.
- Ask to work from home for a trial period (a few weeks or months) and plan to check in with your boss when the trial period ends.
- The structure of the trial period itself could vary; you might work remotely five days a week, or try a hybrid arrangement, like a half day or a few days a week in the office.
Whatever you decide, get the arrangement in writing so that everyone involved in the decision has a written record of the agreement.
How to ask to work from home if you’re looking for a new job
Job seekers who want to work from home can make this option a priority in their search. It’s helpful to have in mind what your ideal remote-work situation would be, what situations you’d be willing to accept, and how important remote work flexibility is to you (a minor preference you can live without, a must-have, or somewhere in between).
Pro Tip: Idealist classifies jobs as “on-site,” “remote,” or “temporarily remote,” and usually there’s more detail in the job listing itself. You can even search for potential positions based on this criteria.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began shutting down offices, most employers are being upfront about their work-from-home possibilities, or lack thereof, in job postings. If you know the job allows distanced employees, you can highlight your work-from-home productivity through examples in your cover letter. And if the letter shows you can communicate clearly and effectively, that’s a point in your favor too—strong communication skills are essential for remote workers.
Once you land an interview, it’s best to save this question for the Q&A period at the end of the interview (unless the hiring manager brings it up first). Phrase it in a polite way that indicates you want to learn more about organizational culture, not as a personal request; you might ask, “What kind of work-from-home options are available to staff members?” or “Can any of the tasks required for this position be accomplished remotely?”
Even if remote-working possibilities aren’t advertised, the organization may be willing to accommodate you if you’re the right person for the job.
Employers around the world have become much more open to remote work situations since the pandemic, and though a perfect work-from-home arrangement isn’t a guarantee, you may be able to negotiate a remote (or hybrid) situation that works for you.
If you’re working from home, what has your experience been like? Do you want to continue? Let us know on Facebook.
Amy Bergen is a writer based in Portland, Maine. She has experience in the social impact space in Baltimore, Maryland, the educational museum sphere in Columbus, Ohio, and the literary world of New York City.